In an offhand sort of way, we've been joking about visions of Matt Hasselbeck being pummeled by the new and improved Rams defensive line. But, the Rams moves in the draft really should go along way to making that vision a reality.
Inspired by the talk of Jacksonville stocking up on pass rushers to break the Colts' grasp on the division, I think it's worth taking a look at the Rams moves in the context of how they figure to size up against our division rivals. And who better to start with the reigning division champ over the last four seasons, the Seattle Seahawks.
The most obvious place to start is with those lofty visions of Matt Hasselbeck sacked again and again. The Seahawks biggest need arguably was at offensive tackle. I'll let our friends at Field Gulls sum up the situation on the o-line there:
Walter Jones is no longer an elite left tackle. Where once Jones was irreplaceable, he is now simply inadequately able to be replaced. That is, Jones is not so good that the Hawks couldn't hope to replace his production with another player; they just don't have that player on roster. Sean Locklear wouldn't be lost at left tackle, perhaps deficient, but not disastrous or crippling. His replacement on the right, though, presumably Ray Willis, would jeopardize any hopes of contention. Willis may yet develop into a serviceable starter, but we're far from knowing that. Combining the inherent value of the position, the age of the incumbent and the overall team depth, no position presents a greater need for Seattle than offensive tackle.
Seattle did not draft an offensive lineman this year, not a one. Last season, they ranked 19th in pass protection , allowing 37 sacks and a had a sack rate of 7.1%. (The Rams, by comparison, has a sack rate of 8.1% and the paper thin o-line ranked 25th overall in pass protection.) With LT Walter Jones another year older and at a little higher risk for injury, they could very well struggle with pass protection. At the very least, figuring they stay at about the same level, the Rams figure to be much improved in their pass rush. The addition of Chris Long, the return of Leonard Little, improved play from second year players Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan, the rejuvenation of La'Roi Glover, and whispers of Claude Wroten being the offseason's hardest worker, gives the Rams plenty of depth. Add to that equation Haslett's ability to attack with different looks in the 3-4, utilizing the emergence of Will Witherspoon as a rushing OLB, and the 4-3, and the passing game could get pretty difficult for Seattle.
The Seahawks' questions at wide receiver were also left unanswered in the draft and free agent period. Their best pass catcher, Deon Branch, has health questions, and behind him they lack a solid pass catching threat. The Rams d-backs, Fakhir Brown included thanks to his successful appeal,figure to have some good games against the Seahawks this season.
Of course, Seattle did make plenty of moves to beef up their running game, no longer dependent on the rusty jallopy Shaun Alexander. Bringing in Julius Jones from Dallas and T.J. Duckett gives them a pretty good 1-2 punch, with Duckett supplying the short yardage help they lacked last season. The addition of Mike Whale at guard figures to beef up the run game as well as the addition of West Virgina FB Owen Schmitt, who profiles as a top flight blocker in the NFL. The Rams pass attack has the chance to shine, but the run defense will have to build on last season's gains and prove it wasn't a fluke.
On the other side of the ball, Seattle's made solid improvements on their d-line. The addition of Lawrence Jackson at DE in the first round of the draft gives them a nice pairing with Patrick Kerney. The addition of Jackson will also save Darryl Tapp's legs for situational pass rushing. The Rams better be damn sure about Orlando Pace's health, and it's truly now or never for Alex Barron. The blockers will need to be firing on all cylinders in order for Bulger to make his passes.
While their defensive front improved, the Seahawks sport the same old backfield featuring Marcus Trufant as the only real threat. Take a look at Seattle's rank against types of receviers from last season:
|WR #1||WR #2||WR other|
With Trufant tied up with Holt and if the blockers up front can stave off the rush, the Rams second round draft pick, Donnie Avery, could have some nice games against the Seahawks, catching a couple deep balls and using his speed to cruise downfield relatively unfettered.
I like the way the Rams stack up against their division rivals, who've been wrongly holding the division title we grew accustomed to having. This, of course, is all on academic at this point. We'll get a much better sense of things in week three when the new look Rams pay a visit.