Rams vs. Seahawks: Breaking Down Seattle's Game Plan

Keith Myers@@myersNFLContributor IDecember 27, 2013

ST LOUIS, MO - OCTOBER 28:  Golden Tate #81 of the Seattle Seahawks celebrates as he runs for a touchdown during the 14-9 victory over the the St. Louis Rams at Edward Jones Dome on October 28, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Seattle Seahawks play host to the St. Louis Rams on Sunday with a chance to wrap up the NFC West and home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs.

Given how poorly the Seahawks played against the Rams the last time these teams played each other, the Seahawks are going to need an entirely new game plan to ensure they come out on top in this critical matchup.

At 7-8, the Rams are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs already and have been realistically out of the picture for weeks. For the Seahawks though, this game has tremendous importance. A loss to the Rams likely drops the Seahawks from the No. 1 seed in the playoffs all the way down to the No. 5 seed. 

The Competitive Edge

NFL Rank for Seahawks and Rams
Seattle SeahawksCategorySt. Louis Rams
8thScoring Offense20th
14thTotal Offense26th
26thPassing Offense27th
2ndYards Per Attempt25th
4thRushing Offense16th
11thYards Per Carry14th
1stScoring Defense13th
1stTotal Defense17th
1stPassing Defense20th
1stYards Per Attempt30th
13thRushing Defense7th
13thYards Per Carry4th

The Seattle defense is clearly the best in the league at this point. Even the numbers in defending against the run have been improving recently. The offense is a different story, though, and it has been losing ground in every category in recent weeks.

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The most interesting ranking for the Rams is their pass defense. Despite having perhaps the best pass-rushing tandem of defensive ends in the NFL, they still rank 20th in passing yards surrendered and 30th in yards per attempt.  

Seattle's Offense vs. St. Louis' Defense

Provide Help On The DEs 

St. Louis defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long each had three sacks when these two teams played one another back in Week 6. Seattle has gotten back both of their starting offensive tackles since then, but it might not help as much as most Seattle fans are hoping. 

Last week, left tackle Russell Okung aggravated the toe injury that caused him to miss eight games earlier this season. He's expected to play, but his effectiveness will be limited by the injury.

Right tackle Breno Giacomini is healthy, but he has struggled when lining up against Long, who pushed the Seattle tackle around in the Week 17 matchup last year, picking up three sacks in the process. It is simply a matchup that is very tough on Giacomini. 

The Seahawks have to provide help for their offensive tackles. This doesn't mean that they have to keep a tight end or back in to help block full time. A "block and go" by a tight end or a chip block by a back should be enough to slow the pass rush enough for quarterback Russell Wilson to get rid of the ball. 

This hasn't been a typical thing for the Seahawks to do this season, but they did provide the OTs some help against New York Giants' defensive end Justin Tuck a couple of weeks ago. 

NFL Rewind

Lots of Quick Passes

The weakness of the Rams defense is its secondary. This explains how a defense with such outstanding pass-rushers can be so poor overall at defending the pass. 

The Seahawks need to take advantage of this by testing the St. Louis corners and safeties with plenty of short, quick passes. They need to get the ball into the hands of playmakers like wide receiver Golden Tate and let him go to work on the Ram defenders.

This is especially true when the Rams bring linebackers or defensive backs on the blitz.  The extra space in the secondary vacated by the blitzing defenders is something the Seahawks will need to take advantage of. 

The issue here is that such a controlled, short-passing approach is something that the Seahawks don't do particularly often. Most of their route combinations are designed to create one-on-one matchups deep downfield. Slants, hooks, and short in-routes aren't typically a large part of a Seahawks game plan. 

Seattle's Defense vs. St. Louis' Offense

Defend The Run First

When the Seahawks played the Rams in October, they had no idea what to expect from St. Louis' offense. It was the the first start of the season for Rams QB Kellen Clemens after starter Sam Bradford was placed on injured reserve.

The biggest difference was that the "new" offense featured rookie running back Zac Stacy instead of the passing game like it did with Bradford. Stacy averaged just 10 carries per game in the first five games but had 26 carries against the Seahawks in Week 6.  

Stacy has been the engine of Rams' offense since then, routinely topping 25 carries in games since Seattle visited St. Louis in October.

The change has been good for the Rams offense, which has been more efficient due to a more-balanced approach.  

The Seahawks need to set up their play-calling and personnel to concentrate on stopping the run. Expect to see extra snaps for run-stuffers like defensive linemen Red Bryant and Tony McDaniel at the expense of playing time for pass-rushers Cliff Avril and Clinton McDonald. 

Bring the Blitz

The downside of playing the run-stuffers more to stop Stacy is that it could very likely mean that Clemens will have all day to throw the ball. That isn't conducive for Seattle to have consistent success on defense. Clemens might be a career backup quarterback, but when given enough time he can still be effective. 

The solution is to have a linebacker who's assigned responsibility is to blitz if the play turns out to be a pass. This would only be done when the run-stopping personnel is on the field. In a way, the extra pass-rusher will make up for having the run defenders being on the field when Clemens drops back.

This is very similar to what the Seahawks did against the New England Patriots in the 2012 season. Seattle was clearly concerned about New England's rushing attack, but it also didn't want quarterback Tom Brady to dissect the secondary.

The Seahawks used their "heavy" front along with their nickel package of defensive backs and then brought extra pressure against the pass. 

The Seahawks won't need to use the nickel in this alignment this week against the Rams, but the idea will be the same. Concentrate on stopping the run with Bryant and McDaniel, and bring the blitz in that alignment to account for the lack of pass-rushing skills up front.

NFL Rewind

Game Notes and Facts (via Pro Football Reference and nfl.com)

Seattle leads the all-time series between these two teams, 19-12, including winning 15 of the last 17.

The Seahawks won the last meeting, but it would be difficult to tell from the game's stats. The Rams rushed for 200 yards and held the Seahawks to just seven first downs. 

The last time the Rams were able to win in Seattle was all the way back in the playoffs following the 2004 season. The Rams beat the Seahawks three times in that season, but Seattle won the next 10 straight games between the two teams.

Seattle's passing defense gives up 19 yards per game less than the second-best pass defense in the league (New Orleans). To lose the top spot in the rankings, the Seahawks would have to give up 284 more passing yards than what New Orleans allows on Sunday. Seattle has given up only 173 yards per game through the air this season. 

Rams defensive end Robert Quinn has almost as many sacks (18) as Seattle's Cliff Avril (8), Michael Bennett (7.5) and Chris Clemons (4.5) combined. Back in October, the Rams sacked Wilson seven times.

Seattle wide receiver Doug Baldwin picked up some much-deserved recognition a week ago:

The league also apparently wondered how the ball might have bounced off of Baldwin's arm like it was made of concrete. Perhaps they should have simply looked at the replay and notice that the ball bounced off the turf. 

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