Can the Rams work around a tough Seattle run defense?

The Rams have a tough matchup against Seattle's run defense this week, with or without Steven Jackson. Can Kenneth Darby shoulder the load if Jackson's out of action?

We can go on talking about the St. Louis Rams win over Washington last week, but at this point in time it's old news. This is week 4, which means the Rams get a match up with the Seattle Seahawks, the hated Seahawks, though they did help the 49ers get off to their hilarious 0-3 start. 

Seattle is 2-1, with both their wins coming at home. They're in St. Louis this week. One of the most interesting early story lines about the Seattle this season is their run defense. They've limited opponents to an average of just 67.7 yards per game, 5th best in the NFL. 

It's a concern for the Rams, who could be without Steven Jackson this week. How will the two teams matchup on this front? And can the Rams repeat the offensive balance they showed against Washington last week to get around this potential hurdle and score enough points to win? Dive in after the jump...

The Seattle run defense has a non-adjusted DVOA of -42.0 percent, 2nd best in the league. The next question is the quality of their three opponents so far. 

In week 1, they held Frank Gore to just 38 yards on 17 attempts. Gore was limited against the Chiefs run defense last week to less than 50 yards. SF has a rushing DVOA of 4.7 percent, 10th best. 

Seattle lost to the Broncos in week 2. Denver's offensive line has struggled in the run game, and their adjusted line yard metrics compare to the Rams, who, as we know, have been up and down on the run. Denver's line ranks among the bottom in power situations and getting stuffed, areas where the Rams have fared better. The Broncos ran for a total of 65 yards against SEA in week 2, getting most of their work done through the air thanks to Kyle Orton's 300+ passing yards and 2 TDs. Denver also managed to score 2 rushing TDs, punching it in from the 1-yard line on both. Those are the only rushing TDs Seattle has allowed.

Last week, Seattle beat the Chargers, thanks mostly to Leon Washington's two kick return TDs, including a late 4th quarter return which proved to be the difference. San Diego, without Ryan Matthews, had a total of 89 rushing yards to go with more than 400 yards passing. Their rushing offense has a 0.8 percent DVOA, and the offensive line has the sixth best adjusted line yards total. 

In short, Seattle's run defense is not some fluke of playing poor running teams through three games. Some specifics about their run defense.

The Seahawks' front seven have allowed a measly 3.47 adjusted line yards. They've "stuffed," made a tackle at or behind the line, 21 percent of the rushing plays they've faced, 14th best in the league. (The Rams DL has stuffed 24 percent of rushing plays against them, but that's for another post). 

Looking at the directional numbers, a few opportunities stand out, though very few. 

Listed by direction, adjusted line yards, rank and percentage of runs that have gone that direction:

Left end: 5.73 ALY, 24th, 4 percent
Left tackle: 3.09 ALY, 11th, 27 percent
Mid/guard: 4.10 ALY, 19th, 49 percent
Right tackle: 2.34 ALY, 3rd, 15 percent
Right end: 0.48 ALY, 2nd, 4 percent

The Rams were stubborn about runs to the middle to start the season. They finally started mixing in more carries on the outside last week. Plays that rely on misdirection will be important this week. I also imagine we'll see more of the John Greco, Adam Goldberg rotation at the right guard spot. Greco added some needed heft and push to the run blocking last week. 

Of course, what will matter the most for the Rams is the passing game, where Seattle has been the most susceptible. Quick drop off passes behind the front seven will be key. And, let's not forget the Rams most important adjustment last week: letting Sam Bradford change the plays based on the defensive scheme he sees in front of him. That worked beautifully against Washington last week, and will be essential this week as well. 

Whether or not Jackson plays might have the biggest impact. Without SJ39, the Seahawks have to devote far less attention to the running game, leaving more room to smother the Rams receivers and send the blitz. 

Stay tuned. 

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