The Los Angeles Rams are hosting the Seattle Seahawks in Week 14 in an absolutely crucial matchup for the Rams’ hopes to make the 2020 NFL Playoffs.
To get a better sense of the opposition this week, I linked up with Kenneth Arthur from Field Gulls, the SB Nation community for Seahawks fans.
So, we played each other nearly two months ago to the day in a game that was ultimately decided by a few inches about 30 feet in the air. What’s different about the Week 14 Seahawks compared to the Week 5 Seahawks?
It’s funny, you say that and the game has completely exited my mind. It’s nothing personal, I think I’ve always had a time remembering games until I’m being asked to recall them and then I need a few reminders to get me to start thinking about those times again. Let me go check because off the top of my head, all I can remember is 30-29. I’m back. Okay, gotcha. Thursday night football, back and forth. Russell Wilson threw four touchdown passes. I don’t think those Seahawks are as good as these Seahawks and here are the big differences:
Tight end Will Dissly was Seattle’s first or second best weapon in the passing game and he’s gone, having landed on IR early for the second year in a row. The team tried working more with Luke Willson, but ultimately the replacement at tight end became Jacob Hollister. A former trade acquisition from the Patriots, Hollister was on the practice squad the last time these teams met. He was called up and has played a key role, catching three touchdowns over his six games, and being targeted 36 times. That’s quite a lot of targets for a guy that came into the season without a role on the 53. Wilson seems to really trust him though, especially near the end zone. He’s not Will Dissly, but he’s not too shabby either.
The team has also since lost center Justin Britt to a torn ACL. He’s been replaced by the undersized Joey Hunt, which could be a really difficult matchup for Seattle to compensate for against Aaron Donald. There have been several upgrades since Week 5 though.
Rookie receiver DK Metcalf keeps improving and becoming a more integral part of the offense, catching for 303 yards over the last four games. Josh Gordon was picked up off of waivers and has contributed here and there. Running back Rashaad Penny has gone from a fringe backup role to a much more prominent one in the last two weeks, gaining 203 yards on 29 carries. Defensively, Jarran Reed returned from a six-game suspension and he’s been a pretty active force at defensive tackle when healthy. (He rolled his ankle vs the Eagles two games ago but returned vs the Vikings and had two QB hits.) Tedric Thompson was a liability at free safety and the team acquired Quandre Diggs from the Lions. He’s quickly become a fan and coach favorite.
So I think Seattle is a little bit better and they tend to get a lot better as the months go from October to November. The question then is “How much better are the Rams?” and can the Seahawks pull off the sweep on the road against a team in which these contests are always close?
Russell Wilson’s playin pretty good. Wanna talk about it?
He’s going through a bit of turnover regression right now, but still making it hard on defenses to keep Seattle out of the game. And that’s why the Seahawks are 10-2 instead of 6-6. Wilson had 14 TD, 0 INT to open the season. Then 22 TD and 1 INT after nine games. In his last three games, Wilson has 4 TD, 3 INT, and a rating of 87.8, with a couple of very poor throws. He’s also overthrown some open end zone players. It happens. He’s the ultimate recoverer though. He doesn’t dwell on mistakes. Against the 49ers when he threw a crucial pick on the opening drive of OT, he rallied the troops and Seattle came back on the field to win it. He leads the NFL with five game-winning drives and four fourth quarter comebacks. He’s been sacked 35 times, often at his own fault, but he extends plays and scrambles for key yards constantly also. The offensive line has lost its best center, Duane Brown is probably playing hurt or just getting old, the guards are liabilities in pass protection, and Germain Ifedi is probably playing his last few games as Seattle’s right tackle. Doug Baldwin retired in the offseason, Tyler Lockett was badly hurt a few weeks ago and is playing through it but clearly not at full strength, Metcalf is a rookie, Gordon is on his third team in the last year and change, Dissly went on IR after six games, his number three target was a practice squad tight end, and through it all, Wilson has remained a top-two MVP candidate. At the end of the year, I’m sure Lamar Jackson will win MVP and someone not named Pete Carroll will win Coach of the Year, but I think those two have done a phenomenal job of willing Seattle to 10 victories so far instead of six. Sometimes you can maybe go, “What’s the difference between the Chargers and the Seahawks?” I think you could argue that Wilson is simply a better finisher than Philip Rivers, Carroll a better talent at maximizing the value of not only his best players, but his medium-talented players as well. And if you wanna win in the NFL, you gotta have a strong core of second tier players. We’ve seen that with Metcalf, Hollister, Penny as of late on offense, Ziggy Ansah, Diggs, Tre Flowers and so on defense. I think that a lot of that elevation has to do with Wilson, so yeah, I wanna talk about it.
