After being all but written off, the Los Angeles Rams defense bared their fangs, as well as their horns, in the NFL’s opening weekend and chased the Seattle Seahawks back to their nest with a dominating 30-13 win. The victory is particularly sweet after the preseason national narrative had L.A.’s defense ranked as one of the NFL’s worst. Is it too early to celebrate?
It started in the typical bend-but-don’t-break fashion, with the ‘Hawks taking advantage of a short passing game and flanking the Rams defensive edge with the run to move down the field. Seattle scored on all of their first three drives of the game, but according to the script, L.A. was able to force field goals on two of those trips. As the game progressed, the defense tightened their grip and choked off the Seahawks offense.
How dominant did the Rams defense become?
After those three early scoring drives, L.A. gave up zero points, 23 net yards, and zero 3rd down conversions. Over the whole game, the ‘Hawks netted 95 yards passing and 85 yards rushing on only 46 plays. For comparison, last year Seattle rolled to 840 yards, 553 passing and 287 rushing in the two tilts.
Looking at the the drive charts in a little depth can help show how the Rams turned things around after a tough preseason showing.
12 play 57 yard that ended in a field goal. It was aided by a 10 yard, 3rd and 7 pass interference call on DeCobie Durant. It looked uncatchable, but still not a smart penalty. The next three plays went nowhere, a run was stropped for no gain, Ernest Jones sniffed out a screen for a loss and Derion Kendrick made a good defensive play to break up a pass in the end zone, forcing the Seahawks to settle for three. Seattle’s big play on the drive was a 28 yard pass play where ‘Hawk QB Geno Smith had all day to wait for D.K. Metcalfe to break open. Seahawks 3, Rams 0.
Another 12 play drive, this one covering 75 yards and ending in a touch down. Seattle used a combination of quick, short passes and runs outside the tackle boxes to roll down the field. The ‘Hawks tried a flea-flicker that didn’t fool L.A., but QB Smith was able to turn it into a small gain. On the 10 yard touch down, D.K. Metcalfe gave Derion Kendrick a little inside -out move and snared the score. I don’t claim to know the Rams coverage responsibilities, but it generally accepted practice in coaching to protect the outside in theses situations. The idea is for the defensive back to force the receiver towards the center of the field, where he has some safety help. Kendrick looks as if he is trying to jump the jump the route and and gets gets completely turned around. Seahawks 10, Rams 7.
A short five play drive that ended with a 42 yard field goal based on field position. After the punt coverage team gave up an 18 yard return, Seattle took over at midfield. RB Kenneth Walker got outside the edge for most of the yardage damage with two runs for 20 yards, but the Rams hung tough and on 3rd and short, Aaron Donald pressured up the middle on a loop to face an incompletion. Seahawks 13, Rams 7.
With just under two minutes left in the half, Seattle took over on the Rams 42 after returning a blocked a field goal. The Rams held them to five plays and 21 yards. Another closely guarded pass interference (three yards), a pass in the flats to D.J. Dallas (14 yards), and again to Dallas on two runs for four yards. On 3rd and six, Byron Young came unblocked off the edge and chased QB Geno smith out of the pocket and into an incomplete pass. Place kicker Jason Myers missed the 39 yard field goal attempt, clanking it off the upright. Seahawks 13, Rams 7.
A quick three and out on the Seahawks first possession. RB Kenneth Walker was able to get outside on the first play for five yards, but the ‘Hawks went to the pass for the next two plays. The Rams didn’t hit the quarterback, but did get enough pressure to give him happy feet and force two mis-targets. Rams 14, Seahawks 13.
Five play drive that netted 10 yards. with five of those coming on another tightly-guarded pass interfrerence call. Again the Rams were able to get pass rush traction, flushing QB Smith from the pocket once and forcing another off-target. Rams 17, Seahawks 13.
Another three and out, starting with a well-defensed swing pass and helped out by a D.K. Metcalf dropped pass. On 3rd down, edge Byron Young got around the right tackle for a QB hit and forced incompletion. Rams 24, Seahawks 13.
