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Key Matchups: Rams Vs Seahawks

The Rams And The Seahawks (And The Rest Of Us) Vs COVID-19

The sporting world was slapped with a hearty dose of reality this week. A spike in positive cases caused all American sports leagues to postpone games. The NFL dragged their feet as long as they could, but the severity among several clubs forced their hand. One of the hardest-hit teams was the Rams. At one time they had as many as 29 team members on the COVID/Reserve list. 

Of course, moving the games became a necessity for a few obvious reasons. There was the math problem of trying to field a football team when about half the squad cannot play, but there were also several loud voices demanding that the league take player safety into consideration. All that said, the Rams vs Seattle game has been moved to Tuesday at 4 pm PST and the story is still developing, or as Sean McVay describes it, “Mind-numbing.”

It is nearly impossible to predict which way the COVID football will bounce, but there have been some notable changes in recent hours. The most notable on the Rams side is the activation of Jalen Ramsey, Odell Beckham Jr, and Darrell Henderson. But, at the moment, they will be without Von Miller, Tyler Higbee, Rob Havenstein, and Jordan Fuller. Many of those 29 players remain on the COVID protocols.

For Seattle, both their leading rusher, Alex Collins, and their leading receiver, Tyler Lockett, have been in protocols for several days. They recently added six more players to their list including starters D.J. Reed (CB), Brandon Shell (OL), and backup running back Travis Homer.

Of course, what’s happening in sports is a microcosm of what is happening across the country. Cases are back on the rise and the US eclipsed 800,000 deaths due to the virus in the last few days. That number increases by about 1300 people a day. 

What is happening to the Rams is the same thing that is happening to the rest of us. The coronavirus is still affecting our plans, our jobs, our lives and it’s incredibly frustrating. I wish I didn’t have to write about COVID-19. I would much rather write about football. I want to delve into how the Rams can win by limiting Tyler Lockett with Darious Williams (Williams had a killer game last week while Ramsey was sidelined). And that’s the smallest of frustrations. 

This is all so frustrating because we just want to get back to normal and this proves we aren’t as close to that as we thought we were. We were counting down the final seconds of this fight, but then we looked up and the clock was gone. Just when we thought we had this thing on the ropes, it turns out this is no longer a boxing match. All of the sudden, it’s a marathon, and if you are like me, you’ve hit that runner’s wall. 

If I were a better writer I would tie all this up in a bow. I would say something inspiring and about how football is like life or how sports can bring us all together and bring a bit of normalcy into an abnormal time. Which I believe, but all my attempts to craft that paragraph have fallen very short of my expectation and my patience has worn thin with my lack of eloquence. 

So, I guess all I have to offer to you is my solidarity and a bit of encouragement. If you feel sad or mad or confused or worn out, I’m with you. I’m all of those things. Together we will figure out how to get over or through or around this wall. We will keep putting one foot ahead of the other. There is a finish line and we will get there. 

I will now spare you, dear reader. The rest will only be about football. Thank God!

Ernest Jones vs Russell Wilson

In the Rams/ Seahawks first meeting in October, Ernest Jones had logged 19 snaps in two games on defense. Fast forward a few weeks, he is now their starting inside linebacker and building a resume as an impact player on defense. What Jones’ journey proves is that the Rams know how to identify and develop late-round draft talent and that the NFL season is a long and winding road. 

In October, Jones was fourth on the depth chart behind Kenny Young (Now traded to the Broncos), Travin Howard (Now again on the IR), and Troy Reeder (Now backing up Jones) Last Monday, Jones logged the most playing time of his short NFL career, signaling an ability to play in more situations, and more importantly, increased trust from the coaching staff. It’s easy to see why they want him on the field more. He has come up with two interceptions, 42 tackles with a 6.7 missed tackle rate from Pro Football Focus, 14th best among linebackers. He has also managed eight pressures including two sacks and five hurries. That is the most by a Rams middle linebacker this season despite playing 99 fewer snaps than Reeder.

It was in that first meeting that Russell Wilson suffered a finger injury that would cause the end of his 165 consecutive starts streak. Wilson missed three games due to that injury and hasn’t played very well since his return in week 10. In the last five games he has played in since his return, he has averaged a 62.9 PFF grade. In contrast, in his first five games before the injury, he averaged a 79.9 grade. By all measurables, Wilson has had two different seasons in the first and most recent five games. In the first five, he had a completion percentage of 72, 10 touchdowns, and one interception. In the last five, he has had a 62.3 completion percentage, six touchdowns, and four interceptions. 

