Beating the Seattle Seahawks after being shutout by a miserable San Francisco 49ers team is Fisherball at its finest. It’s fair to point to Russell Wilson’s ankle injury as the reason for the Seahawks struggles, but, while that played a part in their demise, there are many other chapters to the story of this divisional battle.
Rams Offense vs Seahawks Defense
The Rams did not win this game because of their offense. Through two games, the Rams still have not scored a touchdown. Kicker Greg Zuerlin was put in position to make three field goals to give the Rams nine points, but nobody else on the Rams has scored yet. In spite of the absence of a touchdown, the Rams offense did look better this week than it did during Week 1.
That’s not saying much, though. Week 1 was an absolute disaster and it would have been near impossible to stoop lower than that. The offensive line was slightly improved, though largely dysfunctional. The passing offense was more diverse this week, but was still not as explosive as it needed to be. Todd Gurley had a handful of nice runs, but he was still largely corralled. It was nice to see improvement, though it would be foolish to get excited at this point.
- Case Keenum made a number of throws that he missed last week, but he is still too inaccurate and leaves a lot of yards on the field.
- The passing offense relied on Kenny Britt a lot to win his 1-on-1 situations... and he did it. Mostly against DeShawn Shead, Britt caught six passes for 94 yards.
- Greg Robinson: still not good. Similarly, the right guard situation: still not good.
- Everything simply looked faster. Team was more ready and energized to play than they were last week.
- Anytime Tyler Higbee shifted before the snap, the Rams ran to whichever side he stopped on, and pulled Higbee back the other way as a backside blocker.
Woes in the Running Game
While neither side of the line is particularly good or favorable to run through, the right side of the offensive line is a mess. Right tackle Rob Havenstein has the strength and intelligence to execute, but he can get lost in the shuffle, like he does in the play above. Seahawks rookie defensive end Quinton Jefferson sees the play through before Havenstein can get out of his way, so Reed forces him out of the way, knocking Havenstein off of his collision course at the second level with linebacker KJ Wright.
Jefferson and Wright beating Havenstein is only a third of the problem on this play. Center Tim Barnes is too locked in on working a double team block with left guard Rodger Saffold, that he forgets to pay attention to safety Kam Chancellor. All-Pro caliber players like Chancellor can not go unaccounted for.
Lastly, right guard Cody Wichmann failed to hold his block as well as he needed to. He got the initial push, but ended up running past the block instead of finishing it. Rookie defensive tackle Jaran Reed was able to work back to the play and clog up what was left of the rushing lane.
Barnes could have done a better job holding his block on this play, but he is not the main culprit here. To no surprise, the supreme violator is Wichmann. Left tackle Greg Robinson has occasional issues with the play call and understanding his assignment, but Wichmann is an absolute liability in that regard. He derailed this play as soon as it started.
The majority of the offensive line steps to the left in unison at the snap of the ball. Wichmann, however, stepped up to his right to take on the defensive tackle. He blew his assignment entirely. And this is more than not understanding when and when not double team in zone schemes (which is still a problem for him), this is Wichmann not understanding the entire play call. Wichmann’s miscue caused Havenstein to fall to the ground, and the contact between Wichmann and Havenstein gives KJ Wright a free gap to run through and allows defensive tackle Ahybta Rubin to easily separate from Wichmann.
There were a handful of other blunders in the game, many of them which involve Wichmann, but I’ll spare you all from that.
How the Passing Offense Attacked Seattle’s Secondary
Quarterback Case Keenum completed 18 of his 30 passes (60%), accumulated 239 yards and avoided interceptions. He was able to execute the short passing game effectively, especially early on when the offense was designed to target tight end Lance Kendricks near the line of scrimmage. There was a lack of dynamism to Keenum’s game, though. Many of the passes he completed were short and simple, and he left a good chunk of yardage on the field by missing open receivers.
This play is a microcosm of the Rams ability to beat the Seahawks secondary. For the most part, the Rams approached the Seahawks secondary the way that it needs to be approached. The Seahawks mostly run a pattern matching Cover 3 defense. Pattern matching zone schemes essentially pair the benefits of sticky man coverage with the fluidity of zone coverage. In short, when receivers run into a defender’s zone, depending on the rest of the route combination, the defender will abandon his zone and go man-to-man with that receiver.
To attack the Seahawks pattern matching tendencies, the Rams offense flooded players to the boundary, where the cornerback would move away from because of a vertical route. In the play above, one receiver runs straight down the field to force cornerback Richard Sherman to match him and remove Sherman from the equation. The other two critical routes are the high/low concept that puts nickel cornerback Jeremy Lane in a bind. If Lane commits to the shallow route, he leaves wide receiver Tavon Austin open over the top of him on the corner post route. If Lane moves back to cover Austin, tight end Lance Kendricks is left wide open in the flats for an easy chunk of yardage. Structurally, the play worked to perfection.
But then Keenum went full Keenum. The throw to Austin was there, Keenum just overthrew it. Had the pass been completed, the Rams would’ve picked up about 20 yards. Instead, they went back to the huddle and snapped the ball from their own 40-yard line again.
