Friday, December 28, 2012

Rams Game May Be Closest In A Month

Nobody will fault Seahawks fans for looking past the St. Louis Rams. Their team has just eviscerated the mighty San Francisco 49ers. The Rams are much improved this season, but are certainly not the 49ers. Well, except for the fact that they beat the 49ers themselves, and should have done it twice. This is not an article that will attempt to convince anyone that the Rams will win on Sunday. Seattle is the better team, but there are some factors that could make this game less comfortable than the what Seahawks fans have witnessed the past few weeks.

The Rams managed to beat the Seahawks earlier in the year without the benefit of an offensive touchdown. Jeff Fisher thoroughly out-coached Pete Carroll and staff. A fake field goal worked for the Rams and an onsides kick was unsuccessful for the Seahawks and led directly to three points that figured significantly in the outcome. Seattle needed a late touchdown to win instead of simply needing a field goal to tie. Russell Wilson capped his worst game of the season with his third interception as he missed a wide open Doug Baldwin and threw to Anthony McCoy, who fell on the play. Some would call the first 49ers game Wilson's low point. That would be true based if it was only about passer rating, but his teammates did not help him much in San Francisco. The Rams game saw Wilson throw three picks, go 2-9 on 3rd downs and 1-3 in the red zone. This was the game when coaches and players really started to question whether there needed be a change at the quarterback position. Wilson made a big step forward on third downs in Carolina, and never looked back.

Seattle coaches under-utilized their running game in that first match-up. The Seahawks averaged 5.3 yards per carry, and Lynch easily went over 100 yards, but the coaches dialed up a number of passes in the second half when it was unnecessary. The Rams are best when defending the pass. Their secondary is in the top half the league in opponent passer rating, interceptions, and yards per attempt. Their defensive line is third in the NFL in sack percentage (the percentage of sacks per pass attempt). This is a group that has its eyes on leading the NFL in sacks.

It was this ability to pressure the passer that gave the 49ers fits in both games. The Rams combined for eight sacks and 15 quarterback hits in those two games. Perhaps even more impressive was their 12 combined tackles for loss. Seattle has not played the Rams with first-round pick Michael Brockers healthy. Brockers is having a fine rookie season with 4.0 sacks and 5 TFL from the defensive tackle position. It is not crazy to say this may be the best defensive line the Seahawks have faced since Miami. The 49ers were missing Justin Smith, and it is hard to say whether the Bills line was really motivated to play their best.

This Rams team has the chance to end the season with a winning record, including an undefeated run through the NFC West. They can feel the momentum they have gained this year, and the front office knows it has a boat load of draft choices coming their way the next few seasons. Just imagine what would be happening in St. Louis if they had traded Sam Bradford for fewer picks, and took Robert Griffin III.

Danny Amendola gave the Seahawks fits in the first game, and is the type of receiver that has punished Seattle in the slot. Walter Thurmond practiced yesterday, but it is not clear whether he will be ready for the game. His presence would greatly help in containing Amendola. Rookie receiver Chris Givens is another to watch for. He is a deep threat who beat Richard Sherman in the first match-up and is 10th in the NFL in yards per catch at 16.1.

Seattle needs to be able to run effectively early, and be efficient in the red zone. The Rams will come out with plenty of motivation, and Jeff Fisher will have a few tricks up his sleeves. Seattle is clearly the better team, and is playing at home. They are also coming off an emotional victory over their most hated rival, got big news about Sherman, and have been the toast of the town and NFL this week. The Rams had no players selected for the Pro Bowl, and have had nothing to think about but this game all week. Seattle needs to prove they have matured enough to focus on the task at hand, and take every opponent seriously. A close game in the fourth quarter means the Seahawks thought they could just show up and win. Here's to hoping the Seahawks locker room paid more attention to their Pro Bowl snubs and Wilson's unwavering focus on the game in front of him. A big win in this game would speak volumes about how much this team has grown up in 2012.

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