Even when he has played his best football of the season Seattle has found ways to lose games, but Wilson still gives the Seahawks their best chance at winning. Against the Rams, when Wilson was healthy and in the game, the Seahawks were able to keep the game close. The Rams got lucky in the first half when a Tyler Lockett touchdown was taken off the board because of a penalty and the subsequent field goal was missed. Of course, those things happen in every game, but it is almost certain that they won’t be able to rely on a Geno Smith fourth quarter to seal the game. Wilson is always a threat in close games, especially late in the fourth quarter. 

This is where Jones will prove to be one of the keys to a Rams victory. Wilson wants to stretch defenses vertically and has D.K. Metcalf to hit on deep routes. The Rams defense will be doing their damnedest to try to limit these plays. This creates a big void in Jones’ territory. He will be responsible for covering running backs, tight ends, and perhaps the occasional slant to Metcalf. 

Not only that, but Jones will also be the first line of defense against the run on the second level. The Seattle rushing game on a whole this season hasn’t been impressive, but over the last two games they have put up their two best games of the year for a combined 339 yards. In week five, the Rams held Seattle rushers to under 100 yards and to only four first downs. This came a week after giving up 216 yards on the ground to Arizona. More recently, the Rams defense has been good against the run which coincides with Jones earning the starting role. 

Jones has been consistently solid against the run but has been anything but consistent when in coverage. He faced a similar workload last week to what he will face against Wilson. Against the Cardinals, he allowed catches on all six of his targets and gave up 61 yards. While against Jacksonville he was targeted seven times and allowed only two receptions. Outside of Lockett and Metcalf the Seahawks next favorite target is former Rams tight end Gerald Everett. The Seahawks target tight ends more than five times a game and running backs more than four times per game on average. 

Jones has yet to face a great quarterback playing at his peak (Jones was only targeted once by Aaron Rodgers. Reeder was targeted seven times). If Wilson ends up playing like the ‘first five’ Wilson it will be the biggest test for the rookie.

Bad Special Teams vs Worse Special Teams

The Rams season has been marred by a mixed bag of special teams snafus. There have been missed field goals, kicks going out of bounds, short punts, a muffed kick, fumbles, Cooper Kupp returning punts, getting tricked by fake punts, blown onside kicks, penalties, missed tackles, botched fakes, just to name a few. 

The Seahawks on the other hand have one big glaring problem on special teams, their kicker. Jason Myers has a 68.8 field goal percentage. That’s second-worst among kickers who currently have a job in the NFL. He has missed five of 16 attempts. That’s 15 points. Half of the Seahawks losses have been by three points or less.

It’s hard to say which is worse. It’s like deciding if you want a multitude of bees swarming your face or taking a donkey kick to the gut. 

When the two teams played there was a series of special teams blunders. Each team missed a field goal. Matt Gay kicked two kickoffs out of bounds. Tutu Atwell tripped on nothing and then fumbled the ball. The Rams blocked a punt that was subsequently recovered by Seattle’s punter Michael Dickson. He was then able to pull off a successful punt. 

Neither team seems to be arriving at solid answers to these concerning issues. Seattle’s best answer has been to score when they get into the red zone. They have the fourth-best red zone touchdown rate in the league. Myers has attempted the fewest field goals of any kicker that has played in at least 10 games. Ryan Succop of the Buccaneers has the second least attempts with 20. 

In contrast to that, Matt Gay is having a great season. He has the best field goal percentage of any starting kicker. It is just the rest of the aspects of special teams that continue to haunt the Rams. Of course, there have been game-changing plays, but the most concerning are the details, the meat and potatoes of special teams. The Rams are 22nd in average yards returned per kickoff and they are 31st in average yards returned per punt. Johnny Hekker is averaging the third-worst net yards per punt. Because of these stats, the Rams are losing easy yards on both sides of the ball. 

After the special teams display that the two teams put on early in the year it is probably too much to ask that either team executes a flawless performance in this aspect of the game. But the one who is able to capitalize on the other mistakes will get a chance at easy points and that could decide the winner of the game. 

Los Angeles Rams Quarterback Matthew Stafford Against The Seattle Seahawks. Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell | LA Rams

Los Angeles Rams Quarterback Matthew Stafford Against The Seattle Seahawks. Photo Credit: Brevin Townsell | LA Rams

Ryan Anderson

Author Ryan Anderson

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