It is time for the rare third Q&A exchange with another team blog in the same season.
The Los Angeles Rams won the first game 23-16. The Seattle Seahawks won the second game 20-9. The two teams face off in the wild card round on Saturday to decide who ultimately wins the 2020 war between these rival franchises.
To learn more about what’s difference about the Seahawks than it was two weeks ago, I sent five Qs to Mookie Alexander of Field Gulls. In response, he sent me five corresponding As.
Q - Assuming that John Wolford starts, how have the Seahawks done against mobile quarterbacks this season? How did they perform against Kyler Murray, who might be something akin to a highly advanced version of Wolford?
A - The Seahawks have been pretty fortunate not to play a lot of mobile QBs. Cam Newton (47 yards, 2 TDs) and Kyler Murray (67 yards, 1 TD in first meeting) certainly ran on them when they wanted to prior to the Carlos Dunlap trade. In the rematch against Arizona and with Dunlap in the lineup they held Murray to just 15 yards on 5 attempts and took away his running lanes superbly. Josh Allen is quite mobile but he didn’t need to run because the Seahawks secondary got torched all game long. I think this revamped defensive line combined with the emergence of Jordyn Brooks as the third linebacker to complement KJ Wright and Bobby Wagner has created enough team speed and intelligence to not get exploited heavily by mobile quarterbacks. My worry is that if they play Wolford and the Seahawks opt to blitz a lot and play man coverage on 3rd downs, Wolford seems more capable of just tucking and running than Goff, who’s reached a point where he just invents new ways to goof up on the spot.
Q - Russell Wilson’s never played that well against Aaron Donald’s Rams, but this season he’s also seen his stats drop like Carnival stock. How would you explain Wilson’s change in play and production over the last 12 games?
A - Some of it is schematic. Dating back to the Vikings and first Cardinals games, teams have been disguising their defenses pre-snap and often fooling Wilson, and post-snap they’re running coverages that take away Wilson’s preferred deep passing attack, such that the Seahawks have struggled to generate many 30+ yard pass plays over the past two months. He’s had to take shorter depth of target throws and the Seahawks are just not a good yards after catch team, so Wilson’s passing yards and yards/attempt have decreased from his red-hot start. I also suspect that the Seahawks cooled off the Let Russ Cook plans and while they’re still pass-heavy in neutral game script situations, they’ve largely discouraged the type of risky throws that can lead to turnovers. A lot more “take what the defense gives you.” There’s also the realization that he’s flat out missed throws and open receivers and he’s reverted so some bad habits in the pocket when pressured. He needs to play better for the Seahawks to have any chance of making a serious Super Bowl run.
Q - Jalen Ramsey’s done a great job throughout his career, throughout this season, and throughout his matchups against DK Metcalf. If I simply said to you, “DK is out today,” implying that he wouldn’t get to come to the dinner table for supper on Saturday, how much would your optimism tank? Can the Seahawks score the necessary points if DK can’t get going?
A - Oh it’d drop significantly. Tyler Lockett is amazing and indeed ended the year with three more targets than Metcalf, but no DK means you’re upgrading David Moore to #2 WR and while he’s been damn good in his WR3 role this year, he’s not the ideal #2 option. Metcalf certainly has not been able to outplay Jalen Ramsey but that’s the case for most wide receivers. What the Seahawks did in the rematch was move him around the formation a lot more than they usually do so they can put him against other defensive backs. Even though the Rams defense is outstanding there’s no one else on the team who has the combination of frame and speed to get separation than DK. If he randomly doesn’t play then I’d expect an adjustment to a lot of short throws to TEs and RBs and that is not particularly likely to generate a lot of points. Hell even with DK they scored 36 points total, so take him out and the Seahawks may need to hope that 10-14 points is good enough.
(KA Note: My question was a little unclear, but by “DK is out” I meant, Jalen Ramsey shuts him out.)
Q - Which Rams player do you expect to frustrate you the most and who is the Seahawk responsible for containing him? Also, which Seahawks player do you expect to frustrate you the most?
A - Cooper Kupp. Cooper freakin’ Kupp. Reliable hands, third down machine, and the reason why I’m more frustrated facing him compared to the obvious answer of Aaron Donald is that I’m numb to Donald just dominating whomever is in front of him. The Seahawks third down defense ranks 27th in the league and Kupp had five third down conversions by himself in the last meeting. Considering he’ll be in the slot I expect that we’ll see nickel corner Ugo Amadi matched up against him often, and while I’ve given Amadi high praise for his tackling, smart instincts, and pass coverage, Kupp is a tall task (literally) for him to handle.
As for the Seahawks side, I really don’t have a good answer to that. The player who frustrated me the most (Tre Flowers) lost his starting job and only just came back from injury so he’s not a viable option. Next up would be... honestly it’d be Russell Wilson. He’s had an overall great year but I’m really concerned about the nosedive this offense has taken and Wilson holds considerable responsibility for that. Bad sacks I’m used to, but bad decisions and inaccurate throws are just things that he doesn’t do on a regular basis but we’re seeing it more often over the past several weeks.
Q - The Seahawks went 12-4, but they didn’t seem as dominant as what you’d expect a “12-4 team” to be. In Week 17 against a 49ers team that was without a lot of its starters and backups, Seattle needed a fourth quarter comeback and they consistently found ways to struggle for 2-3 quarters every time they played, in spite of their glowing record. What’s something that happened against the 49ers that gives you concern about the playoffs and what’s something that gave you optimism?
A - My optimism is on the defensive side of the ball believe it or not. They’ve certainly not played a difficult slate of opposing offenses but they’re 10th in defensive DVOA dating back to Week 10 and even when the defense was awful they consistently managed game-saving stops. The Seahawks have done an excellent job protecting leads in crunch time and if Seattle gets a lead on the Rams and it’s late 4th quarter I expect them to hold their end of the bargain. We saw that happen in the 49ers rematch as Benson Mayowa strip-sacked CJ Beathard with the score at 19-16 and that effectively ended the 49ers’ comeback hopes right there. They held nine out of ten leads in the 4th quarter (defending a one-score lead).
The concern is the offense with the caveat that Brandon Shell and Mike Iupati will return and thus give the Seahawks their original and best starting offensive line. I’m wondering how much of Wilson’s struggles (along with some of the inconsistency of the running game) is attributed to the change in the OL rotation. But beyond that the execution is sub-standard and while I don’t really give Brian Schottenheimer any criticism for the 49ers game specifically, the 3rd down woes on offense have to be at his feet too. There’s just no rhythm to the play sequencing and when they’re off schedule they are almost completely lost. It looks as if defenses figured out the Seahawks by mid-October and Seattle has been unable to counter that while still returning to some semblance of the early season success.