The Los Angeles Rams will begin the 2023 season on Sunday on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. A win against a division opponent to start the year would instill a lot of confidence in a young roster and ensure that season doesn’t begin to snowball with tough matchups in Week 2 and Week 3. Prior to last season, head coach Sean McVay was 8-3 against Pete Carroll and four of his five losses have been by a combined 14 points. This should be a close game. Here are five keys to victory.
1. Ride Cam Akers
The Rams will be without Cooper Kupp. While it will be important for wide receivers such as Van Jefferson, TuTu Atwell, and Puka Nacua to perform, Los Angeles needs to be able to rely on the run game and that starts with Cam Akers. Without Kupp, someone in the offense needs to step up and that player is Akers. A solid running game will take pressure off of the wide receivers and the passing game. Heading into his fourth year, it’s time for Akers to be a leader in the offense.
In two career games at Seattle, Akers has a 28 carry, 131 yard performance that led the Rams to a win in the playoffs in 2020. Last season in Week 18, the Rams running back had 21 carries for 104 yards. The Seahawks had one of the worst run defenses in the NFL in 2022. While they added Bobby Wagner, Dre’Mont Jones, and Jarran Reed, the Rams need to test that unit early and often.
2. Generate Interior Pressure on Early Downs
With the duo of Charles Cross and Abraham Lucas, the Seahawks may have one of the best tackle duos in the NFL. However, Damien Lewis is a former third-round pick, Evan Brown is a former undrafted free agent at center and on his fifth-team, and Phil Haynes is a former fourth-round pick.
Last season, Geno Smith was 31st in the NFL in EPA per drop back while getting blitzed at the seventh-highest rate in the league. With the current state of the Rams defense, they need to be more aggressive. If the defense can get into favorable third-down situations and fine early-down success, it will only help their confidence. The Seahawks are vulnerable on the interior which is where the Rams will need to dial-up pressure with their blitz packages.
3. Be Ok With Mini-Chunk Plays on Offense
Last season, the Seahawks were among the best in the league at limiting explosive plays on defense. However, they gave up the most plays in the 10-19 yard range. It can be frustrating for a play-caller and for an offense when a defense is making you have to work down the field. This is why the Rams played their with their “shell” in 2022.
The Seahawks were among the best in the NFL at limiting explosive pass plays (20+ yds).— Field Gulls (@FieldGulls) January 19, 2022
The tradeoff? No team allowed more uh... mini-explosives?
Seattle's defense gave up 148 pass plays of 10-19 yds.
Pretty much the same thing happened last year, too.
The Rams will likely take their shots and they should. Atwell had a few missed opportunities due to poor quarterback play that were there for the taking. With that said, the Rams can’t force those plays either. Seahawks cornerbacks Coby Bryant and Tariq Woolen both ranked inside the top-25 in most yards after the catch allowed in 2022. McVay should be able draw up intermediate routes with YAC potential and find success.
4. Limit Kenneth Walker and Zach Charbonnet
If the Rams can put the game in Geno Smith’s hands, they’ll have a chance to come away with an upset on the road to begin the season. I hate to be the “run the ball, stop the run” guy, but that’s the case in this game.
The Rams struggled to stop the run all preseason. That’s an issue that can’t carry over into Sunday’s game. Pete Carroll will have no issue running the ball 40 times if the Rams can’t stop it. The smaller defensive linemen for the Rams will need to show that they can hold their gaps and the young, inexperienced edge rushers will need to keep contain. There’s no doubt that Carroll and offensive coordinator Shane Waldron will the test the Rams defense in that area early. Los Angeles will need to show that they can stop it.
5. Play With A ‘F-It” Attitude
Let’s be honest here. Even before the Cooper Kupp injury, the Rams were already being counted out of this game and this season. Now with the Kupp injury and the star wide receiver being ruled out, nobody is giving them a chance. This isn’t to say that the Rams should play reckless. However, they also have nothing to lose.
The Rams have a young roster and for players like Byron Young, Tre Tomlinson, Kobie Turner, etc. this will be their first game. Cobie Durant got playing time last year, but this will be his first game in a major role at cornerback. It will be important to play loose and not worry about making “the mistake”.