Friday, September 28, 2012

Seahawks Defense Goal Sunday = Shutout

Sam Bradford and the Rams are not a team to underestimate. I have been warning anyone that would listen about their upside since Jeff Fisher came to town. Steven Jackson is a beast. Danny Amendola has as many receptions this season (25) as all the Seahawks wide receivers combined. They could very easily be 2-1 if things had fallen just slightly differently in the opener against the Lions. Here's the thing, though. They should not score a point against Seattle. Not a point. 

Bradford and the offense is built around a short passing game and a strong running game. Their wide receivers, Brandon Gibson and Steve Smith, are weak. Amendola mans the slot and is Bradford's favorite target. A stunning 70 of Bradford's 95 pass attempts in 2012 have been less than 10 yards down-field. Only 10 throws have traveled more than 20 yards, three of which have been completed. Seattle fans wring their hands about Russell Wilson's lack of attempts down-field, but he has the same number as Bradford (10) in 20 less total throws (75), and Wilson has completed one more than his Rams counterpart. The Seahawks secondary is built to destroy these passing games. 

Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner have faced the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jordy Nelson, Greg Jennings, and James Jones over the first three weeks and made them all look silly. Gibson and Smith will need to find a medium who can channel the spirit of Jerry Rice into them to have any hope of being productive. Bradford was a combined 32-69 (46%) against the Seahawks last year. He had some success his rookie year in the first game, but Seattle was ready for him in the last game of the year to earn a trip to the playoffs. The key was the role Earl Thomas played. Gus Bradley rolled Thomas up into the slot to cover Amendola in the second game. The Rams slot receiver went from 5 catches for 46 yards in the first match-up to 2 catches for 9 yards in the second. Bradley may choose to try Marcus Trufant there on Sunday, but Thomas is available since his talent patrolling the deep middle of the field is largely wasted against a team that never throws it that far. Playing Thomas on Amendola allows the Seahawks to play base defense even when there are three receivers on the field for St. Louis.

Base defense means three linebackers are out there being able to stuff the run instead of pulling one off to put a smaller player like Trufant in the game. The Rams running game has been strong this year, putting up the 10th best yards per carry (4.1) in the NFL. Jackson is nursing a groin injury, and will be a game-time decision. He is always a game-time decision versus Seattle, and it generally has not mattered either way. Seattle's run defense has not met a running game it cannot stop. Without the threat of a deeper passing attack, Kam Chancellor can spend all day as a fourth linebacker if need be. 

The Rams are playing without their starting left tackle and starting center. Their backup left tackle, Wayne Hunter, is also injured, but will need to play. Seattle's defensive line should have it's way on first and second downs, leaving St. Louis in a number of 3rd and long situations where Bradley can blitz the beejezus out of them. There was a hint of truth in Fisher's voice when he said he considered playing Kellen Clemens at quarterback after studying the game tape from the Seahawks Monday night win.

The controversy from the game against the Packers greatly reduces the risk of a letdown for the Seahawks, especially on defense. This was a unit that had a virtuoso performance which went largely ignored. They will be itching to smack people around on Sunday. A Seahawks win over the Packers without the controversy probably leads to a week of feature stories on this emerging dominant unit, setting them up for a fall. Consider it another reason to be thankful for that baloney all week.

Offenses that face a defensive challenge like this tend to look for ways to surprise. For the Rams, that would mean deep passes, or large numbers of quick passes in early downs. Perhaps, even some no huddle. The problem is the Rams simply don't have the personnel to pull it off in any sort of sustained way against Seattle. More likely, they find themselves out of their element, under pressure, unable to run, and all-of-a-sudden the ball is on the ground or in the hands of a Seahawks defender. Holding the Cowboys to seven points and the Packers to twelve means the Rams should not sniff the end zone. As much respect as people should have for the Rams and Bradford, the Seahawks defense presents a unique set of skills that leave St. Louis with little hope of being productive.

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