OSN Column: NFC West Week Four – Seahawks Visit 49ers, Rams Host Cardinals
By: Casey Mabbott/Oregon Sports News
It’s only been three weeks, but it feels like there has been a season-long roller coaster already. And there are still 15 weeks left!
This week, all four teams are competing with a division rival. Adding to the tension, their games are at the same kickoff time, taking place just 350 miles apart in Inglewood and Santa Clara, California, on Sunday afternoon.
After a convincing win in week one, the Seahawks have lost two in a row and will travel to face San Francisco, who lost their first game in a heartbreaker in their home opener on Sunday night. LA did quick work of defending Super Bowl champions Tampa Bay and Tom Brady, jumping out to an early lead and then continuing to score while frustrating and confusing Brady’s Buccaneers and their usually loaded offense.
LA hosts Arizona in a battle of 3-0 teams, but Arizona appeared to be in trouble last week in Jacksonville before pulling away late. Having not faced a quality opponent yet, it’s tough to say if the Cardinals’ red hot offense is for real or if they have just been feeding on lesser teams. We’ll find out this week as they face the hottest team in all of football.
Los Angeles Rams Vs. Arizona Cardinals Sunday 1:05 pm (Fox – Out of Region)
If I didn’t know any better, I would assume this was year ten for Rams QB Matt Stafford running Sean McVay’s offense. But we’re only three games into year one, and LA’s newest QB looks more comfortable than he ever did in Detroit. Stafford has been on fire at home so far, leading his team to wins in both contests while throwing for 664 yards with seven touchdowns and zero interceptions – and only being sacked twice. He’s attempted 64 passes, so this is not a run-first team; they like to air it out and are quite good at it. As talented as Arizona’s defense is, they might not have enough playmakers across the formation to match the Rams’ best options. If Arizona can somehow corral Rams receiver Cooper Kupp they might have a shot, although no one has come close so far in the early goings of the season. If Kupp can stay healthy (never a given with his injury history), he might shatter some of the Rams’ franchise receiving records.
The Rams have won both of their home games by at least two scores, so if you see them start to pull away, don’t expect to see the margin get tighter than 10 points.
Cardinals QB Kyler Murray has been very good this year, although he struggled a week ago in Jacksonville despite his team pulling away late. Murray has led Arizona to a 2-0 record in two road games, throwing for 605 yards with four touchdowns and two interceptions while being sacked twice. Murray has run in one touchdown in each victory, so the Rams will have to account for his legs as well as his arm once he reaches the red zone. Murray and receiver DeAndre Hopkins haven’t been quite as lethal as they were a year ago, but Murray has found other options when the defense gives extra attention to his preferred target, and the yards and points haven’t taken a hit.
The Cardinals have won both of their road games by at least two scores, so this should be an interesting battle of strength vs. strength with the division lead on the line as the Rams have made mincemeat of their opponents at home thus far. It appears getting pressure on Stafford is the key, but there isn’t a blueprint for it. If Tampa Bay’s lethal front seven struggled to get to him a week ago, I don’t like Arizona’s chances much better.
These two defenses are anchored by a future hall of famer that has won the defensive player of the year award three times each. We won’t see that happen again until these teams meet again in week 14, and after that, who knows. Arizona trusts JJ Watt to control the trenches and implode the other team’s offensive line, while LA looks to Aaron Donald to be a one-man wrecking crew and make life miserable for the opposing team, no matter who they are. Both teams have weaknesses in the secondary, but they are pretty good at disguising and shifting coverages to force the QB to go through their reads, which helps the pass rush by giving them more time to get home. As the QB gets hit more and more, they hear footsteps, and it throws off their timing with receivers. And that can lead to mistakes – and we know mistakes lead to turnovers.
It’s incredible how one rushed throw can change the outcome of a game. We’ve seen it a million times before, a QB trying to get rid of the ball early with a defender closing in. It usually means the ball arrives at the wrong point on the field, even if it’s just half a yard in any direction. That could mean an interception if the receiver cannot adjust in time and the defense is ready for it. It could be just a boring incompletion as the ball hits the turf, but if it’s a change of possession and the game is extremely close on the scoreboard, one play gone wrong could mean the difference between victory and defeat.
This game will likely be decided by one of two scenarios – the first is that the teams get caught in a very entertaining shootout with both defenses mostly taking a back seat, and the team to have the ball last is the one that wins. The second and more likely scenario is that both teams play well, but a critical mistake by a QB late in the game leads to the other offense lining up in the victory formation. I’d guess that LA wins this one-by-one score and that the result is in doubt until there are less than two minutes left.
Prediction– Rams defeat Cardinals 28-21
San Francisco 49ers vs. Seattle Seahawks Sunday 1:05 pm (Fox – In Region)
We probably would have assumed this game would be a Seattle blowout victory three weeks ago, as San Francisco struggled to close out their first win against Detroit, and the Seahawks cruised to a win against Indianapolis. Two weeks ago, we likely would have seen Seattle as at least a touchdown favorite, as they mostly lost to Tennessee in overtime due to self-inflicted wounds, but looked relatively great on offense most of the afternoon – until it mattered most. The 49ers struggled to score at Philadelphia, mainly winning thanks to erratic play from their opponent rather than what they were accomplishing. This week, I’m calling the game even. I think Seattle has a slight edge, but I’m moving the needle back to zero since it’s in the bay.
