Seahawks vs. Rams: Full Seattle Game Preview

Nick R. Moyle@@NRmoyleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 10, 2015

Seahawks vs. Rams: Full Seattle Game Preview

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    Russell Wilson and the Seahawks look to avenge last season's road loss to the Rams in the opening game of the regular season.
    Russell Wilson and the Seahawks look to avenge last season's road loss to the Rams in the opening game of the regular season.Scott Eklund/Associated Press

    The searing image of Malcolm Butler laying in front of the end zone, with Russell Wilson's ill-fated pass clutched firmly in his arms, isn't one the Seattle Seahawks will ever erase.

    But now they must look toward the future, one that starts with a trip to St. Louis for their 2015 season-opening matchup with the Rams.

    Seattle has dropped just three of its last 20 matchups against St. Louis, dating back to the 2005 season, but the Rams' 28-26 Week 7 home victory over the Seahawks ranked as one of 2014's most unlikely upsets. 

    It was the oddest of games, one where the box score didn't necessarily align with the scoreboard.

    Seattle outgained St. Louis 463-275, won the time-of-possession battle by nearly five minutes and didn't turn the ball over once. 

    Yet, as teams with a talent disadvantage so often do, St. Louis relied on trickery, serendipity and a bit of deceit to secure the startling victory.

    But that's all in the past, and this Seahawks team is looking only toward the future.

    We'll take a brief look at Seattle's final preseason game before delving into injury updates, relevant news and notes, critical matchups and X-factors and a Seahawks-Rams final-score prediction.

    Location: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis

    Time: 10 a.m. PDT

    TV: Q13 FOX (Local), Fox

Preseason Week 4 Results and Recap

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    Frank Clark's strip-sack of Matt McGloin in the end zone was his most impressive play of the game, but it was far from his only one.
    Frank Clark's strip-sack of Matt McGloin in the end zone was his most impressive play of the game, but it was far from his only one.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Preseason records are generally poor indicators of how much success a team will achieve during the regular season. The New York Giants and Minnesota Vikings both went undefeated during the 2014 preseason, and neither finished above .500. 

    But the Seahawks' (2-2) 31-21 victory over the Oakland Raiders (1-3) wasn't completely devoid of meaning.

    Russell Wilson and the first-team offense caught flack all preseason for a lack of scoring prowess, but it took the Seahawks' $87.6 million man just one pass to silence critics. 

    On Seattle's second offensive play of the game, Wilson hit Tyler Lockett perfectly in stride after the rookie's deceptive stutter move left cornerback Keith McGill chasing the back of his jersey. Wilson's ball floated for roughly 40 yards, landing perfectly in Lockett's arms before he breezed in for the 63-yard touchdown.

    But defensive end Frank Clark wasn't ready to be upstaged by another rookie, no matter how dazzling he might be. 

    Clark, playing mostly against Oakland's second-string offense, was in the Oakland backfield so much you'd have been forgiven for thinking he was a Raiders running back mistakenly given a Seahawks jersey.

    Clark was shuffled inside and outside, finding success wherever defensive coordinator Kris Richard decided to line him up. 

    The former Michigan Wolverine was a one-man highlight reel, with his end-zone strip-sack of Oakland quarterback Matt McGloin serving as the game's defensive zenith.

    “The whole game I was just trying to time the snap, trying to time the snap and get comfortable with how their snap was called," Clark said of the play, per Seahawks.com. "I saw that offensive guard give that signal to the center, and I just got off the ball, timed it perfect and was hoping I wasn’t offside.

    "Once I got around the edge, I just went and did what I was supposed to do.”

    As the ball tumbled from McGloin's outstretched throwing arm, defensive tackle Jordan Hill dove on the ball, pushing Seattle's lead to 17-0.

    Rookies enter the league with much to learn, but on a night when both became Twitter stars, Clark and Lockett were the ones handing out lessons.

    The rookies shone, but it wasn't all perfect—the secondary looked shaky, and the offense couldn't sustain momentum following Lockett's touchdown. Oakland pushed back from that early deficit, but Seattle's deep reserves did just enough to hold on.