Rams Defense vs Seahawks Offense
It would have been fair to assume that the defense would have a resurgence this week and look more like the squad everyone expected them to be, but they exceeded expectations. The defense straight up dominated on Sunday. Granted, a dysfunctional Seattle offense made for a relatively easy match up for the defense, but the defense looked excellent in its own right.
- Russell Wilson was not himself. The ankle injury extended beyond a lack of mobility. He was seeing ghosts in the pocket, missing reads and making fewer gutsy throws than usual. He wasn’t Russell Wilson.
- Fix the left cornerback spot for Christ’s sake please.
- The entire defensive line was monstrous. Robert Quinn, Aaron Donald and Dominique Easley stood out, but it was a great day for everyone up front.
- Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams added a lot more variety to the pass rush and blitz packages. It was nice to see.
- Safeties were playing deeeeeeep in Cover 2 and Cover 4 shells. Defensive line was trusted to win in the run game. For the most part, they did.
Stopping the Seahawks Rushing Attack
The Seahawks were so close to scoring a touchdown on this drive, but the Rams held their ground, and this stop was critical in doing so. Every gap here is destroyed. Defensive tackles Dominique Easley (left) and Michael Brockers (right) blow up the back side B-gap and A-gap. Brockers, lined up over the center, forces running back Christine Michael to take a wider path to the line of scrimmage.
Defensive end Ethan Westbrooks forces Michael to take an even wider path than Brockers did. Westbrooks moves into a 4i spot on the right tackle’s inside shoulder just before the snap, then fires off into the right guard and pushes him backwards. Brockers and Westbrooks crashing into the backfield and pushing Michael to the edge gives the linebackers time to spill into the gap.
Though, the flowing linebackers may never catch Michael if he gets out around the edge. Rookie strong side linebacker Josh Forrest was not going to allow Michael to do that. Forrest, to the far right, does not make a flashy play, but he gets to his spot on the edge and redirects Michael back into the teeth of the defense. Everyone on the Rams defense did their job on this play and it was a beautiful sight.
Seahawks Vanilla Passing Offense
Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell disguises short throws brilliantly and allows Wilson to get the ball out with ease in those situations. Beyond that, though, Bevell leaves more to be desired. His offense has the same feeling as a high school offense. Obviously there is more nuance and detail that goes into the offense in the NFL, but the key concepts are generally the same.
Four verticals and short ‘rub’ routes make up most of Bevell’s passing playbook. There is nothing wrong with either of those concepts, but they can not be the core of an NFL offense, especially when the offensive line is horrid and leaves many of the four vertical plays to turn into backyard football scrambles. A healthy Wilson can sort of make that work, but he was clearly not healthy this past Sunday. The simplicity of the Seahawks offense made life easy on the Rams secondary, as it did for the Dolphins defense in the opening week of the season.
The Rams had a bit of trouble with the Seahawks passing attack early on, but they quickly adjusted. The Rams defense does not pattern match often, so they had problems defending the trips side of four verticals because the flat defender would leak out to the flats instead of carrying someone up the field. Rams defensive coordinator quickly solved the problem, thankfully.
Instead of leaving his guys out to dry, Williams began playing more Quarters (Cover 4) coverage and man-to-man coverage to make sure all receivers were accounted for in the passing game. Once Williams began doing that, Wilson had to hang in the pocket for longer than he wanted to and began throwing poor passes all over the field.
There was not much to cover about the Seahawks passing game other than that. The defensive line made Wilson’s day a nightmare and Wilson had no plans of running too much on his bum ankle. Wilson instead forced passes that he did not want to, which seldom worked out considering how well the Rams were able to cover the Seahawks receivers because the route combinations were so predictable. A healthy Wilson would have been a different animal, but he was not himself on Sunday and the entire Seahawks offense crumbled as a result.
As bland and broken as the Seahawks offense was on Sunday, it still feels wild to have kept them out of the end zone and ultimately outscore them. There is plenty of talent at every skill position on that offense, but the offensive line’s poor execution, the vanilla game planning and Russell Wilson’s health culminated in the worst way for Seattle. The Rams defense stepped up and made sure to kick the Seahawks offense while they were down.
On the offensive side of the ball for the Rams, there are still countless questions. Case Keenum is a limited quarterback, but the No.1 overall pick does not look ready to supplant him. Todd Gurley has not been able to get going because of how dysfunctional and incompetent the offensive line is. The wide receivers and tight ends look to have some sort of promise and potential, but without a true threat among the group and a quarterback who can not maximize them, it’s tough to get excited about the pass catchers.
Jeff Fisher has returned to his ideal .500 state, and has done so in the most ridiculous fashion imaginable. Losing miserably to the 49ers, then beating the Seahawks, all while not scoring a touchdown is a story that sounds absurd even for Fisherball. Next week, the Rams head to Tampa Bay for their Week 3 match up, giving Fisher a chance to get ahead of his inevitable 7-9 crash course.