One week after losing to the New York Jets in the single biggest NFL upset of the last 25 years, the Los Angeles Rams will face the Seattle Seahawks Sunday afternoon. A pivotal match in the race for the NFC West crown, the winner will have the inside track to securing the division title and retaining the third seed in the conference playoff field.
While the Rams have owned the Seahawks as of late, Los Angeles continues to exhibit a Jekyll and Hyde nature, making it difficult to forecast the kind of performance the team will provide on any given Sunday. That, of course, won’t stop us from trying.
Here are our four bold predictions as the Rams take on the Seahawks in week 16 of the NFL season.
1. Jared Goff earns 300 passing yards and avoids an interception for the Rams
For all their disappointing losses this season, it’s been relatively easy to identify early in games when the Rams are about to deliver an uneven performance: all you have to do is watch Jared Goff on his first drive. Whether it’s the result of a lack of confidence, defensive aggressiveness, or both, Goff has a particular habit of stuttering in the pocket, holding the ball nervously as he hopes for a route to break open. While patience under pressure is usually a positive for a QB, too often, Goff will remain stationary between the guards, with his patience turning into indecisiveness and leading to a sack.
Even when he can get the ball away, Goff features below average vision, making it difficult for him to recognize the tight windows his wide receivers afford him. Fully aware of this, defenses have come into their games against the Rams looking to bring added pressure on LA’s offensive line, knowing full well that the Rams lack the secondary options to gain yardage once the initial action breaks down.
A game against the Seattle secondary, a unit he’s grown used to burning over the years, maybe exactly what he needs.
While the Seahawks have shown significant improvement over recent weeks, it bears pointing out that much of their performances have come against subpar opposition. Except for Kyler Murray and the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle has stared down a who’s who of journeymen QB’s since their loss to the Rams on Nov. 15th. Though genuine improvements have helped the Seahawks in the way they defend in the passing game, much of their success in the secondary has been the defensive line getting to the play-caller
Should Carlos Dunlap and company fail to wrack up sacks–more on that in a moment–then the Seahawks will likely resort to the risky blitzes with Jamal Adams that so frequently broke down earlier in the year. Though he may never become the top tier quarterback Los Angeles once imagined, Goff remains capable of taking advantage of a defense that is a man short. Against Seattle, that’s all he may be asked to do.
2. Seahawks are held to a single sack
There’s no less glamourous position in the NFL than that of an offensive lineman. Shrouded in anonymity and overshadowed by the quarterback and skill position players, a linemen’s work doesn’t lend itself to simple counting stats, and rarely are they noticed except when an apparent breakdown occurs. To everyone that watches, it’s clear that they are essential, but few can explain what separates a good player from a bad one.
This has been especially true for the Rams and their fans this season.
Given the aforementioned problems that Jared Goff has encountered, observers have gone back and forth over Los Angeles’s quality of offensive line. While the loss of Andrew Whitworth to an injury was significant, the Rams retain enough talent in the unit to provide above-average work.
Led by standout tackle Rob Havenstein, the Rams have an offensive line ranked 10th in passing according to advanced stats provided by the TheUndroppables.com. Buoyed by their extensive use of play-action–which LA has used 174 times this season, easily the most in the league–the line has benefitted from defenses having to adjust midplay to attack the pass. Even so, Havenstein and company have done a superb job of protecting Goff no matter the formation, giving the quarterback 2.5 seconds in the pocket when facing pressure–an eternity for most play-callers in the league.
Against Seattle, look for Sean McVay to change speeds throughout the match, as he hopes to keep the Seahawks front seven on their back foot and out of Goff’s face. If the Rams succeed in gaining the initiative, Seattle will be forced to chase receivers in the open field as they bring the safeties up to gain additional pressure or hope their line can breakthrough in man-to-man. For a coach who loves to scheme his way out of trouble, there’s no doubt that Sean McVay loves the versatility his offensive line provides.
3. Darious Williams gets an interception
For all the attention Jalen Ramsey receives–and rightly so–fellow cornerback Darious Williams has been just as elite playing opposite the all-world defender. With Los Angeles routinely moving Ramsey around in coverage, eating whole portions of the field rather than attempting to shut down a single target, teams have tried to get their number-one options the ball when Ramsey moves off them for a play.
Although such a strategy is logical, it often has the reverse effect of making the offense predictable and clueing the Rams’ defense into the next play. Using his solid frame and excellent vertical leap, Williams has grown adept at stymying wide receivers hoping to break loose once they are free of Ramsey’s grasp. Having accumulated four interceptions on the season, Williams has been on a bit of a dry spell since picking off Russell Wilson since their last meeting in November.
As long as he keeps DK Metcalf from gaining space Sunday afternoon, he should find himself in prime position to steal at least one ball for the Rams.
4. Rams win 28-21
For all their maddening struggles this season, the Rams possess a clear identity: establish the running game, utilize play-action, and gain field position from a stout defense.
The problems for Los Angeles occur when they are forced to improvise off of that plan. One of the reasons Sean McVay remains undefeated when leading at halftime is that an advantage after two quarters is in it of itself, an indication that their initial plan is working. While they will almost certainly need to prove that they can adjust if they are to get back to the Super Bowl, that will be a concern for another day, as the Rams will earn a wire-to-wire victory over the Seahawks. For week 16, at least, expect to see Dr. Jekyll.