    That would be worrisome, save for the fact that this was essentially a game for players who are either no longer with the team, on the practice squad or backups. 

    A win is a win, but far more important is the fact the first-team offense finally found the end zone, the rookies continued to impress and the feature players left with their health intact.

News and Notes

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    The Kam Chancellor saga continues to linger over the Seahawks.
    The Kam Chancellor saga continues to linger over the Seahawks.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    Roster Trims and Transactions 

    Like every NFL team, Seattle had to trim its active roster to 53 players following the final preseason game.

    Some of the more meaningful names to go were: CB Will Blackmon, CB Mohammed Seisay, DT Jesse Williams and RB Robert Turbin.

    Following the cuts, the Seahawks also had to make the necessary signings for their 10-man practice squad.

    PlayerPosition
    RaShaun AllenTE
    Brandon DixonCB
    Will Pericak G/C
    Eric Pinkins LB
    Terry PooleT
    Kevin ShortCB
    Kevin SmithWR
    Rod SmithRB
    Robert ThomasDE
    Kasen WilliamsWR

     (Info courtesy of Seahawks.com.)

    The termination of Blackmon's contract was the most surprising move among Seattle's initial cuts. Blackmon entered training camp as the presumptive first-team nickelback after coming over from Jacksonville in the offseason, but Seattle appears content with Marcus Burley—and perhaps down the road rookie Tye Smith—in that role.

    Seisay was placed on injured reserve, and Williams was placed on the reserve/non-football illness list.

    Turbin, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Seattle's third preseason game, was originally placed on injured reserve, but he was waived with an injury settlement to make room for newly acquired running back Fred Jackson, per Seahawks.com.

    The Jackson signing made backup running back Christine Michael expendable, and the Seahawks' 2013 second-round draft choice was promptly traded to the Dallas Cowboys for a conditional seventh-round draft pick in 2016, per NFL Media's Albert Breer (via NFL.com's Kevin Patra). 

    Seattle wasn't quite done dealing, though. The Seahawks sent a 2016 fifth-round pick to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for Kelcie McCray, who fluidly shifted between both safety spots with Kansas City in 2014 and Jacksonville in 2013.

    "First off, he’s a good all-around football player," Carroll said of McCray, per Seahawks.com. "He’s an excellent special teams guy, a leading special teams player on their team. A guy that can play in the hole and get up on the line of scrimmage. He’s got real good skills in coverage, and so we’re anxious to see where we fit him in."

    McCray should help provide some stability at the safety position while Chancellor's holdout continues, though Carroll was non-committal on the possibility of McCray seeing any action against St. Louis: "We need to see him play a little bit and see him practice to see where he fits in as far as what style he really brings to us that we can utilize right away...We have some flexibility there, so we’ll see how it goes." 

    Chancellor: Negotiations Are "Petty" 

    Kam Chancellor is tough. He is stubborn. He doesn't know when, or how, to lay down and give in. He played through a torn MCL in Seattle's Super Bowl defeat to New England simply because his will wouldn't allow him to quit.

    Those traits have made him one of the best safeties in football, and now, they're the reason his holdout saga is entering Day 42.

    On Tuesday, the NFL Network's Dan Hellie relayed news that Chancellor, via text, expressed his belief that the entire situation was "petty." 

    According to Hellie, Chancellor said the sides are less than $1 million apart, though he's willing to work out a compromise somewhere in-between. According to the report, Chancellor isn't looking for additional money this season, but for some of his 2017 salary to be moved to 2016. 

    During the same NFL Network segment, Ian Rappoport explained the precarious situation Seattle management finds itself in: "While Kam Chancellor, rightfully so, wants to be paid among the game's highest-paid safeties, the Seahawks are now worried about will all the other players do the exact same thing when it's their turn in a couple years."

    This isn't about Chancellor's skill level—everyone knows he's worth the money. This isn't about Chancellor's right to want to find security in an inherently insecure game—that's every single athlete's right, and they should fight for every single penny they feel they deserve.

    For Seattle, this is about the team setting a precedent and sticking with it. 

    No one knows when this holdout will come to an end, but Carroll has already announced undrafted second-year safety Dion Bailey will start in the All-Pro's stead, per Seahawks.com.

