Key Matchups To Watch: Rams at Seahawks
Jalen Ramsey vs D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett
The Seahawks passing offense has been predictable. They have targeted D.K. Metcalf and Tyler Lockett a combined 58 times. The rest of the team has been targeted 44 times. Being predictable in football is generally a bad thing, but not when the predictable is also unstoppable. Together they have put up 618 yards, 23 first downs, and caught six of the teams nine receiving touchdowns. Most teams have been able to contain one but not both and in those cases, the other has shined.
The closest a team got to corralling the two was the 49ers last week. They held them to under 100 yards, but even so, Metcalf was able to pull down a 28-yard pass that kept a drive alive and then caught another pass two plays later for a game-tying touchdown.
Also, with all of that attention given to Lockett and Metcalf, other receivers have been able to make an impact. Freddie Swain and Gerald Everett have both benefited from the pull generated by the top two receivers.
Of course, anytime a top receiver squares off against a top corner it makes for a good matchup, but what makes this one even more intriguing is how the Rams might be planning on using Jalen Ramsey against the Seahawks. Lockett and Metcalf are nearly exclusively used wide right and wide left respectively, and Ramsey, while he does move around, has primarily been used to cover the slot receiver.
He has played 145 snaps in the slot versus 89 out wide (split pretty evenly between right and left). Ramsey’s busiest day on the outside was against the Cardinals when he was tasked with covering DeAndre Hopkins. While Hopkins is Kyler Murray’s preferred target, he has tended to spread the ball around to a lot more receivers than Russell Wilson has this season.
What this means, obviously, is that Ramsey should be glued to Metcalf as much as humanly possible.
If that is the case it means that the Rams will have to find a way to contain Lockett. The primary outside corners for the Rams have been Darious Williams and David Long Jr. Williams has held up well enough considering who he has been asked to cover and the sheer amount of targets he receives.
As for Long, when his playing time goes up his level of performance goes down. So he isn’t the full-time answer. Using the two rotationally to cover Lockett seems to be the best plan. This will help keep Williams fresh and will also limit Long’s exposure to a larger target share. Robert Rochell can also be worked into the Lockett coverage rotation to bolster Long and Williams. In very limited snaps Rochell has held his own.
While the Seahawks do have other pass catchers that can move the ball, they won’t stress the Rams defensive backfield as much as the Cardinals or Buccaneers did, but mitigating the damage done by Lockett and Metcalf will go a long way in securing a Rams victory.
Chris Carson vs Rams Run Defense
***Chris Carson is currently questionable to play, but this analysis pertains to whoever lines up at running back for the Hawks.
Lockett and Metcalf aren’t the only ways Seattle can beat a team. They also have a sneaky good running game. They have the fifth-best rushing attack by DVOA and it certainly isn’t because they have been running the ball to winnow down the clock with big leads. It also isn’t Russell Wilson scrambling away from defenders. He has a career-low rushing per game so far this season. His career average is 30.8 yards per game. This season he has half of that.
The Seahawks run game is just boring old Chris Carson picking up 4.3 yards a carry.
What is troubling about this is that the Rams have been one of the worst teams against the run and that is keeping in consideration that most teams have been forced to abandon the run because the Rams offense has built big leads early on. The big exception to that was the Cardinals. Chase Edmonds ran for 10 yards a carry. This is largely buoyed by a 54-yard run, but even when you remove that run, he still ran for 6 yards a carry.
Because the Rams won’t have to dedicate so many bodies in pass coverage they could use another body to play the run. Taylor Rapp would be the ideal player to essentially spy the run. He is fast and he is a big sound hard hitter. He has also struggled when in coverage.
Another key to stopping the run will be to generate more pressure from the edges. Aaron Donald leads the team with 21 pressures, then it’s Leonard Floyd with 17. Those two account for 46.3 percent of the team’s pressure. The problem with pressure coming from predominantly two spots that also penetrate several yards into the offensive backfield is that running backs will know where lanes will open up as those defenders sail by them. This benefits more patient runners. That describes Edmonds and it also describes Carson.
The Rams will still need to get pressure. Wilson’s completion percentage goes from 84.2 to 45.5 when a defender gets to him. With Justin Hollins out for the next several weeks, pressure will have to be manufactured in other ways. In their first full game without him, the Rams earned by far their lowest Pro Football Focus pass-rush grade of the season, 50.2.