Football Outsider has you guys 16th in defensive DVOA, but you’re 23rd in points allowed and 24th in yards allowed. What’s going on with the defense? When we spoke before Week 5, you alluded to the linebackers being the strength of the defense. Is that still the case?
I think the strength is back into the hands of the secondary once again. Strong safety Bradley McDougald is the seventh year veteran presence, allowing a passer rating of 40 on throws in his direction. He’s been outstanding, a huge improvement over his 2018 season, and a Pro Bowl candidate if he was even slightly on the national radar. Diggs brings a “boom” to the secondary that they haven’t had since Kam Chancellor. A hit he laid out vs the Vikings last week, Carroll called his “favorite” play of the game. Cornerback Shaquill Griffin has truly come into his own in his third year. I see him as getting a huge contract extension next year, he’s settled in comfortably to Richard Sherman’s old spot. And opposite of him is Flowers, a second-year corner who transitioned from safety and is well ahead of his expected learning curve. Flowers has allowed one touchdown all year and has three picks for a passer rating against of 65.6. I think that the Rams will have the best cornerback on the field on Sunday night, but Seattle might have the best two safeties and the second and third best corners. I don’t know how Weddle is looking at this stage in his career, or Rapp, but I’m confident to defense the Seahawks secondary.
Another player to come on strong as of late is Ziggy Ansah. He has 5 QB hits in the last two games after posting just three on the year coming into the game against Philadelphia. Jadeveon Clowney has 10 QB hits in his last four games. Reed returned. Second-year defensive lineman Rasheem Green a forced fumble in each of the last two games and is stronger every week. I think that the improvement up front and the solid unit in the secondary has maybe even surpassed those linebackers you mentioned that I mentioned. And with that, Kendricks has seen his play time diminish a bit -- he has 17 missed tackles -- but Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright remain steady presences.
Anyways, the reason that the DVOA is better than the points and yards is probably turnovers. The Seahawks are third in takeaways and first in fumbles recovered. There’s some luck there but they also finished first last season. They’re getting after the ball, popping it out, and giving themselves opportunities for good recovery luck. Seattle is 10-1 when they force a turnover and the best news there is that they’ve only failed to force a turnover once in 2019, and that was against the sure-handed Baltimore Ravens.
One of the most impressive things about you guys this year is that you’re winning close games. Going into this Week, you’re 9-1 in games decided by eight points or less. Between Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson...is there something to a maturity to this team that perhaps wasn’t there in previous years that’s maybe propelling the success in close games?
You could almost say its the opposite, depending on the use of the word “maturity.” Carroll started to cut out some veterans who maybe were no longer “with” the program. Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and most obviously Michael Bennett. These are talented players to this day but rumor had it that they had gotten past Carroll’s very hokey, potentially corny mantras of “Win Forever” and “Always Compete” and so on and so forth. I think you win some NFC titles, get a ring, maybe you stop thinking you need to fall in line and listen to the coaches. So Bennett was traded, Sherman was released, Thomas wasn’t given the extension he wanted. Carroll took a huge risk to get young and lose talents like those ones, but trusting his coaches and his ability to mold young players, Carroll went with Griffin, Flowers, drafted safety Marquise Blair, downgraded his defensive end spots before eventually trading for Clowney and signing Ansah. The team had lost its stars of the Super Bowls and had gotten younger but they were probably more on the same page about listening to Carroll. The only players here who have won a Super Bowl now are Wilson, Wagner, Wright, and Willson.