    Thomas Returns 

    His brother in Boom won't be beside him, but free safety Earl Thomas will finally be back in action this Sunday.

    Just weeks after starting training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list following offseason shoulder surgery, and only several days of being a full participant in practice, Carroll made the announcement during Wednesday's press conference, per Seahawks.com.

    “He’s had a fantastic offseason of conditioning," Carroll said. "He’s run through camp the whole time. He’s been getting worked by our trainers prior to when he came back to practice, and he’s been running like crazy. He looks fast as ever and looks great. I don’t see any indication that he’s not ready.”

    Thomas' mere presence will prove a rallying point for Seattle, but the on-field presence we see might not be the one we're used to.

    Thomas won't be 100 percent, and he's yet to hit or tackle in practice, but he's motivated by his love of the game and a feeling of responsibility toward his teammates, per ESPN's Ed Werder.

    Grinding through pain is nothing new for Thomas, who played with a shoulder harness in last season's Super Bowl.

    The Seahawks defense exudes grit and fortitude, and Thomas personifies just that.

Latest Injury News

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    Linebacker and special teams ace Mike Morgan has been ruled out for Seattle's game against St. Louis.
    Linebacker and special teams ace Mike Morgan has been ruled out for Seattle's game against St. Louis.Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    There are no pressing injury concerns on the active roster heading into the regular-season opener.

    PlayerPositionInjuryPractice Status
    Cooper HelfetTEKneeLimited Participant
    Tarvaris JacksonQBAnkleLimited Participant
    Mike MorganOLBHamstringOut

    (Info courtesy of Seahawks.com.)

    Only backup linebacker Mike Morgan has officially been ruled out for Sunday's game.

    Morgan's absence will leave Seattle a bit thin at linebacker, and his presence on special teams will be missed, but Seattle will begin the season relatively intact.

    On the Rams side, running back Tre Mason and linebacker Daren Bates did not participate in practice, and rookie running back Todd Gurley was a limited participant, although NFL Media Insider Ian Rapoport (via NFL.com) reported that the No. 10 pick in this year's draft won't debut until Week 4.

Key Matchups

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    Seattle will have its hands full with St. Louis' intimidating pass rush.
    Seattle will have its hands full with St. Louis' intimidating pass rush.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Seahawks Offensive Line vs. Rams Front Four 

    The Seahawks didn't have many question marks heading into training camp, but the most pressing issue—configuring a new offensive line—was addressed and solidified by the end of the preseason.

    It took plenty of tinkering, but Carroll and offensive line coach Tom Cable finally found the right way to place their jigsaw pieces: Russell Okung at left tackle, Justin Britt at left guard, Drew Nowak at center, J.R. Sweezy at right guard and Gary Gilliam at right tackle.

    Britt, Nowak and Gilliam are all neophytes who haven't had much time beyond the four preseason games to learn the nuances of their respective positions. 

    Unfortunately, the line's first test will come in the form of one of the NFL's most intimidating pass-rushing units.

    St. Louis' defensive line is an embarrassment of riches, featuring five first-round picks whose greatest pleasure comes from humiliating offensive linemen: Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, 2014 Defensive Rookie of the Year Aaron Donald and offseason acquisition Nick Fairley. 

    Despite a slow start, Quinn and Donald combined for 19.5 sacks last season and averaged 3.64 sacks (40 total) over its final 11 games.

    Okung and Gilliam will have their hands full with the tenacious assault of Long and Quinn on the outside, and Seattle's backs—hey, this is one reason Fred Jackson was brought in, right?—will need to be shrewd in picking up the myriad blitzes defensive coordinator Gregg Williams likes to employ.

    There's not going to be any leeway to learn to learn from mistakes here. If Seattle's line doesn't band together quickly against the league's most aggressive blitzing defense, per Pro Football Focus' Nathan Jahnke, the Seahawks could be in for an inauspicious start to the season. 

    Cary Williams, Tharold Simon Still Competing

    Preseason may be over, but there's no end date on positional battles.

    Cary Williams was brought in from Philadelphia in the offseason with the expectation that he would help mitigate the loss of Byron Maxwell (now an Eagle). 

