The St. Louis Rams have their hands full this week against a Seattle Seahawks team averaging 50 points per game over its last three outings. That includes a lop-sided win over the San Francisco 49ers in prime time last Sunday. On paper, it looks hopeless for a Rams team that's lost to the Vikings and the Jets since a Week 10 tie with the 49ers. Look a little closer, and there's a way around the Seahawks.
"Well, it's a much improved team," Rams head coach Jeff Fisher said on Wednesday. "The offense is much more explosive and I think that's because of the quarterback play."
That would be rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, a third-round pick that most scouts and pundits wrote off because of his height and notion of him as an option offense type player. Of course, the option offense is working in the NFL these days, and Wilson is a prime example that it's no fluke.
"He's just gotten better and better," Fisher said. "They're doing more things. He's much more comfortable. He's extending plays. He's pulling the ball down and running for 15-, 20-, 30-yard touchdowns and just breaking defensive backs. He's throwing with accuracy and they're not turning the football over, and of course they're getting turnovers on defense."
Turnovers. Now, we're on to something.
It's no secret that much of Seattle's success has to do with having the league's best defense. Part of that has to do with the team's ability to get the ball. Seattle has a +12 turnover ratio. The defense has recovered 30 turnovers, an astonishing number. The Rams, by comparison, have 21 from the defense, which is nothing to sneeze at itself.
Those turnovers have given Seattle's offense a distinct advantage. Wilson and the offense are starting offensive dives with 28.97 yards behind them, the ninth-best starting field position in the league. Controlling that means preventing turnovers from the Rams offense, obviously, while controlling the ball and getting an advantage in the time of possession game. Scoring helps too.
"We understand it's kind of similar to two weeks ago when we were playing Minnesota," Rams quarterback Sam Bradford said. "The fact that with the way they're scoring points right now, it's essential for us to control the football, keep ourselves on the field, convert third downs and control the clock and give their offense as few opportunities as possible."
Of course, Seattle doesn't need much time to make quick work of scoring points. Wilson's 25 touchdowns rank among the top ten for quarterbacks this year. However, his 374 passing attempts rank 26th. Wilson explained his offensive efficiency.
"I think that's the biggest thing and guys executing one play at a time," Wilson said. "That's kind of what I've been preaching to the guys a lot. Obviously our offense is clicking on third downs and in the red zone. That's the key. To be a great offense, you have to do a great job in third down situations and red zone situations and in two minute situations, which we've done a pretty good job of all season."
Seattle's third down conversion rate of 40.1 percent ranks 11th in the league. Compared to the Rams' rate of 32.8 percent, it looks prolific. Seattle is converting 56.86 percent of its red zone opportunities.
Third downs, turnovers, red zone ... that's really just the tip of the iceberg for controlling the Seahawks. The Rams defense will have to play a nearly flawless game and defend a fast-paced innovative offense. It's going to be challenge, but it's also the best possible test the Rams could have right now to gauge just how much progress this team has made this season.