The St. Louis Rams (6-8) will travel to the Northwest to take on the Seattle Seahawks (9-5) this Sunday. It'll be a tough NFC West matchup between two bitter rivals, but the Seahawks have the clear advantage.
The Rams are on a two-game roll with back-to-back wins over Detroit and Tampa Bay, but the offense cannot be counted on. Point production has improved in recent weeks, but the offense doesn't have a solid enough core to shine consistently. With multiple youngsters on the offensive line, questionable weapons at receiver and no clear answer at quarterback, it's only a matter of time before the unit regresses.
Not to mention, the Rams have a historical disadvantage. The Rams haven't won in Seattle since the 2004 season. Until the Rams can clearly establish that they're the superior team, there's no reason to expect a different outcome.
On top of that, Seattle is on a five-game winning streak and has won seven of its last eight contests. The Seahawks started the year with a sloppy 2-4 record, but the team appears to be back in playoff form.
The Rams have few reasons to feel optimistic in this game, but there's a lot to play for. Not only will a victory in Seattle—the first in over 10 years—provide a nice silver lining for an otherwise disappointing season, but it's also a chance to spoil the playoff hopes for a bitter rival.
Here's what to look for in Sunday's matchup.
Offensive Game Plan
There should be no deviation from St. Louis' typical game plan. The Rams need to get Todd Gurley and Tavon Austin heavily involved.
When the Rams defeated Seattle in Week 1, Austin was a major factor. He contributed a 16-yard rushing touchdown and also ran in a 75-yard punt return. He ended the game with just 17 positive yards from scrimmage on offense, but all it took were two explosive plays from Austin to secure the win for St. Louis.
Now, Seattle will have to account for Austin and Gurley. In the first contest between these two teams, Gurley wasn’t even active. The Rams will be counting on Gurley to add another element of explosive playmaking—something the Rams didn’t have in the season opener.
Of course, Gurley’s success will depend on his help up front. Last week against Tampa Bay, Gurley was limited to just 48 yards on 21 attempts, which is unacceptable. With Gurley, it only takes two or three plays with a wide-open lane, and he’s off to the races. If the offensive line can’t provide Gurley with a handful of opportunities, the offense will likely tank.
In St. Louis’ victory over the Buccaneers last week, both Gurley and Austin were set up for touchdowns in the first half. The Rams need to make another conscious effort to get the two young playmakers involved early on.
Additionally, St. Louis needs another stellar performance from quarterback Case Keenum.
Keenum had his best start of the season against Tampa Bay. He completed 82.3 percent of his passes for 234 yards and a pair of touchdowns. If he can continue to show consistency under center, the offense will continue to have success.
Defensive Game Plan
As reported by Nick Wagoner of ESPN.com earlier this month, safety T.J. McDonald and defensive end Robert Quinn are done for the year. The Rams will be without two of the team’s key defensive pieces.
In their absence, the Rams will count on Aaron Donald to carry the defense. In order for the St. Louis defense to stand tall, Donald will have to make a constant impact in the backfield.
Luckily for St. Louis, Donald is in a position to succeed this week. He’ll be lining up against two youngsters—center Patrick Lewis and right guard J.R. Sweezy—on the Seattle offensive line, and neither player is equipped to contain Donald.
The St. Louis defensive game plan will focus on sending Donald into the backfield to disrupt Russell Wilson and shut down the run game. He sacked Wilson twice in St. Louis’ last game against Seattle and was in on a game-winning 4th-and-1 backfield stop to secure the overtime victory. The Rams need another bold performance from their Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Additionally, the Rams must do a better job containing the downfield pass. Tight end Jimmy Graham was a handful for St. Louis last time around—he had six catches for 51 yards and a touchdown—and Seattle had considerable success through the air.
Rams cornerback Janoris Jenkins must keep the Seattle receivers in check and prevent any big plays downfield. If the Seattle pass catchers can bail out Wilson every time St. Louis brings heavy pressure, the Rams will be in trouble.
Prediction: Seahawks 28, Rams 13
A victory in Seattle would be a wonderful gift to St. Louis fans. And let’s face it, after a year of intense relocation rumors and the disappointment of yet another losing season, the St. Louis fanbase could really use this.
However, as most of us know, there’s a major difference between what we’d like to happen versus what will actually happen.
Beating the Seahawks on their own turf would be an excellent feel-good story for St. Louis fans, but the 10-year drought in CenturyLink Field suggests the odds are slim. According to Odds Shark, the Rams are 14-point underdogs in this upcoming contest. There’s not a football analyst in the world capable of favoring the Rams in this game—not with a straight face.
The Rams did best Seattle in Week 1—a 34-31 overtime victory for St. Louis—and the team is fighting to keep Jeff Fisher’s job, so there are a few positive factors for St. Louis fans to cling to. With no playoff hopes, this is basically St. Louis’ Super Bowl, and the effort should reflect that.
Even so, a victory in Seattle is a long shot, so there’s no way any prediction will favor the Rams this week.