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Strengths vs Weaknesses: Rams Always Bring The Crazy

Prepare to enter The Twilight Zone known as the St. Louis Rams, where talent translates into miserable football unless they are playing the Seahawks, come to Seattle with the hope of sweeping the season series. Pete Carroll is 41-14 against every team not named the Rams, but just 4-3 against St. Louis since Jeff Fisher joined in 2012. That includes what felt like a fifth preseason game this year when Nick Foles was made to look like Johnny Unitas and an offense that is 31st in the NFL in scoring with Todd Gurley, managed to score 34 points without him against what is now the second-best scoring defense in the NFL. Welcome to the most bizarre matchup on the Seahawks schedule every year.

The way this works: Each offense will be pitted against the opposing defense and compared on an array of key statistical attributes based on their respective rank in the NFL. The charts that follow show the rank of each unit for each of these categories. What you want to look for is where there is a big disparity between the height of one bar and another. Keep in mind that since these are rankings, lower numbers are better, so tall bars are bad.

Seahawks Offense vs Rams Defense


Seahawks offensive weaknesses vs Rams defensive strengths

The Rams defense is built to rush the passer. They sacked Russell Wilson six times in the first matchup, with DT Aaron Donald and DE Robert Quinn collecting two sacks apiece. Quinn is now on the injured reserve, but Donald has continued his wrecking ball ways with a menacing 11.0 sacks from his tackle spot. He is approaching Warren Sapp territory. He is joined by DE Chris Long, DT Nick Fairley and DT William Hayes to form a still-potent pass rush.

Donald and the Rams will face a different Seahawks offensive line and passing game than they saw in week one, or really ever from this Seattle team. The Seahawks are getting the ball out faster and the line is protecting much better. It is worth noting, though, that Seattle went into that first game with a quick throw strategy. Wilson’s average time to attempt a pass was just 2.19 seconds, per ProFootballFocus.com, which was fourth fastest in the NFL that week. The line just could not function.

The Rams defense is an enigma. We will discuss their weaknesses in a second, but they have talent at every level of the defense. It is no surprise to find a team with pass rush talent like St. Louis is second in the NFL in stopping opponents on 3rd down. The odd part is they struggle on first and second downs. It also odd that they are a better pass defending team with that pass rush than they are at run defense, but they ranked second in the NFL on 3rd and less than 3 while also ranking first in 3rd and long (10+ yards). How can a poor run defense be so strong on 3rd and short?

St. Louis ranks second in the NFL in stopping 3rd and short (3 yards or less) and are first in stopping 3rd and long (10+ yards)

They will meet the hottest 3rd down offense in football. Seattle is converting 64.1% of their 3rd downs over the past five games. That will be a strength versus strength matchup that will decide just how close this game is.

Similarly, the Rams are great in the red zone. Seattle has been shredding red zone defenses lately. Seattle was 1-4 in the red zone against the Rams in the first game. That decided the outcome as much as anything. This is the perfect time to see just how things have changed over the past few months.

Rams defensive weaknesses vs Seahawks offensive strengths

One of the things that worked so well for the Rams in the first matchup was LB Alec Ogletree having the athletic ability to track down Wilson on scrambles. Ogletree is now on the injured reserve. Akeem Ayers is the named starter to take his place, but the Rams tend to play a lot of nickel with just two linebackers, James Laurinaitis and Mark Barron, on the field.

That has not stopped opposing offenses from completing a ton of passes without much fear of interception. The Rams rank 28th in the NFL in opponent completion rate and 20th in interception rate. They will be facing the most accurate passer in the NFL of late.

The loss of starting safety T.J. McDonald has hurt the Rams pass defense, which ranks 21st in pass yards allowed. Replacement Maurice Alexander is in just his second season, and only played on special teams before McDonald went down. Seattle was able to punish the Rams with a tight end when Jimmy Graham was healthy. It will be interesting to see how they attack them through the air this time around. Expect Tyler Lockett to play a much larger role.

It is another Rams mystery how they can have so much talent on their defensive line and struggle to stop the run. They are 23rd in rush yards allowed and 19th in yards per attempt, proving it is not just a case of teams running the ball when they have the lead.

Seattle ran for 184 yards last week without Marshawn Lynch or Thomas Rawls, but the Browns run defense is one of the worst in the NFL. The treading will be tougher against the Rams. This game will tell the Seahawks a lot about who Christine Michael can be for them come playoff time.

Rams Offense vs Seahawks Defense

Rams offensive strengths vs Seahawks defensive weaknesses

The Rams offense does not possess many strengths. They have a guy named Todd Gurley. He’s pretty good. St. Louis is seventh in the NFL in rush yards and third in yards per rush. That sets up another strength versus strength showdown as the Seahawks run defense has been stout all year. They have never faced Gurley, and you can bet Fisher has been looking forward to having his own battering ram at running back when playing Carroll.

An odd strength of the Rams is rank in sack rate. They are fourth in the NFL in that category despite having a porous offensive line and plodding quarterbacks. Foles was very good at getting rid of the ball quickly, which was likely the best explanation for how St. Louis can rank 4th in sack rate and 26th in total pressures allowed.

Both guards who started against Seattle in week one, Jaron Brown and Roger Saffold, are on the injured reserve and have been replaced by Garrett Reynolds and Cody Wichman

New guard Garrett Reynolds appears to be an improvement, while Wichman has struggled. New quarterback Case Keenum made some nice throws last week leading to the Rams first 30+ point game since they played Seattle in week one. Still, stopping Gurley and the run game is job one for the Seahawks. Trotting out the Adrian Peterson game plan would be wise.

Rams offensive weaknesses vs Seahawks defensive strengths

Where to start? The Rams rank 30th or worst in six of the thirteen categories I like to look at. Most egregious is their dead last ranking on 3rd downs. Even in their win last week, they converted just 2 of 10 chances on 3rd down, and both of those came on one drive. 

This offense manages to get a first down on just 25% of their third down opportunities. Over a recent three-game stretch, the Rams went 4 for 39 on third down (10%).

They signed Wes Welker in the hopes he would assist, but it has not made the difference they had hoped for. Seattle is the best third down defense the Rams have faced in a while, and they will be trying to execute in a hostile environment. 
They struggle in the red zone. They have trouble gaining yards in general. Their 31 point outburst against the Bucs included just 319 yards of offense. The Seahawks defense absolutely must hold this team down. Expect trick plays. Expect a lot of Tavon Austin and Gurley on screens. If this was any other team, I would predict fewer than 10 points against Seattle, but all bets are off when the Rams play the Seahawks.

Special Teams

Seahawks kicking vs Rams returning

Rams kicking vs Seahawks returning

Of course the only Rams return for touchdown this year came against the Seahawks. Of course it did. The Rams come in with a very solid special teams group that has pantsed the Seahawks pretty much every time Fisher has faced Carroll. It got so bad that Carroll seems to try and get one over on Fisher now, and they almost never work.

St. Louis will not give Lockett many chances, but he did get his lone punt return for a touchdown against the Rams. Take that! It came after the Seahawks defense pinned the Rams back in their own end zone. Seattle cannot lose this game on special teams. It is time for Brian Schneider to have his group ready to play.

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