The Los Angeles Rams look to end a disappointing campaign on a high note as they take on the Seattle Seahawks in the season finale. Not only are the Seahawks fighting for a playoff spot but Baker Mayfield needs a great performance to secure his NFL future.
With pressure at an all time high between two bitter division rivals, I spoke with John P. Gilbert from SB Nation’s Seahawks blog Field Gulls to gain insight into LA’s opposition this weekend.
Q - The Seahawks were expected to be a pushover coming into the season but they instead decided to fool around and play meaningful football in the final week. How did the Seahawks surpass everyone’s expectations in 2022 and how do they build off that success going into next year?
A - The single biggest factor in outperforming expectations in 2022 has been the high level of play from Geno Smith at quarterback. Many fans are convinced that his production and performance peaked earlier in the season, but he is delivering on what is asked of him, and has the team fighting for a playoff spot in the last week of the season, which is more than the overwhelming majority of fans and pundits expected, myself included.
The team has certainly benefited from playing one of the easiest schedules in the NFL, with the strength of schedule likely to finish somewhere in the high twenties by opponent winning percentage, but all a team can do is play the schedule it is assigned. That leads into a 2023 offseason that will likely be as interesting as 2022 was. Specifically, baring a surprise contract announcement in the coming days, the team will need to address the quarterback position in the offseason, along with making a whole host of other key decisions at positions, either due to free agency or underwhelming on-field performance.
Q - Part of the reason Seattle is still in the playoff hunt is thanks to a career year from Geno Smith. The veteran QB became the eighth player to record his first-career season of 4,000 passing yards in year 10 or later. It’s leaning towards Smith remaining a Seahawk so what kind of contract do you envision him getting in the offseason? In the rarity that negotiations go south, what path would the team take under center?
A - This is gearing up to be the first of several very big issues to address because a variety of factors are set to come together to back up a boat load of leverage for Geno. Between cap space being tight and the projected size of the franchise tag for quarterbacks (somewhere in the $31.5M to $32.5M depending on whose projection on wishes to use), getting negotiations done with Smith will effectively be mandatory prior to the start of free agency, or else the Hawks will be forced to make multiple roster decisions just to have the cap space necessary to operate during the initial portion of free agency. This is a topic on which there will be no shortage of discussion during the offseason, and the franchise/transition tag deadline of March 7 will be closely watched.
Q - Following Seattle’s 23-6 win over the Jets, it was announced that starting linebacker Jordyn Brooks will be out for the rest of the season because of a torn ACL. What kind of impact did he have on the defense and who on the roster has the ability to fill in for him?
A - Brooks is certainly a talented young player, and his nose for the football is what has allowed him to be third in the league in tackles after finishing second in that category last season. However, the defense has struggled at times during the season, and having three first round picks on injured reserve for Week 18 in Jamal Adams and Jordyn Brooks certainly wasn’t how the team envisioned the season playing out.
Interestingly, with Brooks going down, fourth-year linebacker and soon to be free agent Cody Barton is slated to step in and fill the role left empty by Brooks injury. That has a lot of fans upset, as Barton has been scapegoated by many fans for the struggles of the defense during the season, and the biggest impact on the loss of Brooks might come in the offseason. Barton is scheduled to be a free agent, and it’s hard to imagine the Seahawks rolling into 2023 with the plan at middle linebacker hoping for a speedy recovery from Brooks, meaning the likelihood of retaining Barton in the offseason suddenly increased greatly.
Q - Thanks to the Broncos losing yet again Sunday, the Seahawks are officially locked into a top-five draft pick. What position must the team absolutely address this offseason?
A - Most will disagree with this, but the top need for Seattle in the 2023 draft is at wide receiver. Yes, DK Metcalf is just 25 and Tyler Lockett is still productive, but behind those two there is next to zero proven production on the roster, and the offense comes to a grinding halt the instant either Metcalf or Lockett miss time due to injury. Those struggles appeared in the 24-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when Lockett was out, and they were on display again at times against the New York Jets in Week 17 as Lockett posted the second lowest snap count of his career. And as great as Lockett is, he’ll be 31 early in the 2023 season. That’s not to say his production is going to fall off a cliff, but he’s reaching the point in his career where production at the levels to which Seahawks fans have been accustomed cannot simply be assumed.
There are other needs, including on both the offensive and defensive line, as well as at linebacker in the wake of the Brooks injury. However, for the entirety of the 2023 season the success of the Seattle offense has been dictated by the ability of the team to utilize its third and fourth receivers, making that the most crucial need for the team moving forward.
Q - According to DraftKings Sportsbook, the Seahawks are listed as 6.5-point favorites with an O/U of 41.5. How do you envision this game playing out with Seattle in control of their playoff destiny?
A - I have zero doubt that Pete Carroll will have the Seahawks amped up and ready to play Sunday, and my fear is that with so many youngsters on the field, that could lead to too much energy and enthusiasm and mistakes being made. That said, it’s seems very likely that the Rams will test the Hawks on the ground to see how well the defense can stop the run, so my expectation is that while the Hawks come away with a victory, my guess is they stay under 41 points while the Rams cover in a game that is closer than fans would prefer, something along the lines of 19-16.