By: Casey Mabbott/Oregon Sports Newtork
This Thursday night, Seattle will appear in their first prime time game and host the Los Angeles Rams. This will be LA’s second prime time game, as they hosted the Bears on Sunday Night Football in week one.
Current forecasts for Thursday Night in Seattle call for partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s with minimal wind. It should be perfect fall football weather for a showdown between two teams looking to make a statement in front of a national audience and no other NFL games to distract them.
Russell Wilson has dueled Matthew Stafford four times, with three meetings in the regular season and one in the playoffs. Stafford led Detroit to victory against Wilson’s Seahawks just once – a 28-24 win in their first meeting in 2012 – Wilson’s rookie season. Wilson prevailed 13-10 in 2015, and that’s the last time a single score decided the game. When the teams met in the 2017 playoffs, Seattle won 26-6, and when they met for a rematch in the 2018 regular season, the result was similar – a 28-14 victory.
Something to keep in mind is that in each of those meetings, Stafford played for Detroit. This will be Wilson’s first shot at him as the leader of the Rams. Stafford had some excellent years in the motor city, but those offenses were not anything like the streamlined scoring machine he’s operating these days for LA. Wilson had better be ready to match points in a shootout, something that has troubled Seattle so far this season.
So far in the 2021 season, Wilson has just one home game, and Stafford has just one road game, with both contests being decided by three points and both taking place in week two.
Wilson could not lead the team to victory in his first home game, losing by three points in overtime to Tennessee. In his only road game this season, Stafford led the Rams to a narrow win over Indianapolis, and we don’t know for sure if they would have won if Colts QB Carson Wentz had not left the game with over seven minutes remaining with an injured ankle. At the time of his injury, the game was tied at 24, and his backup immediately put the Rams in field goal range due to an intercepted pass. While it’s entirely possible that the Colts would have suffered defeat regardless of who finished the game at QB, we can’t be sure.
Stafford completed 19 of 30 passes for 278 yards with two touchdowns to one interception in his lone road contest and was sacked once. In Wilson’s lone home game, he completed 22 of 31 passes for 343 yards with two touchdowns, zero interceptions, and was sacked three times. Good performances by both players in tight games, so if this one gets close, it might come down to who has the ball last and who blinks first.
The QBs seem to be just about even, perhaps a slight edge to Stafford, who has played more consistently this year. Seattle cannot seem to decide if they want to score for the whole game or just one half, but if they ever get it figured out, they could be a downright scary team. Until they do, however, they will have to prove that they can keep it going when the defense adjusts. Last week we saw Seattle repeatedly stumble in the first half and then score multiple times in the second half, which is a new trend for them. If they can score something like once a quarter, they could be tough to beat. They got lucky that the other team had no answer at QB last week, an advantage they won’t have this week.
A week ago, the Rams were 3-0 and fresh off a 34-24 win over Tampa Bay that was not nearly as close as the final score indicated. They hosted Arizona on Sunday afternoon and were embarrassed in a 37-20 defeat, and again the game was not as close as the final score indicated. Stafford looked off most of the game, struggling with accuracy and timing. Going into the game, Rams receiver Cooper Kupp had at least 96 yards and one touchdown in each game this season, yet the Cardinals held him to 64 yards and zero touchdowns. Taking away Stafford’s preferred target seemed to disrupt the offense as a whole, and we’ll see if Seattle attempts to do the same and force the Rams to find success by spreading the wealth around.
Seattle’s defense is of the “bend but doesn’t break” variety, and while they have had their moments, they haven’t had many impressive moments against quality teams. They gave up chunk gains on repeat in losses to Tennessee and Minnesota but overall had good team defense in the wins over Indianapolis and San Francisco. If they can come out against the Rams and make an early statement that there won’t be any easy scores, it could go a long way toward surviving a Rams team looking to forget (and help others forget) their unexpected and humbling loss.
In the early stages of the season, Wilson has had trouble getting the ball to both of his great receivers until last week, that is. Before that, he would focus on one per half and then ignore the other one for the rest of the game, and vice versa. Wilson seemed more focused on the task at hand last week rather than who was getting the ball, as both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett finished the game with four catches each. Wilson will likely need a more significant day out of one of them if they are going to beat the Rams, but eight catches from his two best players were enough against the 49ers. If Metcalf or Lockett don’t have that same amount by themselves this week, it could mean trouble for Seattle.
Rams All-pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey will likely spend most of his time following Metcalf, and DK had not performed well against Ramsey until he turned the corner in their matchup in the playoffs when he caught five passes for 96 yards and two touchdowns. In their two regular season matchups last season, Metcalf averaged four catches for 44 yards. He’ll have to play as he did in the playoffs if Seattle is going to win this one, but he’ll need Lockett to perform also. In three games against mostly the Rams’ second-best corner, Lockett averaged three catches per game for 51 yards and no touchdowns.
Seattle simply needs both of their star receivers to step up; they are not likely to beat an offensive powerhouse like LA without great games from their best players. They will need good games from all of their players, but the clutch plays need to come from their top guys.
The Rams aren’t just a team built on offense; they also boast one of the league’s best defenses, so when opportunity knocks – and it won’t knock often – Seattle needs to strike. And they will need to do it in the air, and it will need to be Metcalf or Lockett. If either player struggles, it could be a long day for the defense. If they both struggle, it could be a long drive home for the fans who showed up expecting a win and instead have to get to work Friday morning wondering what happened.
While they have a ton of talent at receiver, the Rams really only have one major threat for Seattle to spend a lot of time worrying about because that one player is a massive part of their offense. This season, Stafford has thrown for 1,222 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Cooper Kupp has accounted for 35% of those yards and 45% of those TDs.
That does leave 65% of the yards and 55% of the TDs up in the air, but it gets divided amongst at least five other players. Once you see those individual volumes, you realize that it’s not a total offense as much as it’s Stafford and Kupp and many other guys. The rest of Stafford’s yards go to a combination of Van Jefferson (18%), Robert Woods (14%), DeSean Jackson (12%), Tyler Higbee (12%), and Darrell Henderson (5%). Kupp has five touchdowns; Jefferson and Woods are next in line with two apiece. This is not to sell any of these players short, just to illustrate their relatively low usage in a pass-heavy offense. All of these guys are dangerous and athletic players that Seattle should in no way sleep on. But they shouldn’t be consistently letting themselves get beat for big plays, either.
When you have one guy getting 35% of the yards, and the next best guy only gets 14%, you definitely worry about the guy with more volume and make the lower volume players beat you. It’s not a guarantee; it’s about playing brilliant football, which means taking the odds and shifting the pressure against your opponent to do something they aren’t comfortable doing.
While it might seem crazy to think that stopping Kupp almost automatically leads to dysfunction on offense, that’s exactly what Arizona did a week ago, along with getting pressure on Stafford. You have to take away his primary target and force him to rush his reads and throw once he makes a decision. Give him time, and Stafford will end you. Give your defense time to get in his face, and Stafford might make enough mistakes to be vulnerable. It’s easy to say, even easier to write, and much more challenging to accomplish. Arizona is the only team to do this for four quarters, so while there is a blueprint, it doesn’t mean any team can follow it and pull it off.
The Rams are going to win many games this season, and the honest truth is that Thursday’s game might be one of them. It’s up to the Seahawks to make that last comment sound silly because right now, it looks realistic.
The game will kickoff at 5:20 pm this Thursday and will be on FOX and available to stream on Amazon Prime.