San Francisco was shutout at home by Green Bay for most of the first half last week, finally getting on the scoreboard in the closing seconds of the second quarter and needing to go deep in their playbook to do it. The second half was much better as both teams scored in bunches, and the 49ers took their first lead of the night – a one-point advantage with just 37 seconds remaining. The math didn’t work in their favor as we found out that 49 minus 37 is 12 – the number worn by Packers QB Aaron Rodgers. Four (six if you count spiking the ball) plays later, the game was over with the Packers winning 30-28 on a last-second field goal.
Seattle had a heartbreaking loss of their own, going into halftime at Minnesota trailing 21-17 after leaping out to an early 17-7 lead. A rushing touchdown by RB Chris Carson would be their final points of the afternoon, and it took place with more than eleven minutes remaining in the second quarter. Neither team scored a touchdown in the second half, the only scores coming from Minnesota kicker Greg Joseph the rest of the way. The defense did their part, holding the opponent to nine points in the second half. Still, the offense managed zero points in the same timespan – that’s inexcusable for a team that wanted to send a message on this season and has failed to play a complete game since their lone victory in week one.
This brings us to this week, and both teams needing a win to get their season back on track. Seattle probably needs this one more; I don’t like their chances to compete for much if they fall to 1-3, although that’s not as bad as it used to be with the extra game this year. The worst case for the 49ers is a .500 record, which is the best case for Seattle in this game. In only one home game this year, San Francisco QB Jimmy Garoppolo passed for 257 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, also losing a fumble and being sacked twice. His team only lost by two points, so it’s possible either of those turnovers indirectly resulted in the loss.
In an offense built on opening the downfield passing game by bringing the defense closer to the line via the run and play action as well as wide receiver sweeps and screens, Jimmy doesn’t need to be perfect, but he needs to limit his mistakes. In their only game against a quality opponent, Jimmy G managed to hand the ball over to the defense twice and struggled to keep drives going between the twenties on possessions that didn’t end in a score. He’ll have opportunities to move the ball on Seattle as they figure out their secondary, but he had better be ready for the very capable pass rush Seattle has coming from their defensive line.
On the other side, you have a QB widely regarded as one of the best in the game. Seattle QB Russell Wilson will get this offense figured out, but they are in a tough spot right now. Wilson has led the Seahawks to two-score leads in each game this season but has struggled to finish drives in the second half the last two weeks. Other than their solid win in week one, Seattle has only scored seven second half points this season. Seven points in four quarters? That won’t work. They led 24-9 at the half in week two, losing 33-30. They were up 17-7 early in the second quarter in week two, losing 30-17.
Wilson has led his team to a 1-1 record in his two road games this season while passing for 552 yards with five touchdowns and zero interceptions. He has been sacked five times and has struggled to find DK Metcalf consistently for an entire game. Metcalf was almost non-existent in the first half of the Tennessee loss and disappeared after halftime in the loss at Minnesota. I’m convinced that getting Metcalf involved for the entire game is how they get their second victory. As bad as Seattle’s pass coverage has been at times, San Francisco’s might be worse, and they expect to be down Josh Norman this week. That’s good news for Wilson and Metcalf.
They connected for more than 100 yards and a touchdown last week, although most of those numbers took place in the first half. Wilson barely looked Metcalf’s way as the game got tight, and things took a turn when Tyler Lockett was forced to sit for a while after a brutal (but legal) tackle twisted his knee. Lockett has been limited in practice this week, and his status for Sunday is in doubt. Even playing the majority of the game at Minnesota, Lockett only posted four catches for 31 yards and zero touchdowns, a far cry from the video game numbers he averaged in the first two games.
If Seattle cannot figure out how to spread the ball around between two elite receivers, they’re going to be in trouble. Wilson seems to have eyes for just Metcalf or just Lockett at a time – after both posted 1000 yard seasons a year ago. If Wilson can get both involved in the same game, it could spell doom for the opposing defense. Freddie Swain is no slouch, but he cannot be the primary playmaker when the defense focuses on Wilson’s preferred target that half. So far, when Wilson has to look for Swain as his best option, Seattle is 0-2. When Wilson gets a good game from his primary scoring options, Seattle is 1-0. It’s not rocket science, but someone needs to tell play caller Shane Waldron to get the other receiver involved once the defense adjusts and then adjust back when the defense gets loose.
Both of these teams have unpredictable offenses with great talent at receiver, above-average offensive lines, and a defense built to stop the run and rush the passer – but struggles to stop opposing receivers. The team that gets after the QB and figures out some quality pass defense might be the one that wins this game. If Seattle can score early and often as well as keep it going in the second half, it could create some unsavory looks for San Francisco and force them into plays they will want back. If Seattle comes out cold in the second half, it could be another demoralizing loss in three consecutive weeks.
Seattle has lost one road game by multiple scores and won one by multiple scores, so who knows what to expect this week. If we get the Seattle offense from week one, San Francisco has no chance. If we get the Seattle offense from the second half of either of their two losses, I bet the 49ers will win, and it won’t look as tough as it should. All of that said, I think this becomes the game where Seattle turns their season around. I expect Wilson to get Seattle on the board early and often and never look back.
Prediction – Seattle wins 34-17