The NFL’s best division is off to a fantastic start, with the NFC West’s four teams combining for an 11-5 record and every team sporting a positive point differential. Two of that division’s stalwarts square off tonight in this week’s edition of “Thursday Night Football,” as the Seattle Seahawks play host to the Los Angeles Rams.
Each team is coming off another game against a division opponent. The Seahawks evened their record at 2-2 by defeating the 49ers last Sunday, while the Rams dropped to 3-1 after being handed their first loss of the season by the Cardinals. Can Seattle keep the good times rolling? Will L.A. get back on track?
Let’s break down the matchup. But first, here’s how you can watch Thursday night’s festivities.
How to watch
Date: Thursday, Oct. 7 | Time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Location: Lumen Field (Seattle)
TV: Fox/NFLN | Stream: fuboTV (click here)
Follow: CBS Sports App
Odds: Rams -2.5, O/U 54.5
When the Rams have the ball
The Rams are coming off an uncharacteristically poor offensive showing against the Cardinals. They’d previously blitzed the Bears, Colts, and Buccaneers for a combined 95 points, but totaled only 20 against Arizona. Matthew Stafford looked rattled and inaccurate, and it seemed pressure affected him a bit more than usual. He was pressured on only around a quarter of his dropbacks, per TruMedia, but was only 5 of 11 for 71 yards on those players. (He was previously 11 of 21 for 211 yards and three touchdowns.) The Seahawks will be looking to force him into a similarly inefficient performance on Thursday night.
The Seahawks have actually generated pressure ever-so-slightly more often than the Cardinals this season (33 percent of opponent dropbacks vs. 32.5 percent), but still check in just below the league average (33.5 percent). The issue is those pressures have not affected opposing passers in the same way: Arizona has forced Stafford, Trevor Lawrence, Kirk Cousins, and Ryan Tannehill into just 19 of 43 passing (44.2 percent) for 211 yards (4.9 per attempt) on pressured throws, with three touchdowns, three interceptions, and nine sacks; Seattle has held Carson Wentz, Tannehill, Cousins, Jimmy Garoppolo, and Trey Lance to 24 of 43 (55.8 percent) for for 250 yards (5.8 per attempt), yielding one touchdown, zero picks, and nine sacks. Arizona has allowed only 1 yard per scramble, while Seattle has given up 8.3 per.
Working against the Seahawks defense in third particular matchup is their heavy reliance on zone coverage. Seattle has been in zone on 81.9 percent of opponent passing plays, per TruMedia, the second-highest rate of zone coverage in the league. Stafford has largely ripped up zones so far, completing 68 of 99 passes (68.7 percent) for 931 yards (9.4 per attempt), five touchdowns, and two picks, while ranking third in EPA per play. He and Cooper Kupp, in particular, have routinely been able to take advantage of opponents in zone, with Kupp finding soft spots between, behind, and otherwise far away from defenders and Stafford targeting him with regularity. Robert Woods hasn’t been as involved as he typically is, but he’s another excellent zone beater and the Rams have been talking about wanting to get him more involved.
If the Seahawks move to more man coverages, the Rams should have advantages across the board. Kupp will have a much easier time with Ugo Amadi in the slot than he did with Byron Murphy last week, while Woods, Van Jefferson, and DeSean Jackson don’t figure to be challenged much by Sidney Jones (or the recently benched Tre Flowers) and D.J. Reed, who have left much to be desired in coverage this season. The one area where the Seahawks should be able to handle the Rams in coverage is with Bobby Wagner against either Tyler Higbee or Darrell Henderson, but we’ve seen the Rams survive and even thrive with those players being minimally involved in the proceedings (at least through the air).
Henderson returned to nearly full-time lead-back duties after sitting out Week 3 due to injury, and he’s run extremely well behind what has been one of the NFL’s better offensive lines in the early going. Seattle has allowed a slightly below-average 1.52 yards before contact per rush this season, per TruMedia, but has been among the league’s worst teams at containing players following broken tackles. Ensuring that Henderson is dropped to the ground on first contact will be paramount, especially given his long-range speed.
When the Seahawks have the ball
Predictably, the Seahawks’ preseason insistence that they would run an uptempo, modernized offense under new offensive coordinator Shane Waldron (formerly of the Rams) has not been borne out on the field. Pete Carroll insists every offseason that he wants to do things differently, and then he doesn’t. The identity or history of the offensive coordinator doesn’t really matter.
Seattle ranks 18th in situation-neutral seconds per snap, according to Football Outsiders, and is actually operating around seven-tenths of a second slower than last year. The Seahawks rank middle of the pack in early-down pass rate, and they’ve been among the most static offenses in the NFL, utilizing pre-snap motion on only 28.3 percent of plays (fourth-lowest in the league, per TruMedia). Even the team’s play-action pass rate (which was expected to be a big emphasis) has barely budged, coming in just over 30 percent compared to 27 percent a year ago.
And yet, despite ALL of that, the Seahawks rank among the most efficient offenses in the NFL, largely because they are quarterbacked by Russell Wilson. Seattle sits fourth in Football Outsiders’ offensive DVOA and is tied for eighth in overall EPA per play. When the Seahawks have deigned to let him throw the ball on early downs, Wilson has been electric. He sits in a tie for second in EPA per play on those dropbacks, completing 71 of 86 passes for 866 yards, seven touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Whether or not they’ll allow him to do so against the Rams is an open question. Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has kept many of the principles of last year’s Brandon Staley-led defense in place, as the Rams lead the NFL (by far) in plays with six or fewer defenders in the box. They dare opponents to run the ball by their very alignment, and opponents have obliged them fairly often. Seattle ranks 11th in run rate into light boxes this year, but only 19th in EPA per rush attempt on those plays. (They haven’t been much better with the pass, sitting just 15th in EPA per play, with their relative struggles against two-high safety looks that cropped up last year, carrying over a bit into this season.)
Chris Carson has seen his workload cut in recent weeks in favor of Alex Collins and Travis Homer, with the former cutting into early-down snaps and Homer taking on more of a third-down and passing-situation role. Collins ran more effectively than Carson last week against San Francisco, but has largely been a replacement-level back during his career, while Carson has been more than that. It seems wise to expect that Carson will regain his role at some point, perhaps as soon as this week, and that he’ll get back to being the physical, downhill runner he’s been for the majority of his tenure. (Carson did not practice all week, though, so this might not be the week where he reascends.) How wise it would be for Seattle to make him the focus of the game plan against L.A. is a different story.
One interesting thing to watch, matchup-wise, is where Jalen Ramsey lines up for the Rams. Last year, he shadowed DK Metcalf. This year, he’s aligned in the slot far more often, which would pit him against Tyler Lockett. Metcalf is healthier than Lockett at the moment, and would have an enormous size mismatch against No. 2 corner Darious Williams on the outside, if the Rams were to use Ramsey in the role he’s played for most of this season. It’s notable that Lockett went off in Weeks 1 and 2 but suffered a minor injury in Week 3, and Metcalf has been the team’s top target the last two weeks. Where the Rams elect to deploy Ramsey could dictate how the Seattle has to attack in this matchup, and if Lockett is still banged up, that could make things more difficult.
The Rams have given up more big plays this year than you’d expect given the design of their defensive scheme, and Wilson is always liable to break contain, freelance, and hit Metcalf or Lockett (or Freddie Swain, or whoever) for a shot down the field. The Rams will have to maintain their coverage responsibilities for longer than they’re used to, though having played against Kyler Murray last week at least makes them a bit more prepared to do so.