That makes for 49 other players on the roster who have yet to do that. 49 players who came to Seattle and had to fall in line behind Wilson and say, “How do you do it? How do you win it all?” 49 guys who entered onto Wagner’s defense, not guys who came up with Wagner except for Wright. Clowney had to choose to come to the Seahawks. He did it to get out of Houston, but he’d also like to get a chance to win a ring before he hits free agency and goes for the money. Same for Ansah. Same for draft picks like Reed and Metcalf and Griffin and Flowers and so on, thinking, “Hey I’d like to win a Super Bowl too.” Maybe that does bring about with it more discipline, Wilson and Wagner and Carroll all having a reputation as two-time Super Bowl appearers and now that they’re 10-2, and winning close games, even more trust is formed. It’s important to have trust. It’s vital to have belief. How many quarterbacks are there in the NFL today that if you give them the ball, down 10 points in the fourth quarter, or down 6 points at the two-minute warning, do you fully trust to bring you back? It’s a short list, and Wilson’s a short quarterback, but he’s on it.
Lots of football left to play in 2019 especially with you guys headed toward the playoffs, but what’s the early outlook for an offseason plan? What are the major roster gaps? Who’s potentially leaving in free agency?
Lots of free agents of note: Clowney, Reed, Ansah, Kendricks, Ifedi, Mike Iupati, George Fant, Al Woods, Quinton Jefferson, Josh Gordon highlight the unrestricted free agents. Justin Britt, Ed Dickson, DJ Fluker, and perhaps KJ Wright as cap casualty candidates. However, Seattle could have roughly $80 million in cap space if they make the moves I’d expect. Where does that money go? I am personally against what I expect Clowney’s contract to be, which is in the $22 million per year range. I don’t think he’s a good enough pass rusher for that but I suspect some team will do it. Take the third round compensatory pick and move on. If they didn’t pay Frank Clark, why pay Clowney? I think Clark is a better pass rusher. Pay Reed. Pay Ansah if the sum is in the two year, $18 million-ish range. Get younger at guard, maybe bring in a veteran to compete. They may lose both Ifedi and Fant at right tackle, but Jamarco Jones is a potential candidate to win that job if he can stay healthy. The Seahawks could have a lot of money to spend if they don’t sign Clowney, or even if they do, but I’d focus on Reed instead. He may be a harder-to-find type of player, honestly. Then they can extend Griffin, Diggs, and I don’t know, maybe search for a new tackle. I see lots of freedom and options for what Seattle wants to do next -- though a lot of the future could hinge on how these playoffs go. If the Seahawks win a Super Bowl, would Pete Carroll be motivated to step away? If they didn’t, would he? I think pass rush and offensive line would again be a focus. They seem set in the secondary, linebackers, and even the development of a few pass catchers.
BONUS: So back in Week 5, you ranked the NFC West quarterbacks. At the time, you had it as Wilson > Goff > Murray > Garoppolo. Now?
I did? Again, my memory. I do remember that I’ve been as low as anyone on Goff, but I guess if we were just talking about this year in the NFC West, I could see how Murray would have been below him. Overall, I do still like Murray as the second-best QB in the division as far as building a franchise. I could see Murray as the Lamar Jackson star of 2020. I think since Garoppolo has been healthy, he’s elevated himself up to the two spot. He’s in such a nice position there with Kyle Shanahan, who has really maximized what he’s been working with. Even Nick Mullens looked good last year and a lot of that seems to be Shanahan putting his receivers and weapons in the best position to extend plays. In the same way that a “system” may have maximized Goff’s talents in 2017-2018, I see another system doing that for Garoppolo. Who cares about the term “system QB” because all QBs are aided (or hurt) by some sort of system. That being said, I think there are QBs who can adapt to anything and QBs who can only work within a certain framework. The only transcendent QB in the division for me is Wilson. Garoppolo needs to cut down on his turnovers. Goff maybe needs to improve accuracy. Murray, we can wait until at least two years has passed before passing any judgment. Wanna start a franchise? Wilson, Murray, Garoppolo, Goff. Wanna play tomorrow? Wilson, Garoppolo, Murray, Goff.
Thanks to my man Kenny for the time.