Keys To The Rams Taking The Lead In The NFC West

Five Rams Players To Watch For Week 1
SoFi Stadium And The Oculus. Photo Credit: Kirk Morrison | ESPN LA And Rams Analyst

The Rams-Seahawks matchups always have an air of importance around them but Sunday’s will contain the biggest stakes in quite some time. The Rams currently sit at the 7 seed but a game separates the 7 seed from top-seeded New Orleans. Furthermore, during the Rams’ bye week, the Seahawks lost to the Bills, the Niners lost to Green Bay, and the Cardinals were beaten by Miami (like the Rams minus getting laughed off NFL Twitter for it).

The Rams have a golden opportunity to beat a vulnerable hated rival and also take control of the division ahead of a brutal schedule stretch whose only easy win is against a tanking Jets team (and even then there’s trap game potential).

The last time the Rams took the field was that disaster against Miami so naturally, fans are nervous about the team being able to seize this moment. If they’re going to stake a claim to a top spot in the NFC, the Rams need to win, and here are the keys to do so.

Key Matchup 1: Jared Goff vs the Secondary

Just when Jared Goff was looking to finally put together a string of games that proves he’s a real boy he looked befuddled and broken by Miami’s cover 0. The good news is he’s had two weeks to prepare for a Seattle secondary that is a far cry from it’s “Legion of Boom” days.

One of the keys to this game is for Goff to find his receivers in the middle of the field. Against Miami and San Francisco, he was out of sync with Cooper Kupp for reasons unknown and hasn’t found a consistent target outside of Robert Woods. Goff needs to get in a rhythm, and while Seattle upgraded their defensive line with Carlos Dunlap, the pressure won’t be what he faced against Miami.

Jamal Adams is back in the Seattle lineup but that won’t matter much if Goff can find his receivers deep (Adams is much better in the box). He also needs to do better when the play breaks down, and while the giraffe can run if he has to, he can’t let himself become a deer in the headlights and also needs to throw it away if things get dire. This is his biggest test of the season and his chance to prove Miami was a fluke.

Key Matchup 2: Rams’ Defense vs Russell Wilson

The Seahawks of old had a punishing defense and an offense that didn’t ask much of Russell Wilson because they could pound the ball with Marshawn Lynch and when they had to, Russ could roll out, extend plays, and huck it deep.

Those days are over as the defense is rebuilding, they can’t run the ball, and now entirely rely on DangerRuss cooking like Guy Fieri on meth-laced Donkey Sauce. The onus is on the entire Rams defense needs to keep ChefRuss from cooking and the way to do that obviously starts with Aaron Donald causing chaos, but as always he’ll be double and triple-teamed. That means, once again, the pressure will have to come from elsewhere and now A’Shawn Robinson is activated and he looks to help shut down what is already a terrible Seattle run game.

The returning Terrell Lewis along with whatever linebacker rotation ends up starting, will have to generate pressure, and if they can’t get to Russ, they need to at least get him on the run.

D.K. Metcalf is the one receiver that can consistently get open so Jalen Ramsey needs to lock him down. That means the rest of the secondary needs to contain everyone else. John Johnson, Darious Williams, and Troy Hill should be enough to pull that off. Fortunately, Jordan Fuller is back in the lineup giving them an added boost and a great tackler.

Look, Russ will find guys deep, it’s inevitable, but the defense can at least keep them out of the endzone. One of the biggest keys, if not the biggest key in this game, is stopping Russ. The Rams defense has allowed zero touchdowns in the second half of games multiple times including their last two and if they can do that again they win this game.

Key Matchup 3: Sean McVay vs Himself

This matchup is not an attempt to denigrate Pete Carroll. Pete and his everlasting stick of gum make a great coach (OBVIOUSLY) but we know what he’ll do. McVay has had a rough time this season getting out of his own way. Part of what caused the Rams to get beat King Snorky style by the Dolphins is that McVay didn’t gameplan well at all. He had Goff throw 61 times despite the Dolphins having a terrible run defense. He also did a poor job adjusting to the Miami defense.

When he elected to call 61 pass plays he didn’t even do a good job spreading the ball around either. His third-down play-calling was more predictable than Ned Flanders.

Last year, when their backs were against the wall after an embarrassing Pittsburgh loss, McVay came out against Seattle with 12 personnel that utilized his tight ends and ran well leading to a win. Hopefully, Miami was his yearly rock bottom that allows him a Gordon Bombay moment of getting back to basics and finding himself again.

This time he once again needs to get Tyler Higbee involved now that he’s healthy and needs Darrell Henderson to be fed early and often. Cam Akers needs to get more carries now that he’s had a bye week to catch up on what he missed while hurt. Cooper Kupp needs to hang on to the ball and Robert Woods doesn’t need to be doing third-down screens every time. It isn’t clear if McVay and offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell had any real conversations or if they’re chalking up the Miami loss as a fluke and they’ll double down on their BS.

The Rams have every chance in the world to not only take hold of their division but climb the ranks of a wide-open NFC. If they beat Seattle and then beat Brady next week, they can have a shot at the one seed in the NFC, which given the new playoff format, and Rams’ current success at home is super important. If they can turn the keys to the game in their favor, they can be the Super Bowl contender fans believe they can be.