3TFO: Rams @ Seahawks, Week 17
What a stretch for the Seahawks. They’ve won their past three games by a combined 130 points, and with last week’s beatdown of the 49ers, they’ve also secured a playoff spot. It won’t necessarily be atop their division, but as the Giants and Packers have shown in recent years, you don’t need to win your division to win the Super Bowl. The NFC West can still be theirs with a win and a 49ers loss, and if the Packers lose as well Seattle may just end up with a first-round bye. Regardless of what happens over the next few weeks, 2013 has to be considered a huge success, especially considering the contributions Seattle has received from its rookie class, possibly the best in the league.
St. Louis won’t be making the playoffs regardless of the outcome of this game, but their current record of 7-7-1 is a far cry from the two-win season they endured a year ago. The Rams have had rookies from nearly every round make significant contributions, and though it hasn’t been to quite the level of Seattle’s youngsters, there’s a solid young nucleus of players nonetheless. Perhaps most impressive is that the Rams have yet to lose a divisional game, going 4-0-1 against the NFC West. Here are some matchups they’ll have to win if they want to pull off their first winning season in nearly a decade.
Can the Rams Keep Sam Bradford Clean?
Sam Bradford hasn’t exactly been an elite quarterback since he was drafted, but some of that falls on the St. Louis offensive line. For the first time since he was drafted, Bradford isn’t on pace to lead the league in passes released while being hit (Andrew Luck leads with 13), but he’s not far behind (12). That’s actually a bit of a surprise, considering the patchwork offensive line he’s worked behind for most of the year — only three linemen have played more than 55% of the team’s snaps. Rodger Saffold is one of the Week 1 starters who have been limited due to injuries, playing a shade over half of the time for the Rams. He’s made great strides this year when he’s been healthy though, achieving a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 96.2, and allowing only two sacks.
Spending most of his time lined up on the defensive right, Chris Clemons figures to be Saffold’s chief concern this Sunday. Clemons leads the Seahawks’ defense in sacks, hits, and hurries. With a Pass Rushing Productivity of 10.1, he isn’t far off the top rushers at the defensive end spot, either. It’s been the year of the left defensive end though, as Clemons has the one of the highest PRPs of any right defensive end. He’s yet to be shut out as a pass rusher this year too, so Saffold has his work cut out for him.
Breno Giacomini vs. Chris Long
For those who have watched Russell Wilson this year, you know that it’s not enough to just get pressure on him. The 49ers found this out the hard way last week, as Wilson evaded a number of tackles in the backfield to extend plays. One player who just might have the speed to chase down Wilson is the Rams’ Chris Long. He’s accounted for over a quarter of the Rams’ total pressure this year, recording seven or more pressures in five separate games.
Right tackle Breno Giacomini will be tasked with slowing down the fifth-year man. Four sacks will seem like a good return out of a tackle that’s played every single snap for his team, but with those sacks come 33 hurries and an underwhelming PBE of 93.3. Rolling backs and tight ends to Giacomini’s side will help contain Long, but a healthy dose of the running game may do just as much. Long’s pass rushing prowess comes at the expense of his run defense — he has a tendency to work too far upfield on running plays to be of much help, and if Giacomini can take advantage of this, he may just force Long to slow down and respect the run.
Containing the Beast
The running game that could slow down St. Louis’ pass rushers will come primarily from Marshawn Lynch, who’s been having a career year. Lynch is behind only Adrian Peterson in rushing yardage, rushing touchdowns, and missed tackles forced on those rushes. He’s been a big-play threat too, as 19 of his rushes have gone for over 15 yards.
Roughly two-thirds of Lynch’s runs go between the tackles, so the first line of defense against Lynch will be the Rams’ defensive tackles. First-round pick Michael Brockers has been a welcome addition to the unit, turning 14 of his 19 tackles against the run into a defensive stop. Kendall Langford hasn’t had quite the same success, recording five less stops despite spending an extra 58 snaps in run defense. William Hayes has fared well in run defense, and though he’s listed as a defensive end, he’s spent a fair portion of his playing time lined up inside. Hayes leads all 4-3 defensive ends with a Run Stop Percentage of 13.2. He typically plays on the left side, subbing when Long gets tired, but if Lynch gets on a roll, don’t be surprised to see his share of playing time increase.