The Los Angeles Rams and Seattle Seahawks are essentially playing for first place in the NFC West this Sunday. The 5-3 Arizona Cardinals could join the party with a win over the Buffalo Bills but the marquee matchup of the afternoon is happening at SoFi Stadium.
That’s where you’ll see MVP candidate Russell Wilson attempt to overcome his demons against MVP candidate Aaron Donald. That’s where you’ll see Jalen Ramsey against DK Metcalf. That’s where you’ll see a pair of Super Bowl coaches attempt to square off against one another. That’s where you’ll see $5 billion of construction and ingenuity and vision with literally the most advanced videoboard in the world. Rams-Seahawks is not only Sunday’s most important game, it could be the most important game for either of these NFC title contenders.
And then on Sunday night you can watch the Patriots fall to 3-6 with a quarterback who has two touchdown passes this entire season. Don’t fret, Monday brings Nick Foles and Kirk Cousins.
So LA and Seattle may not be taking the spotlight in primetime this weekend but it will get the spotlight for us here at Turf Show Times and with SB Nation’s Seahawks blog at Field Gulls. As usual, I sent five Qs over to Mookie Alexander at FG and in kind he sent me five corresponding As about Seattle.
Here’s more info on Metcalf, Tyler Lockett, the players attempting to block Aaron Donald, Chris Carson, rookie first rounder Jordyn Brooks and more.
Q - Russell Wilson gets more than his fair share of attention and DK Metcalf is probably a big reason why his numbers have been able to increase as they have in the last 24 games, but Tyler Lockett seems to show up and disappear randomly. He has seven touchdowns this season but six of those have come in two games. Do you have week-to-week faith in Lockett, who has an uncharacteristic seven drops this season (according to PFR), and is there any indication as to why he is so inconsistent?
A - I think the emergence of Metcalf has created an interesting but really fun situation for the Seahawks. There’s no doubt that Metcalf is an emerging superstar and I give it no more than two years before he’s considered among the best receivers in the NFL. Lockett has been the model of consistency for the Seahawks ever since he took over Doug Baldwin’s role as the #1 receiver. He’s still producing at a 75% catch rate when targeted by Wilson, but as you’ve pointed out the productivity has been all over the shop.
About half of his targets have come in those two games versus Dallas and Arizona, and he’s been a relative non-factor over the past two weeks. What my gut feeling tells me is that Metcalf’s increased role in the offense creates two number one receivers for the Seahawks. Depending on the matchup it’ll be a Metcalf week, a Lockett week, or in some instances it’s both. It would take a herculean effort to shut both down and that would largely involve muting Russell Wilson as a passer. Lockett’s 15 catches for 200 yards and 3 touchdowns against the Cardinals occurred on a night when Metcalf only had two catches for 23 yards (albeit with a touchdown and a lot of those yards on the last catch erased due to a penalty).
I expect Jalen Ramsey to shadow DK Metcalf, and while it’s possible Metcalf may make Ramsey look silly like he did Stephon Gilmore and Tre’Davious White, but Ramsey is no doubt an elite corner and it won’t be an easy matchup for DK. What it should do from a Seahawks perspective is open up the door for Lockett to be matched with Darious Williams, which is in theory a more favorable matchup.
Q - Pete Carroll has a knack for unexpected first round draft pick choices and that has often yielded poor results. I can’t imagine that the Seahawks are in the top-25 of extracting first round value dating back to 2013 or so. Last season was L.J. Collier, who is 25 already, and this year Seattle picked Bobby Wagner’s heir apparent seemingly still midway through Wagner’s career. Maybe that’s oversimplification though: What’s Brooks’ role been these last few weeks as his playing time has increased, what’s the status of 2019 third round linebacker Cody Barton and his place on the defense, and is there any threat to be considered when Collier is on the field? What does he do well and/or struggle with?
A - I didn’t get the Jordyn Brooks pick when it was announced live, but I understand it a bit more. This may very well be the last season for KJ Wright in Seattle (which saddens me) and Bobby Wagner is 30 years old. Wagner still is playing at a high level but he’s lost a step and if those two are no longer peak athletes, suddenly the Seahawks linebacking corps is a problem. Brooks has been a regular ever since returning from a sprained knee and thus far he’s been at weakside linebacker.
He’s still yet to play more than 50% of the team’s defensive snaps in a game but what immediately flashes out is his closing speed. Against the Arizona Cardinals and after DK Metcalf’s epic chasedown of Budda Baker on the interception return, Brooks was able to corral Kyler Murray on a designed quarterback sweep and tackle him short of the goal line, setting up the failed 4th and goal on the next play. He also went stride for stride with TE Dan Arnold on a deep shot that fell incomplete, which is encouraging given the question marks about his ability to defend the pass. At the moment Brooks is just a rotational piece right now and obviously he’s taken out in nickel situations, but he hasn’t had any glaringly ugly rookie moments as of yet and he may have to play a key part in turning this Seahawks defense around for the remainder of this season.
Barton played a couple of games while Jordyn Brooks was out and... it didn’t go well. He is a massive liability in run defense and has a hard time shedding blocks. Barton is best served playing on special teams (where he’s been a really good contributor) and do not expect him to see the field for anything other than goal-line situations, injury replacement, or garbage time. I suspect that the Brooks draft pick was also not exactly a vote of confidence in Barton, and early returns suggest that the concerns were justified.