    Williams turned in an uneven preseason and has had a difficult time mastering the Seahawks' "kick-step" technique Richard Sherman and Maxwell learned to perfect.

    But the 30-year-old has made 65 starts during his seven-year NFL career, and his experience played a big factor in his offseason signing.

    Carroll praised the former seventh-round pick during Wednesday's presser, per Seahawks.com.

    "He’s gone against our best guys as much as we could do it," Carroll said. "We’ve taxed him in every way. He’s consistent and confident, and he’s a big guy out there playing. He knows the way we want to play with hands-on guys and all that. I’m really excited to see him take over and see how he does."

    But backup corner Tharold Simon, just 24, is an intriguing prospect who hasn't yet given up hope of ascending to Williams position.

    "What’s really good for us is that Tharold is right there, too," Carroll said. "Tharold's finally getting back in camp. Tharold is a good football player, too. The competition will remain as we go through the season, for all of our guys, but that’s a good one for us, too."

    Simon cuts a tall, imposing figure as a cornerback—he's listed at 6'3", 202 pounds, similar to Sherman's 6'3", 195-pound frame—though he's often followed moments of brilliance with lapses in judgement. 

    Should Williams be unable to distinguish himself early on against an admittedly weak St. Louis receiving corps, Simon could be given an extended look to prove himself.

    One week won't decide the final outcome of this positional battle, but this first matchup could go a long way in deciding who lines up opposite Sherman every Sunday.  

    How Much Will Nick Foles Challenge Seattle's Secondary? 

    The question Rams fans asked when they acquired Nick Foles in the offseason: Are they getting the 2013 Pro Bowl version or the 2014 model whose disappointing season lasted just eight games before a broken collarbone sent him to the injured reserve?

    It's a fair question, especially since Foles' 2013 (10 GS, 27 TD, 2 INT, 119.2 RTG) is a glaring juxtaposition from his 2014 (8 GS, 13 TD, 10 INT, 81.4 RTG).

    Foles won't be playing in anything resembling the Chip Kelly offense he thrived under in 2013, but then, no one outside of Philadelphia plays in anything resembling that mad scientist's schemes.

    Foles doesn't have a plethora of weapons at his disposal. 

    Kenny Britt is undeniably talented, but his career has been marked by injury, inconsistency and witless off-field actions. Tavon Austin is one of the NFL's most dynamic athletes, but St. Louis has been unable to decipher how to properly use the 24-year-old. And Jared Cook always feels like he's on the verge of a breakout season, but it's always a year away.

    Foles has the benefit of playing against a "Legion" lacking a good portion of its former "Boom."

    Thomas is returning from injury and has yet to go full-contact at practice. Chancellor won't even be in the stadium. Byron Maxwell is now an Eagle.

    Richard Sherman will be there, but opposite him will be Williams, who hasn't adapted as quickly as some have hoped. 

    And undrafted second-year safety Dion Bailey, who will be starting in Chancellor's place, could prove to be a matchup Foles looks to exploit. 

    There are more potential holes in the secondary than there have been in past years, but one should be cautious in expecting too much from an offense that ranked 21st in points and 28th in total yards last season, per Pro-Football-Reference.com.

Matchup X-Factors

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    Tavon Austin has yet to find his place in the NFL during his first two seasons, but he's still as lethal a football weapon as there is.
    Tavon Austin has yet to find his place in the NFL during his first two seasons, but he's still as lethal a football weapon as there is.L.G. Patterson/Associated Press

    Seahawks X-Factor: SS Dion Bailey 

    Kam Chancellor won't be playing football this Sunday. He might not play for many more Sundays after that. No one knows.

    What we know: There's no one on this Seahawks roster—hell, probably no one on any NFL roster—who can mirror what Chancellor does.

    The perfectly funneled aggression, the leadership and the experience. He's one man among 22 on a field, but his 6'3", 232-pound frame casts an intimidating pall over all. 

    Dion Bailey is stepping into shoes he can't possibly fill, but he has no choice, because the sports world's next-man-up mantra means he'll have to.

