Enemy Confidential: Rams Once Again Serve as Measuring Stick For Seahawks

Battling injuries and coming off a tough loss to the Chargers, the Seahawks face an uphill battle against the 8-1 Rams.

Only a month removed from their first matchup of the season, the Seattle Seahawks feel confident they can hang with the Los Angeles Rams after dropping a tightly-contested 33-31 contest at CenturyLink Field in Week 5.

The Seahawks went toe-to-toe with the heavily-favored Rams on October 7, gashing defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’s unit for 190 rushing yards. The physical ground game eventually opened up explosive pass plays for quarterback Russell Wilson, who hit receivers Tyler Lockett and David Moore as well as tight end Nick Vannett for 30-plus yard receptions.

Defensively, the Seahawks couldn’t generate much pressure on quarterback Jared Goff, who threw for 321 yards and completed 72 percent of his passes. But Seattle did manage to create two turnovers, including a goal line deflection by cornerback Tre Flowers that wound up in the hands of defensive end Frank Clark for an interception. Taking at least three points of the board with that key possession change, the defense did just enough to keep coach Pete Carroll’s team in the game early.

But unlike the past meeting, the Seahawks enter Sunday’s rematch with some pressing injury concerns that could prevent them from replicating the blueprint that nearly helped them pull off the upset against their bitter NFC West rivals. Starting running back Chris Carson, right guard D.J. Fluker, safety Bradley McDougald, and linebacker K.J. Wright will all be game-time decisions, putting Seattle into a precarious position against one of the league’s best teams.

Led by Goff and running back Todd Gurley, Los Angeles remains red-hot on offense, ranked first in yards per game and third in scoring. Though they surrendered 45 points to the Saints, a stingy defense led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald also still ranks a respectable 10th overall in scoring as well. At full strength and looking to bounce back from their first loss of the year in New Orleans last weekend, the odds will once again be stacked against the Seahawks.

Here’s a closer look at Seattle’s upcoming opponent, including series history, key numbers, and Carroll’s evaluation of the Rams heading into Sunday:

SERIES HISTORY

--41st regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 23-17. Prior to becoming NFC West rivals in 2002, the Rams won five of the first seven matchups between the two teams. Following realignment, Seattle has dominated the series, winning 21 out of 33 regular season matchups, including winning 10 straight from 2005 to 2009. Since relocating to Los Angeles, the Rams have won three of their five games with the Seahawks over the past two seasons. The two franchises met once in postseason play, with the then-St. Louis Rams edging Seattle 27-20 in January 2005.

WHAT'S NEW?

--ADDITIONS: Normally, a team doesn't make many major moves during the middle of the NFL season, but the Rams upgraded their already-dominant defensive line by acquiring defensive end Dante Fowler from the Jaguars. The former first-round pick out of Florida underachieved through most of his three seasons in Jacksonville, though he did record 8.0 sacks in 2017. He made his Rams debut last week and should get more snaps in his second game against the Seahawks.

--DEPARTURES: Veteran guard Jamon Brown, who opened the season suspended and didn't regain his starting job, was waived to make room for Fowler at the trade deadline. The 25-year old lineman found a new home quickly, being claimed by the line-needy Giants.

INSIDE THE NUMBERS

106.4: Quarterback rating for Rams signal caller Jared Goff outside of the pocket, sixth-best in the league.

7.2: Yards per play out of trips formations, fourth-highest total in the league.

6.1: Percentage gap between Rams and second place Falcons in regard to number of offensive possessions resulting in three-and-outs.

34.6: Pressure percentage through nine games, sitting only behind the Jaguars in NFL rankings.

44.9: Percentage of third and long situations converted by opposing offenses, the worst mark among all 32 NFL teams.

20.1: Percent of Aaron Donald’s snaps are leading to quarterback pressures, the highest mark of his illustrious career.

CARROLL’S THOUGHTS

--The Seahawks were able to give the Rams all they could handle in Week 5 in large part due to a physical ground game that amassed 190 rushing yards against a typically-stout front four. Carroll knows it won’t be easy to replicate that prior success facing defensive tackles Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh, but believes commitment to the run will be key to winning on the road.

“It’s coming back to it and believing in it and keep going. When you are committed to the running game like we are, you don’t get big runs all the time.” Carroll said on Wednesday. “You have to stay with it and keep hammering at it and make the space and make the yards and finish the plays and convert your third downs so that you get the extra chances to keep running it. It’s really about commitment.”

Seattle stayed persistent pounding the rock throughout last month’s 33-31 loss to the Rams, as starter Chris Carson finished with 116 yards on only 16 carries and Mike Davis added 68 yards in a reserve role. Based on Carroll’s comments, expect much of the same this time around, though injuries to Carson and guard D.J. Fluker could complicate matters.

--Playing against a Rams team with a plethora of weapons in the passing game, including MVP candidate Todd Gurley out of the backfield, Carroll indicated the return of K.J. Wright would have major implications for Seattle’s pass defense in Sunday’s rematch.

“There’s no question he’s going to help us. He just understands the principles that are necessary in this game because of the play passes and the things they do.” Carroll said. “He’s extraordinarily equipped to take care of some of those players [that] a lot of players aren’t able to make, so we’re hoping that that will come through for us and he’ll be a big factor.”

Wright returned from knee surgery a few weeks ago and played at a high level, registering 12 combined tackles, a tackle for loss, and two passes defensed in coverage. The team has been cautious with how much he practices during the week to keep him fresh, but he’s going to be very important working against Gurley as well as tight ends Tyler Higbee and Gerald Everett in coverage.

Quickly summing up Wright’s value to Seattle’s defense heading into this pivotal NFC West contest, Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. stated, “Anytime we play any team without K.J. Wright and then having him back the next time, it’s going to make us better.”

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