After a nice 34 yard kickoff returner Seattle’s D.J. Dallas, it was strange three and out that went for -24 yards. The Seahawks started with an eight yard underneath pass, but after the play D.K. Metcalfe was hit with an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. When things were straightened out, the Rams logged two consecutive sacks to force a punt. On the first, both Michael Hoecht and Kobie Turner both beat their man off the snap. The second was a coverage sack with Aaron Donald and Hoecht both getting hands on the Seattle QB. Rams 27, Seahawks 13.
Only 11 seconds left and the ‘Hawks handed the ball off to close out the game. Rams 30, Seahawks 13.
What to make of the first game?
Before looking at the individual positions, Defensive Coordinator Raheem Morris did do some different things formationally.
By my unofficial count, I calculated 26 snaps in the base 5-2-4, but they did on occasion line those edges off the line of scrimmage akin to traditional outside linebackers. Late in the 1st half, Morris lined the the Rams up a couple of times in a 3-3-5 for long passing downs, bringing in Quentin Lake as an extra linebacker along with Ernest Jones and Christian Rozeboom. He used the 4-2-5 for 13 plays, mostly in passing situations and in the red zone. This is down from about 50% in preseason. In the 2nd half, L.A. moved this to a 4-1-6 on six reps, subbing in Lake for Rozeboom at inside linebacker.
Bobby Brown got the start at nose tackle, but may have been passed up Kobie Turner, who outsnapped him 29-19. While Turner’s size makes his holding up to double teams suspect, he played hard from start to finish. Brown, if he doesn’t get the advantage right away, tends to slack off. I’m not saying he played badly, maybe a smaller role in run situations.
With the Rams keeping their edges in the game on 4 down linemen formations, the snaps for Jonah Williams, Earnest Brown, and will be limited. It looks like they are locked in a three-way rotation until one can step up and prove he can win his 1on1s. The Seahawks did their run game damage outside, so while the didn’t log a lot of tackles, they did lock up their blockers.
Aaron Donald is back to his disruptive self, where he left off before last years injury with four tackles and a sack.
Jones and Rozeboom both had good games. Jones played every defensive snap and logged nine tackles with three of those for loss. Boom missed a pair of tackles but did chip in six tackles on 67% of snaps. One of the areas where there might be future problems is on outside the tackle runs. Both Jones and Boom tend to get caught in traffic around the line of scrimmage. Neither are speed demons, so they will have to improve their stack/shed, read/react, and pursuit angle techniques.
Both Michael Hoecht and Byron Young had problems setting the edge but did show a little juice rushing the passer. They combined for seven tackles and a sack.The ‘Hawk game plan was to throw quick, short passes, so it was tough to get a lot of pressure on QB Geno Smith. The Rams got just enough to knock Smith off his game. Zach Van Valkenburg had 11 snaps early in the game and looks like he can offer some rotational help as the season progresses.
Jordan Fuller had a quiet eight tackles, while Yeast added two more. Both played in every defensive snap. The stops were made in run support, as Seattle never challenged deep nor over the middle. The Seahawks had what success they had early in the game and that was with short passes and an outside run game. Lake came in as a “big nickel” defender as kind of a slot corner underneath or in for a linebacker as the “dime”. He was generally quiet, missing one tackle and making another.
The play where he got beaten bad aside, Kerion played a good game. The Seahawk offensive game plan played to his strengths and in a tough draw against D.K. Metcalfe, I would daresay he held his own. Witherspoon mirrored his play on the other side, Seattle had some success early by throwing underneath, but that is more an indictment of the scheme rather than the individual players. DeCobie Durant was quiet as well and interestingly, only played 78% of snaps.
There was so much that went well, but no matter the outcome, there are certainly a couple things that still stand out as areas of concern. Next week versus the San Francisco will be a much more telling test.
The ‘Niners love to challenge the edges in a normal situation. Learning from and cleaning up their edge setting mistakes is imperative for Hoecht and Young. They weren’t pinned inside on every run play, by any means, but it’s still a cause for concern.
As the Seahawk game progressed, the Rams pass rush pressure heated up. Some of that can be apportioned to the injuries of the ‘Hawks starting tackles and a little more to the situation that the Rams offense was able to Seattle in. But the Rams rookies, youngsters, and veterans all played with heart and a physical edge. There is something to playing with a chip on your shoulder and in defiance of narrative.
The Rams are already one up on that narrative. “Bring on the ‘Niners!”