By Norm Elrod
So the Los Angeles Rams finally lost a game. It was bound to happen eventually, given that only one team has ever managed an undefeated season. The Rams showed themselves to be mortal, with weaknesses that a worthy rival can exploit. Drew Brees and the white-hot Saints certainly made that clear in New Orleans, putting up 45 points, which included four touchdown passes.
The Rams return home in Week 10 to welcome intra-conference rival the Seattle Seahawks. The Seahawks check in at 4-4, good enough for second place in a diminished NFC West, though they’ve struggled to gain traction and momentum so far this season. Any playoff hopes hinge on stringing together a few wins. The Seahawks aren’t likely to catch the Rams, who should make it to 13 wins without much trouble and could win out. Seattle’s best chance at the postseason is to slip in as a wild card. A win in Los Angeles would help.
The Seahawks offense has relied on the run game to move the ball. Chris Carson is averaging a solid 4.5 yards per carry, and Mike Davis 4.3, behind an improving offensive line. Seattle, as a team, has the third-best ground game in the NFL, with consistently impressive showings since Week 4. In their last matchup with the Rams — a 33-31 Week 5 loss — Carson and Davis combined for 184 yards on the ground.
Those numbers look even better when considering that the Seahawks’ passing attack is averaging just 202.8 yards per game, 27th in the League. Russell Wilson’s passing yards are off from previous seasons, though he remains one of the game’s more consistent passers. And his 18 touchdown passes against five interceptions put him among this season’s leaders in both categories. His 108.6 passer rating is also among the best of his career. Still, it was Wilson’s pick-six in last week’s fourth-quarter loss that effectively ended their chance at taking down the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Seahawks defense has been having problems with the run, giving up 114.8 yards per game, which puts them in the bottom half of NFL teams this season. Their pass defense, at least in terms of yards, is among the best, allowing 218.5 yards per game. Those two trends held last week, as Melvin Gorden torched them for 113 of the Chargers’ 141 yards rushing, while Philip Rivers was held to just 228 yards passing.
The Rams, behind Todd Gurley and Jared Goff, present an even bigger challenge. Gurley is having an MVP-caliber season, leading the NFL in many of the rushing categories that matter, including yards per game (96.4) and touchdowns (12). And despite leading the League in attempts (182), he has yet to fumble. The fourth-year back is also a receiving threat, with 37 catches and four more TDs. As if it weren’t obvious, much of the Rams’ offense flows through Gurley, and the 6′-1″ 224-pound back poses serious problems for defenses.
Goff, overshadowed at times, has a little more company in the top tier of quarterbacks. But he has impressed as well. Averaging 312.9 yards and over two TDs per game, he sports the fifth-highest rating among starting quarterbacks (112.9). In the Rams-Seahawks last matchup, Goff threw for 321 yards, completing 23 of 31 attempts. Both Brandin Cooks and Cooper Kupp left that game with injuries. Goff will have his full complement of receivers this time around.
If the Rams are vulnerable, it’s on defense. The Saints dropped 45 points on them last week; the Vikings and Seahawks put up 31 in Weeks 4 and 5 respectively. Drew Brees threw for 346 yards and four touchdowns; Kirk Cousins went for 422 yards and three touchdowns.
That said, the unit, while not elite, is certainly capable. Aaron Donald, with 10 sacks in nine games, is among the best defensive tackles in the game; Ndamukong Suh is no slouch either. However, the defensive backfield — with Marcus Peters and Lamarcus Joyner — hasn’t played to their capabilities. The Rams’ defense should improve down the stretch, with the addition of Dante Fowler on the defensive line and the return of Aqib Talib sometime in the next few weeks.
This Sunday, the Seahawks should be able to move the ball. But a lot will depend on Chris Carson, who will be playing through thigh and hip injuries. If he’s ineffective, or the Rams jump out to an early lead, it will be up to Russell Wilson. Wilson tends to show up in big games, but can his receivers overcome the Rams’ cornerbacks that the Saints blew by last week? Seahawks receiving stats don’t suggest so, even if Wilson is able to bide time and let plays develop.
Should the Seahawks find success moving the ball, they should be able to keep up with Gurley, Goff and a Rams offense that averages over 33 points per game. And staying close until the fourth quarter, like they did in this season’s first meeting, is their best shot at a win. Look for this scenario to play out, with the Rams logging another win and essentially clinching the division.
SportsLine analyst R.J. White also sees the likelihood of a close game:
You should be able to get 10 points here, and I’d take them. The Seahawks offense has been running the ball well, with 150+ rushing yards in five straight, and the Rams don’t have a great run defense. Seattle engineered several long TD drives in the first meeting between these two teams, so the 33-31 score wasn’t fluky. In the Russell Wilson era, the Seahawks are 9-1 ATS as more than three-point ‘dogs, and the one loss was earlier this year by seven points, so it’s not likely they got blown out there. Count on them to keep it close yet again.