Rapp could be an answer here, as well. So far Rapp has been used as a pass rusher eight times this season and has generated one sack and two pressures. It certainly isn’t enough of a sample size to justify rearranging the whole defense to try him out, but necessity breeds innovation. Kenny Young is another potential for pressure. He has rushed 23 times resulting in four hurries and a sack.
Controlling the line of scrimmage by first shutting down Carson will allow the defense to pin its ears back. They play much better when they are able to be aggressive. It will also limit the effectiveness of Wilson in play-action, which has been a bread and butter concept for Seattle. Wilson has thrown 28 passes at a clip of 16 yards per completion out of play action. That drops to 11.7 yards per completion without play-action.
Third Downs And Fourth Down Matchup
Seattle does almost everything right on offense, except on third and fourth down. They are tied for 29th in the league in converting on 3rd down and dead last having not converted a single fourth-down attempt. To be fair, the Seahawks have only attempted one fourth-down play, but that signals a lack of aggressiveness on fourth.
A broad majority of Seattle’s third down plays have been with under three yards to go. Of the 39 third downs the Seahawks have faced, 29 of them have been with three yards or less to go. In short, they don’t have a lot of yards to pick up on fourth down and should be more aggressive.
What makes this a very interesting matchup is that the Rams defense has been bad on third down. They give up first downs on more than half of the third downs they face. They gave up two third and longs against the Cardinals that were instrumental in the Rams’ defeat. On the other hand, they have faced four fourth-down plays on defense. They have allowed a conversion on only one.
The Rams have faced 45 third down plays and have given up 24 first downs or touchdowns. 13 of those have come with three or fewer yards to go. Eight of the remaining 11 conversions came with seven or more yards to go. These include some devastating explosive plays including a 54-yard run by Edmonds, an 18-yard run by Kyler Murray, a 42-yard passing play to Michael Pittman, and a 16-yard pass to Rondale Moore.
Giving up 13 short-yardage third-down conversions isn’t great, but for a defense built like the Rams, it isn’t the most unexpected thing. But, they are supposed to be specifically schemed up to avoid explosive plays. That is not what is happening on third down. On 44 percent of third and seven or greater plays, they are giving up a first down or a touchdown.
This is one of those “something’s got to give” matchups. Both teams seem to lose their way when it comes to third down. On one side, the Rams give up plays they are built to defend. On the other side, the Seahawks go away from what works for them. When in third and short they should be running the ball but by and large they opt to pass. Not only that but the most targeted receiver on third down has been Freddie Swain when, as noted before, he is not among their best pass catchers. Whichever side wins this matchup will likely win the game.
Red Zone Scoring
The Seahawks have put up at least 28 points in three of their first four games this season. Even when they only managed to score seven points in the first half against the 49ers they were able to pile on 21 points in the second half. They find a way to get into the end zone.
The Rams defense has been everything from spotty to unreliable. So it will be on the offense to score points. So far the Ram offense was able to generate quick points with explosive passing plays from the formidable arm of Matthew Stafford. Last week, the Rams saw what it looked like when he didn’t look so formidable. That said, when things were clicking he was able to put together a few drives deep into Cardinal territory, but the Rams failed to convert those trips into touchdowns. It will be absolutely necessary for the Rams to score every time the Seahawks defense allows them into the red zone.
On the very first drive of last week’s loss, the Rams found their way to the doorstep of the red zone but failed to pick up a first down on a second and five and a third and five due to a Cooper Kupp drop and failed play to Tyler Higbee in the end zone. Certainly, the drop is a mental mistake. One that proved to be costly later in the game. They settled for three points rather than getting seven.
In the second quarter, the Rams couldn’t punch it in from four yards out after two short passes to Kupp. On the first, he was pretty well covered and the second Stafford sailed the pass well out of Kupp’s reach. McVay opted for a field goal rather than an attempt on fourth down to bring the difference at the time to four points. In the fourth quarter, they drove to the Cardinal one and yet again failed to score, but at least went for it with all four downs.
That’s 15 points essentially left off the board due to mistakes in execution and in playcalling.
Unlike the Seahawks who find ways to score, the Rams were expecting that Cooper Kupp would have another amazing game. He didn’t. Kupp was targeted 13 times and caught five passes. At a certain point, you have to look for other receivers and allow them to show out. Robert Woods and Van Jefferson were begging to have one of those games.
While the Seattle defense isn’t terribly good, in the red zone they have been one of the better teams in the league when it comes to stopping touchdowns. They rank seventh in the league in touchdown percentage. Despite their good performance against the Rams, the Cardinals are 16th in the league.
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