    The former USC Trojan's first regular-season NFL start will double as his first regular-season NFL game after the undrafted rookie spent 2014 on the practice squad. 

    Despite his inexperience and unexpected promotion, Carroll has expressed the utmost confidence in Bailey.

    "We feel very comfortable that he understands the principles and the fits and all the things he has to do," Carroll said Wednesday, per Seahawks.com. "He’s a playmaker, and he’s a very aggressive tackler, so we’re going to count on him to do the things he does well, and hopefully fit him in with this group. We’re moving; we’re ready to go. We’ve had a long time getting ready with him, so we feel comfortable with that.”

    The Seahawks will have DeShawn Shead, spelling Bailey from time to time, but the majority of the snaps will belong to Carroll's handpicked starter.

    The Rams will likely try to attack the unproven Bailey as much as possible, and the 23-year-old is poised for the challenge.

    “I hope they plan to come at me,” he said. “It’ll make my coming-out party a lot more exciting. The more opportunities to make plays, the more plays I’ll make."

    Rams X-Factor: WR/PR Tavon Austin 

    Tavon Austin was drafted out of West Virginia University No. 8 overall in the 2013 draft.

    He was dynamic. He was Red Bull on a sugar rush. He was a peregrine falcon with rockets for wings. He was the newest breed of offensive weapon, a player who could line up anywhere and do anything against anyone. 

    Fast forward two years later; in 28 NFL games, Austin has scored nine times, fumbled nine times and totaled just 1,035 yards from scrimmage. 

    His athleticism and 4.34 40-yard-dash ability hasn't abandoned him. It's still there, buried beneath the Rams' inability to figure out how to properly use their weapon.

    In his first game, Austin will surely be looking to quell his doubters' voices.

    Newly promoted offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti Jr. will look to utilize Austin's undeniable talent in open space by putting him in motion often. Austin is dangerous in the screen game and as a shifty runner out of the backfield, and it's likely St. Louis has several boom-or-bust plays drawn up for the Mountaineer.

    Austin has averaged just 5.7 yards per game in his career against Seattle, per Pro-Football-Reference.com, but Seattle must be wary since a player of his ilk is poised to break out at any moment. 

Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 14

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    The Seahawks have dropped two of their last three games in St. Louis, but don't expect them to fall victim to recent history this Sunday.
    The Seahawks have dropped two of their last three games in St. Louis, but don't expect them to fall victim to recent history this Sunday.Associated Press

    Seattle has found its recent visits to the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis inhospitable.

    The Seahawks have dropped two of their last three visits, with the only success a 14-9 victory in which Russell Wilson was sacked seven times and bludgeoned several others.

    In this meeting of division foes, the hits will again come hard and often.

    Both teams feature a new-look offensive line, with a 60 percent turnover rate from the previous season.

    The Rams just solidified their starting offensive line on Wednesday. The Seahawks finalized theirs a bit earlier, but each unit remains its respective teams most dubious.

    That's not a swell proposition for either when facing one of the NFL's most fearsome defensive fronts.

    Seattle center Drew Nowak will have his hands full with Aaron Donald, who posted a sack in each game against the 'Hawks last season.

    The Rams' two offensive line rookies—right guard Jamon Brown and right tackle Robert Havenstein—will have to contend with Cliff Avril, Brandon Mebane and Kris Richard's perpetually fluctuating defensive looks.

    St. Louis' defense isn't nearly as formidable behind the defensive line, which should allow Jimmy Graham to excel in his Seahawks debut. And Wilson, who rushed for 107 yards in the defeat last season, has proven he has the ability to carve up the Rams defense on the ground should he need to take off.

    It's going to be a defensive struggle early, and one team will likely make a spectacular defensive or special teams play—Tyler Lockett, anyone?—to bust the game open. 

    If it comes down to a game of field goals and field position you'd be hard-pressed to find a better tandem than punter Jon Ryan and kicker Steven Hauschka.

    It will be a far more contentious game than some prognosticators believe, but St. Louis simply doesn't have the offensive fire power or ingenuity to score enough against Seattle, despite a somewhat diminished secondary. 

    Prediction: Seahawks 23, Rams 14

    All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Focus, unless otherwise noted.