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5Qs, 5As with Field Gulls: What makes rookie Devon Witherspoon so special in Seattle’s secondary?

What should LA fans know about the rookie corner? “He’s simply a high level athlete with a high football IQ”

Washington Commanders v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams return from their much needed bye week to face a familiar foe in the Seattle Seahawks who are 1-point favorites at DraftKings Sportsbook. LA is seeking to sweep the season series from Seattle for the first time since their 2021 Super Bowl campaign.

The two NFC West foes have gone in polar opposite directions since the season opener. I spoke again with John Gilbert from SB Nation’s Seahawks blog Field Gulls to gain additional insight on LA’s frenemy ahead of their Week 11 rematch.

Q - LA and Seattle last played in Week 1 with the Rams coming away with a shocking 30-13 win. Since that matchup, LA has only won two of their last eight games while Seattle is tied for the NFC West lead at 6-3. What went so wrong for the Seahawks in the opener and how does Seattle prevent a sequel on their trip to Hollywood?

A - The simple answer is that the Seahawks lost both of their starting tackles in the second half, which crippled the offense. The reality, though, is that Sean McVay happened, and I’m not sure how much the loss of the tackles really mattered when the defense could do nothing to stop Matthew Stafford and Puka Nacua from marching up and down the field at will.

There have been changes in the secondary with the returns of Devon Witherspoon and Jamal Adams, and I’m sure the coaching staff is grilling Brett Rypien for all the intelligence he can provide on what the Rams intend to do offensively against the Hawks, but of all the monsters in the world, the most dangerous to a Pete Carroll defense seems to be a Sean McVay coached offense.

Q - Quarterback Geno Smith rebounded from his dreadful showing in the 34-point loss to Baltimore by throwing for 369 yards and two touchdowns against Washington. Smith’s production has been noticeably down coming off his surprising 30-touchdown campaign in 2022. What differences, if any, have you seen in Smith’s game this season compared to last year and what does he need to do to regain his Pro Bowl form?

A - Opponents have figured out that pressure is Geno’s kryptonite, and have attacked a young, inexperienced offensive line that has seen more than its fair share of injuries so far in 2023. Specifically, teams have worked to get Seattle into third & passing distance situations, and then applied pressure through blitzes and stunts, and the Seahawks offensive line has really struggled to protect Smith in those situations.

Entering the Week 10 game against Washington, the Seahawks had averaged 29 points offensively when Geno was pressured on less than 40% of his dropbacks, while averaging 14.6 points per game when Geno faced pressure on more than 40% of the time. Against the Commanders the Hawks kept Geno clean and upright (22.4% pressure rate), and put 29 points on the board.

Q - Rookie wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba doesn’t have a single game over the 100-yard receiving mark in ‘23. JSN was a highly touted prospect coming out of Ohio State, yet his highest yardage total this season has been only 63 yards. How does Smith-Njigba get more involved in Seattle’s passing attack and what does he need to improve upon in his final eight games?

A - It’s certainly been frustrating for many to watch JSN’s progress this season, but the reality remains that receiver is one of the slowest developing positions in the NFL. Yes, there are players who can step in and have a significant impact as rookies at the position, but the majority of receivers need time to learn the intricacies of offenses and route running in the NFL. That’s been seen multiple times so far this season where he and Geno haven’t been on the same page in terms of where a route is supposed to go, but things are trending in the right direction. With eight games left it’s looking more and more likely that he’ll finish his rookie season with receiving numbers somewhere in between the rookie year production of Tyler Lockett and Doug Baldwin, and that’s not bad for a 21-year old rookie.

Q - While we’re on the topic of rookies, cornerback Devon Witherspoon has been an absolute stud for the Seahawks. The Illinois product forced a fumble against the Commanders and is a hit stick machine in the open field. LA didn’t see Witherspoon in the opener so could you tell Rams faithful about what makes the first-year corner so special?

A - He’s just a ball of energy who is constantly flying all over the field, and it’s easy to tell he’s a film junkie who knows what to expect from the opponent. Whether it’s stepping up to make a hit in the run game, anticipating where a throw is going in order to be there to break it up or, as you noted, punching out a ball for a forced fumble, he’s simply a high level athlete with a high football IQ who comes ready to play every single day. Add in that he is doing what he is doing after missing most of training camp with a hamstring injury following a brief holdout just makes it all the more amazing.

Q - The Seahawks are 1-point road favorites with an O/U of 46 at DraftKings Sportsbook. These two teams have obviously gone in vastly different directions since the opener, so how do you envision this rematch going down?

A - The Seahawks were favored by 5.5 in Week 1, and everybody saw how that went. Reality is that of any coach in the league, Sean McVay has had Pete Carroll’s number. Even when the Rams were starting the likes of John Wolford and Baker Mayfield in 2022 the matchups were close and Seattle needed a last minute score or overtime to defeat a team playing without Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald. Yes, the Seahawks have Witherspoon and Adams this time around, but the Rams did what they did in Week 1 without the services of Kupp to haul in Stafford’s passes, so you’ll have to excuse my fears that the Rams could approach that 44 point over themselves if Stafford, Kupp and Nacua have a good day.