How about that NFC West? In a game that nobody was looking forward to, the Los Angeles Rams escaped with a two-point victory over the winless San Francisco 49ers by a score of 41-39. Roughly translated, that is about four games of Seahawks offensive output in one game for both squads. There were impressive performances all around. Los Angeles, in particular, looks like a team capable of challenging for supremacy in a troubled NFC West.
Jared Goff no longer looks like the village idiot behind center. Todd Gurley has fewer than three guys in the backfield to bring him down. Cooper Kupp, Sammy Watkins, and Robert Woods provide a capable trio of targets for young Goff. Tavon Austin is the change-of-pace hood ornament instead of the primary target, as he always should have been. Gone is hapless top pick Greg Robinson, replaced by Pro Bowl veteran Andrew Whitworth.
The new concoction has turned the worst offense in the NFL into the top-scoring offense to this point, with a gaudy 35.7 point per game average. They have scored over 40 points twice in their first three games, and the success looks repeatable. San Francisco represents the best defense they have faced so far, if not a good one, and they barely registered as a speed bump much of the night.
One thing keeping the Rams from looking like a powerhouse is a defense that is allowing the 8th-most total yards and 3rd-most rushing yards after facing the Colts, Redskins, and 49ers offenses. Few will be writing or talking about that because the offense is more fun and flashy of a topic, but the dreadful defense is arguably as surprising as the electric offense.
Wade Phillips was brought on as the defensive coordinator and given players like Michael Brockers, Robert Quinn, Alec Ogletree, and Mark Barron to play with. Aaron Donald missed the first game, but has been back for the last two. Phillips has created some of the NFL’s best defenses with less talent than this.
The 49ers offense is toothless. Carlos Hyde is their best player, and while he is a fine player, he is not a juggernaught. Plus, he was out part of this game due to injury, and the 49ers still rolled up 421 yards and 39 points. Granted, there were some special plays by receivers Marquise Goodwin and Pierre Garcon, but there was a lot of room to roam through the air and on the ground.
We might rightfully expect to see that defense improve as Wilson gets more time with them, except for the fact that this group has a history of underperforming, especially against the run. Should they find stability on that side of the ball, the Rams could give a lot of teams headaches this season. Maybe in that bizarro world, the Seahawks will be the only team they struggle against.
Fingers crossed for Chris Carson
Everyone watching that game last weekend had to see it, right? I am not talking about the overall dreadful offensive performance by the Seahawks. I am talking about the powerful running of Chris Carson behind a line that seemed to even successfully block the person they were meant to block. Carson finished with 20 carries. The significance of that came not on Sunday, but on Wednesday when Carson was not listed anywhere on the injury report.
As much as I like Thomas Rawls, he has yet to carry the ball more than 16 times in a game without missing time during practice the next week. He runs with reckless abandon, and his body is not well-equipped to withstand that pounding for significant reps. Carson looks like a guy who is better built for the type of load the Seahawks would like to put on their running backs shoulders.
One of the less mentioned reasons for why the Seahawks staff may have backed off their commitment to the run last season was that they did not have a back who could take the pounding.
It is not easy or glamorous to send yourself hurtling into angry 300 pound men time after time, with the hopes of gaining 3-5 yards. Marshawn Lynch not only had the courage, but he had remarkable durability.
None of this is to suggest Carson is durable. We have no way of knowing. What matters is the Seahawks demonstrated a belief that they can hand him the ball time-after-time and he will get more effective as the game wears on.
They did not know that before the very end of that game. They also did not know how he would respond physically until practice started up again. With all signs pointing in the positive on that front, the thing I really want to see this Sunday is a stubborn commitment to handing Carson the ball. It won’t always be pretty, but it will help to reestablish the identity this team was built on.
Not high on grass?
The Seahawks play on grass again this weekend. That has not been a kind surface for this offense of late. Their last six games on grass went like this:
9 points @ Green Bay
25 points @ San Francisco
10 points @ Green Bay
5 points @ Tampa Bay
6 points @ Arizona
3 points @ Los Angeles Rams
That is an average of 9.6 points per game. You may say, “Well, that offense stinks on any surface.” What would you say if I told you they average 26.4 points on artificial surfaces since the beginning of last season? It is the truth.
This disparity is a new thing. The Seahawks did fine on grass before 2016, and this is more likely a small sample size aberration, but there is at least some truth to the fact that the surface played a role in the game against the Packers. Paul Richardson was one of a number of Seahawks players who had trouble getting out of their breaks (remember the slip in his red zone route).