The offseason is finally over, and for the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams that means starting off the 2023 regular season the same way these two teams closed out the 2022 regular season. The Rams have a ton of new faces following the overhaul of the defense during the offseason, while the Seahawks will take to the field with a ton of new names and faces of their own in the defensive front.
Whether or not Pete Carroll can continue to improve upon his 5-8 record in matchups against Sean McVay will likely depend a lot on how that new defensive front can pressure Matthew Stafford and disrupt the Rams passing game in the absence of Cooper Kupp. However, before digging too much into the game itself, here are this week’s five questions and five answers from Evan Craig of Turf Show Times.
1. Cooper Kupp is out, so who are the Rams receiving targets Seahawks fans need to know for Sunday?
Van Jefferson is expected to take the reins as WR1 against the Seahawks and maybe longer if Cooper Kupp is put on IR. Jefferson had a solid year in 2021 but was largely forgotten as he was playing second fiddle to Kupp’s triple crown. He was injured for most of last season so whether he rebounds in such a large role this early in the year is beyond me. I wish him the best of luck because he’s going to be the focal point for defenses on Sunday and perhaps the next few weeks. Other targets include Tutu Atwell and “Robert Woods 2.0” Puka Nacua. I’m very excited about both players as they’ll serve as WR2 and WR3 behind Jefferson on Sunday. Tutu has been overhyped ever since he was drafted and he flashed in spots last season when given opportunities. I hope this is the year where he’ll get it all figured out as he can be an explosive part of LA’s offense as long as McVay actually decides to use him instead of simply stating he will. Nacua is a 5th-rounder out of BYU who has been praised by the coaching staff all offseason. He played sparingly in preseason and looked the part of a stellar playmaker. We’ll see whether that hype will translate into the regular season as he’ll have his number called plenty in the early going.
2. As has been the norm under Sean McVay, the Rams rested their starters during the preseason, meaning Matthew Stafford hasn’t played since Week 11 of last season. Should fans expect him to be rusty, or will fans be treated to a classic Stafford gunslinger show that puts points on the board?
I’m not expecting the classic Stafford gunslinger show to make an appearance in this game. I figure with Kupp out, McVay will lean more on the running game with Cam Akers leading the charge as Stafford works his way back. Without Kupp in the fold, the offense will likely be stagnant as it was last year with him missing time. I’m more worried about the young players behind Kupp than I am about Stafford. If Coop was playing, it would’ve made life so much easier as the young pass catchers could gradually come along in the offense in small roles. Now they’ll be counted on in larger roles and that’s too much to ask for players either making their first NFL appearances or seeing higher snap counts than expected.
3. We know all the big names on the Rams - Donald, Stafford, Kupp, etc., but who are the names that Seahawks fans may not be familiar with they should know ahead of the game on Sunday?
I’ve already mentioned Puka who Seahawks fans will probably see the most of in Week 1. Offensive lineman Steve Avila was LA’s first pick in the draft this year and will be tasked with keeping Stafford upright. Hopefully he’ll be the core piece of the team’s offensive line for years to come. I can’t imagine the line being any worse in 2022 but who doesn’t love a nice surprise? Some other first-year players include 6th-round cornerback Tre Tomlinson who is already a top corner on the team and could end up being a Tariq Woolen level steal similar to what Seattle got in the draft last year. Linebacker Byron Young out of Tennessee is expected to fill the void left by Bobby Wagner who returned to the Seahawks in free agency. Young was listed as an X factor for LA’s inexperienced defense for this coming season and it’s not a complete exaggeration that his development could make or break the Rams’ success in the next 2-3 years.
4. The past couple of years have been a roller coaster for the Rams. The highs of winning the Super Bowl in 2021, followed by the lows of a 5-12, injury ravaged 2022 season. What is the sentiment for 2023, and are fans expecting it to look more like 2021 or 2022?
I don’t know what fan in their right mind expects this squad to look anything like 2021. So if there’s some crazed fan out there looking to get a “Rams 2023 Super Bowl Champs” tattoo, you might want to get a refund and fast. Fans should be expecting another campaign like last season. The defense was gutted this offseason and there’s not enough depth across the board. Meaning that if key starters are out for multiple weeks, LA is in for another painful year. Aside from the pessimistic viewpoint, I expect the team should be slightly better in the win column and be in playoff contention until Thanksgiving at least. That shouldn’t be too hard to do in this weak conference.
The most important thing fans should be on the lookout for in 2023 is the development of the team’s young players. Assuming all goes according to plan, these youngsters are the future of this team. Their development goes a long way towards the Rams’ success in the coming years. Everyone needs to be patient as they figure out life in the NFL with the hope that Sean McVay will see the rebuild through.
5. Both of the 2022 matchups between these teams were extremely close and went down to the wire. The Seahawks are favored by 5.5 at the DraftKings Sportsbook, a margin of victory Seattle has reached against the Rams just twice during McVay’s tenure in L.A., including the game where Jared Goff broke his thumb and the first time the Rams and Seahawks played in 2017. Do you expect another close game, or will one of these teams pull away for a bigger victory?
I expect this to be another close and at times, ugly game. Seattle may have taken both matchups last season but overall LA has had their number under McVay since 2017. This one will probably be closer to the first matchup that the Hawks took at SoFi where John Wolford was starting compared to the season finale. Even without Kupp, LA should still be able to score points late thanks to a couple surprise contributors on offense. I expect whatever potential heroics we see out of Matthew Stafford will be topped by Geno Smith and company in the final minutes. The Seahawks are the more talented team and they squeak out a close one while the Rams cover the spread.
And with that, it’s on to Week 1 and playing the actual game.