3TFO: Seahawks @ Rams, Week 8
The 6-1 Seattle Seahawks will head to St. Louis to take on the Rams on Monday Night, looking to stay a step ahead of San Francisco in the NFC West. The Rams are facing an uphill battle, not only in this particular matchup, but in having any realistic shot of getting involved in the division race. After winning a pair to spur thoughts they may have found the right track, St. Louis not only lost their Week 7 game in Carolina but their quarterback fell as well. The stacked Seahawk defense is licking their chops.
Here are three key areas to focus on that will be worth watching in the week’s closing game.
Clemens Into the Fire
It’s an understatement to say Sam Bradford has had an issue with inconsistency – only three times since he entered the league in 2010, has his PFF page showed back-to-back green-graded games. He most recently accomplished that feat, though, in these past two weeks, including a +5.5 against Carolina in Week 7 that was the high-water mark of his 49-game career. It’s particularly unfortunate for the Rams that after winning two of three and seeing their quarterback post that performance, a torn ACL kept him from finishing the game and abruptly ended his season. And just like that, St. Louis becomes the latest team to come face-to-face with the importance of a quality backup QB.
Kellen Clemens steps in to make his first start since the final three games of 2011 (when Bradford was last out injured) with 14 snaps under his belt in the meantime, just in time to face the Seahawks’ defense. A negative passing grade and a passer rating of 73.8 was what he produced in those three games and waiting for him, of course, will be the corner pairing of Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner who bring Top-10 coverage grades and passer ratings allowed of 57.3 and 70.1, respectively. The pair has got hands to the ball 25 times (eight picks and 17 PDs, combined) and the Seattle safeties, Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas add another 18 (six and 12). A daunting task to challenge the Seahawk defensive backfield, but especially so for a QB with just nine attempts in two years… and that’s not to mention the pass rush he’ll face.
Clemons Bringing the Fire
That pass rush was bolstered in the offseason as Seattle went out and added to a group that was spearheaded by Chris Clemons in 2012. The new blood of Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, and O’Brien Schofield have combined for nine sacks, 15 hits, and 40 hurries and the Bennett-Clemons left-right mix boasts two of the top three Pass Rushing Productivity scores among 4-3 defensive ends. In pass protection, the St. Louis offensive line is anchored by center Scott Wells, the leader at the position in Pass Blocking Efficiency and No. 2 in pass blocking grade, but Wells will be plenty occupied with Brandon Mebane and Clinton McDonald on the inside. The edges will be manned by Jake Long and Joe Barksdale, both enjoying up years and fresh off of a matchup with the Carolina combo of Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy in which the Ram tackles allowed just a sack and a hurry each. Clemens will be particularly interested to see them duplicate that effort this week.
Flipping sides, if Seattle has a point of vulnerability, it’s in keeping their quarterback feeling safe. As discussed in my piece on four-second drop-backs, Russell Wilson has spent 25% of his pass plays ‘creating’ while holding the ball longer than would be ideal. A huge majority of those extended plays (51 of 64) have featured pressure on the Seahawk QB and he’s seen pressure on 46.6% of his drop-backs overall – the highest number in the league. The Seattle tackles are ranked 54th and 68th in Pass Blocking Efficiency, the guards 40th and 41st, and, going a bit against the grain, Max Unger ranks 10th among centers. Pass pro help isn’t coming from the backs and tight ends either, as none rate better than middle of the pack when compared to the rest of the league. Matching up, St. Louis’ clear bright spot has been the pass rush work of Robert Quinn coming from the defense’s right side. Quinn leads all 4-3 DEs with 38 total pressures and a 15.2 PRP, a figure that trails only Kansas City’s Tamba Hali’s 16.7. It will take more than a single dominant rusher against a troubled line, but if there’s a potential positive for St. Louis to be had, this is the spot to watch.
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