ReFo: Rams @ Seahawks, Week 17
There was to be no repeat of last week’s slip up for the Seattle Seahawks who, at the second time of asking, wrapped up homefield advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Overcoming the Rams’ misguided aggression wasn’t much of a challenge and from the point when Malcolm Smith intercepted an overthrown Kellen Clemens pass little more than five minutes into the game Seattle were rarely made to sweat on their playoff seeding. The fearsome reputation of Seattle’s homefield advantage is well documented and while their loss at home to Arizona will have given their upcoming playoff opponents hope that it isn’t an impossible task to head to the Pacific Northwest and come away with a win, it may also have been a timely reminder to the Seahawks that playing at home doesn’t mean that a victory is a given.
Though the Rams brought plenty of their customary physicality and aggression to the encounter it was not paired with the clinical execution and focus, as has been the case too often this season, that is the hallmark of the Seahawk and 49er teams that the Rams are trying to emulate and knock off with their own brand of hard-nosed football. In combination with, and in reaction to, some dubious officiating the Rams’ aggression spilled over into ill-discipline, and once against St Louis looked like a team too wrapped up in trying to be aggressive. The Rams have shown their potential this season with some note worthy wins over some of the league’s better teams, but there have also been performances where they have let themselves down as much as they have been bested by the opposition.
St Louis – Three Performances of Note
Capping off his season in style
The debate over who is going to be Defensive Player of the Year this season is going to be a fun one this season. Though team and unit success might bring others into the equation, based upon solely individual performance (this is an individual award after all and makes no mention of “value”) two players stand clearly at the head of the class this year. Much like J.J. Watt the Rams’ own Robert Quinn finished his stellar 2013 season with another strong, balanced display. Though he only notched two pressures that stood, one of those was a lightning fast sack in the second quarter and he had another two “pressures” which drew holding penalties and go some way to explaining why his pass rush grade is so high (+3.0); performance is about more than just the stats in the box score. Quinn earned a positive grade in run defense as well, notching two stops in the ground game to take his season total to 45. Whether you favor Quinn or Watt for the award these are two fine seasons to celebrate and picking one over the other (personally I would put Watt down on my ballot if I had one) does nothing to diminish the stellar season of the other in the same way that Geno Atkins and Von Miller were such exceptional candidates behind Watt last year.
Pressure comes from inside
Considering the Seahawks’ arsenal of edge rushing weapons you would have been forgiven for thinking that keeping them quiet would have seen the Seahawks’ pass rush shutout. While the Rams’ tackles did have a strong day it was their guards who leaked most of the pressure Kellen Clemens faced from the inside. Between Chris Williams, Shelley Smith and Brandon Washington the Rams surrendered 10 pressures from the guards with Tim Barnes contributing another two pressures from the center position. On the edges Rodger Saffold and Joe Barksdale surrendered only one hurry each with Williams adding a further pressure when he replaced Saffold at left tackle late in the game.
Misguided aggression spills over into ill-discipline
The friction that was evident throughout saw the Rams unwind off the back of some poor game management by the officials and, perhaps thanks to a sense of injustice, St Louis became the architects of their own downfall. Much like in their visit to San Francisco back in Week 13, the Rams were too eager to match the physicality of their divisional opponents and their execution suffered. Their penalty count went through the roof with eight penalties on defense, eight penalties on special teams and a trio of penalties on offense. What will irk all the more is that the Rams didn’t win the physical battle on defense with a dozen missed tackles combined with the likes of James Laurinaitis giving up plenty of yards during contact to Seahawk ball carriers when they completed the tackles, even into the Seahawks final drive when he was stiff by armed Robert Turbin allowing the Seahawk ball carrier to convert a short gain into a 7 yard gain. The Rams clearly have the physicality and aggression to mix it with the Seahawks and 49ers, but their two road trips to these NFC West powers highlight a need for a re-think to better focus that physicality to maximize its effectiveness.
Seattle – Three Performances of Note
Tate and Wilson rev it up for the post season
The fact that the Seahawks still had the number one seed to lock up ensured that any thought of giving starters two weeks rest was never on the table and going to the other school of thought, Russell Wilson and his number one receiver Golden Tate will certainly go into the post-season riding a wave of positive momentum. They made the most of their one deep shot getting by Janoris Jenkins for a 47-yard scoring play, while efficiently moving the ball down the field on shorter targets. Tate notched a season high five missed tackles against the Rams yesterday notching 64 yards after the catch, his second highest total of the season. That took his season total for missed tackles forced to 21, the most among receivers this season, he was third behind Brandon Marshall and now team-mate Percy Harvin last season. The Seahawks are very run oriented but you would expect that they will need at least one big game from Tate in the post-season if they are to end their playoff run hoisting the franchise’s first Lombardi Trophy at MetLife Stadium.
Wagner racks up the stops
Some Seahawks fans may have held their breath when they saw Bobby Wagner down injured early in the game, but the Seahawks middle linebacker missed just the one play out of Seattle’s 55 defensive snaps and notched up half a dozen defensive stops for the second time this season in one of his better showings of the season. Working unblocked and off blockers, Wagner played a pivotal role in holding Zac Stacy to just one yard per carry. Wagner also did solid work with a busy day in coverage surrendering just five yards per completion in coverage with little more than three yards of that coming after that catch, closing quickly on routes in front of him to snuff out the chances for the Rams to convert short gains into intermediate and long games with deeper targets either ineffective or non-existent. Alongside him, and in the continuing absence of K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith (+2.3) turned in a strong showing after a couple of difficult games especially in run defense (+2.2).
Interior defense makes its mark
In front of the pairing of Wagner and Smith the Seahawks got a strong showing from their defensive tackles with Brandon Mebane (+6.9) illustrating the point that he is more than just a one dimensional run defender. Notching five pressures Mebane set a season high and finished the season registering a +7.4 pass rush grade in the final three weeks of the season. This increased presence in the passing game hasn’t diminished his impact and control as a run defender notching six defensive stops (two more this week) and a +7.2 run defense grade over that period. Alongside him inside Tony McDaniel finished off a strong season of run defense with some strong play early in the game and also added value as a pass rusher with a hurry and a batted pass. To complete the trio working off the bench Clinton McDonald made his presence felt in the passing game with his sixth sack of the season and a trio of pressures to earn his highest pass rush grade of the season (+2.2). The secondary gets plenty of column inche,s but Seattle’s defensive front is just as strong in the starting unit and just as deep as well, you never get a break against this Seattle defense.
– St Louis’ dozen missed tackles marks the third time in the last four weeks the defense has hit double digits. (10 at Arizona, 13 vs New Orleans)
– With his trio of defensive stops in this game McDaniel edged past the injured K.J. Wright for second on the Seahawks’ defense with 33 for the season, a distance behind Wagner who wrapped the regular season with 54.
– In his first action since Week 11, Walter Thurmond notched 18 snaps, one more than Jeremy Lane behind the Seahawks’ starters at corner.
PFF Game Ball
The star defensive linemen was on the sideline, but Brandon Mebane consistently made his mark on the game with his usual work against the run and continuing his recent run of form as a pass rusher. Mebane is one of the most underrated defenders in the league.
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