Jonathan Daniel - Getty Images
The game today between St. Louis and Seattle presents two very similar teams. Both teams possess good defenses, with the edge probably going to the Seahawks after last Monday's pounding of Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers. But counting the Rams defense out would be a mistake.
This unit is growing in power and confidence each week. It features two stellar defensive ends in Chris Long and Robert Quinn. While Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson didn't experience the pounding Rodgers did, he has a tendency to hold onto the ball a bit too long. This could represent a challenge for the Seattle offensive line, in that they'll be facing a 4-3 defense instead of the 3-4 Green Bay plays. The Seahawks offensive line did a good job against the Packers front three, and Russell Okung bottled up Clay Matthews for most of the night. The potential problem here is that the Rams will present more people with their hands in the dirt, while the outside rush will be augmented by outside linebackers and defensive backs in different schemes.
The Rams also have two very good defensive tackles. Free agent acquisition Kendall Langford has paid unheralded dividends, improving the horrific rushing defense from 2011 by leaps and bounds. The addition of Michael Brockers - the Rams first round draft pick in 2012 - has helped this unit become one with huge upside. He will be starting his first NFL regular season game today (hopefully?), but he played extremely well in the preseason before an ankle injury sidelined him. He's listed as probable for the game today, and this could prove pivotal in stopping Seattle's Marshawn Lynch, one of the better running backs in the NFL.
The Rams will need their linebacker corps to step up this week, after a mediocre performance against the Chicago Bear last week. I can see the Russell Wilson using short dump off passes to Lynch in the flats to alleviate the pass rush. He'll need his receivers to attack the five to six yard area behind the Rams defensive tackles with short, chain moving passes. Rams middle linebacker James Laurinaitis presents an opportunity for any team willing to send their receivers short. He typically plays six or seven yards deep, helping out in pass coverage to the point the Rams defense is almost a 4-2-1, reminding me of the old "madman" position from days gone by. While James is still a tackling machine, he suffers a bit by letting power-backs get up a head of steam when they break through the line. The Bears' Michael Bush flattened Laurinaitis on one play, and I can't help but think a back like Lynch could have taken the same play for a touchdown.
Another area of concern for the Rams is the guard/tackle gap, and off-tackle on the right side of the defensive line. Robert Quinn has a tendency to pin his ears back and rush wide. Offensive tackles are able to ride him out wide, leaving a huge hole for a running back with the patience to allow a running lane to develop. This same problem appears in the Seattle defense too. Chris Clemons and Red Bryant are both superb defensive ends, but if the Green Bay Packers had had a speedy running back, this gap could have been exploited.
The Seahawks weakest point on their defense is their linebacker corps. Rookie Bobby Wagner has shown sparks, but as player tendencies are studied by NFL coaches, glitches start to appear. I like Wagner in run defense, but he has a hitch in his pass coverage that is going to bite him hard one day. What the Seattle defense is going to have the toughest time with today is self control. With a suspect Rams offensive line, they'll want to rush the passer at every turn. Experienced coaches like the Rams Jeff Fisher knows this, and he and offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer will have plays designed in an attempt to counter, and take advantage of, any defense with visions of high sack numbers swirling in their heads.
I think we'll see lots of tight end in motion plays, shifting the strong and weak sides of the line. Look for a tight end lead blocker on plays in the guard/tackle gap too. This play will haunt both teams today.
On offense, the offensive line of the Seahawks is far stronger than the Rams' unit. The deciding factor will be St. Louis' Sam Bradford time in the pocket before he passes. Three seconds will be the benchmark for the 3rd year Oklahoma University product. Anything more, and he'll be eating faux turf all day long. Young Mr. Wilson has the same problem, but he has running skills Bradford doesn't. I can easily see him scrambling for 50 to 60 yards today, and a couple first downs.
This game will hinge on the starting running backs of the two teams. Marshawn Lynch is a pure stud, as is the Rams Steven Jackson when he's healthy. I can easily see the winning team being the one who controls the rushing game.
Another area that'll be fun to watch is the Seattle wide receivers against a top flight Rams nickle set of corner backs featuring Cortland Finnegan, Bradley Fletcher and rookie Janoris Jenkins. This may be the best corner back set the Seahawks have faced this season, and yes that's saying something when you consider Green Bay's, Dallas' and Arizona's secondaries. This unit is getting better and better, and the ball hawking skills of Finnegan and Jenkins adds to the intrigue as to how well this unit does today. Seattle's Sidney Rice hasn't been a force so far this season, but I hope the Rams don't take him lightly. Last year, a young receiver by the name of Doug Baldwin tore through the Rams secondary.
Lots and lots to think about, eh? This game will be incredibly physical. I don't see a high scoring affair today. Though I've seen under/over lines at 38 points, I could easily see less than 30 points scored in total. Potential stars of the game?
For the Rams, I see: Steven Jackson, Daryl Richardson, and Jo Lon Dunbar
For the visiting Seahawks: Marshawn Lynch, Brandon Browner and Brandon Mebane
Here's to a great game, and may the injury Gods stand well clear of the Edward Jones Dome!