As for Collier, he’s really not looking like he should’ve been drafted in the first-round. They’ve got him playing as a 5-tech lineman It’s not that he’s terrible or anything, but he’s just a guy. Amazingly, Collier is among the team leaders in quarterback pressures with 10, but he’s turned that into just a single sack of Kirk Cousins. His highlight was helping stop Cam Newton on the final play of the game against the Patriots, which showed his potential but is otherwise just that. Potential.
LJ Collier really isn't getting any better.— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) November 8, 2020
He has only played about 50% of the team’s defensive snaps, and I can see that possibly decreasing with Rasheem Green back from injury and already showing that he’s a more natural pass rusher than Collier. I think he’s best suited for defending the run (which not coincidentally is one of the few things the Seahawks do well defensively), but despite the pressure statistic I cited he’s pretty clearly not a particularly good pass rusher and the Seahawks need that a heck of a lot more right now.
Q - Would you rather be first in scoring and 30th in points allowed or first in defense and 30th in scoring? Because we know what the Seahawks are.
Even though I’m infuriated watching this defense, I’d much rather take this than be say, the Chicago Bears, who are 7th in points allowed but 29th in scoring and doomed at quarterback. 30th in scoring and 1st on defense usually implies you don’t have a franchise QB. The Seahawks would be out of the playoff hunt already if they had an elite defense but no ability to actually score points. But they have Russell Wilson and he’s an MVP candidate who is largely responsible for their 6-2 start. It’s an offense-driven league and Seattle has one of the best in the business at the helm.
Q - Since drafting Aaron Donald in 2014, the Rams haven’t had as many issues dealing with Wilson as other teams have. LA has added Jalen Ramsey to the defense since last year. No team seems to give Seattle more problems than the Rams do and I can’t see why that would be different today. What do the Seahawks offer to protect Wilson from Donald these days and how’s that making you feel as compared to the previous six years?
A - I think the interior of the offensive line is the best that it has perhaps ever been and it could go a long way towards neutralizing the Rams’ pass rush. Mike Iupati has been out injured but Jordan Simmons has done well as a pass-blocker in his absence. Right guard Damien Lewis has had some rookie moments (and is penalized quite a bit) but overall has been very solid as a starter. The days of Luke Joeckel and Oday Aboushi seem to be mercifully behind us, and there’s stability at the tackle position with Duane Brown and Brandon Shell.
We’ve often seen the Seahawks just spam max protect playcalls because Donald is that dominant and the previous offensive lines could barely block anyone, let alone Donald. If I have any confidence in reducing Donald’s impact it’s the expectation that Seattle will go to a quick passing game and roll Wilson out and away from Donald more often. The emphasis for Wilson in recent years has been getting rid of the ball quicker. It has had mixed results but I don’t think he has much of a choice as long as Aaron is healthy and they intend to remain a pass-first team with a decimated running back corps.
The one caveat here is that Ethan Pocic, Seattle’s starting center, is on the injury report with a concussion and that is super worrying. Pocic has been an arguable upgrade over Justin Britt and not having him for this one would be huge., Kyle Fuller the cornerback in Chicago is pretty good. Kyle Fuller the backup center... probably not so good. If Pocic is out then it’s going to be a long day.
Q - It’s hard to believe that it was as recent as February, 2015 that people were screaming at a team for choosing to utilize a Russell Wilson pass instead of a Marshawn Lynch rushing attempt. Lynch was arguably the most popular player on the team during a championship era and often cited as its most important. How things have changed, but do they really? My question is straightforward: Do running backs matter? To keep it Rams-Seahawks specific, how much would it matter if Chris Carson is available this Sunday?
A - Running backs matter up to a point. It’s the most easily replaceable position in the league. There are a lot of quality backs and a limited number of available jobs, so the surplus of talent alone should tell you that drafting backs in the first round is usually a terrible idea (he says knowing Seattle drafted Rashaad Penny).
What I feel gets lost in this discussion is the fact that talent and ability are still easily identifiable and matter a whole lot. The Seahawks offense would’ve looked a lot different if Robert Turbin or Christine Michael started a full season compared to Marshawn Lynch. If you give Barry Sanders and some generic running back the same play scenarios I can guarantee you that the generic back ain’t touching Barry’s productivity. Just because running backs have depreciating value does not make them worthless.
Anyway, Chris Carson really needs to play this weekend if he can. Essentially the only way we’ve seen the Seahawks successfully compromise the McVay era Rams defense is through a highly effective running game. Carson was at the forefront of two of those games.
In his absence, Travis Homer and Deejay Dallas have combined for 32 carries for 92 yards. Not good. Homer is one of the worst running backs in the league by DVOA and DYAR. Carson is the best pure runner on the team and he’s much better at breaking tackles and falling forward than those two. He has had a bit of a down year because of the injuries and also statistically the run-blocking has not been particularly strong, but he’s outstanding at his peak abilities, and he’s improved as a receiving option.
You may have noticed that I left out Carlos Hyde, well that’s down to Pete Carroll’s hinting at the press conference that his hamstring won’t be healed up in time to play this week so I’ve excluded him from the discussion. If he was healthy, he’s also a better option than Homer or Dallas.