Seahawks-Rams games for much of this decade were hard-fought, but often low-scoring and artless, affairs with scores like 14-9 and 9-3.
They are still hard-fought.
But the past three games have featured points, big plays and excitement aplenty, with the winning team averaging 33 points and the losing team averaging 30.3.
And each has gone down to the last minute or so. Or, in the case of Seattle’s 30-29 win at CenturyLink Field two months ago, the last seconds, when Greg Zuerlein missed a 44-yard field goal with 11 seconds left that would have won it for the Rams (and one of a few times this year when fate has dealt Seattle a winning hand).
The two teams meet again Sunday night in Los Angeles in a game with heavy playoff implications for Seattle (and the Rams needing a win just to stay alive). Here is what to watch, plus a prediction.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Rams running back Todd Gurley vs. Seattle’s linebackers
Here’s your biannual reminder that the Seahawks had Gurley at the very top of their draft board in 2015, though they never stood a chance at getting him (he went 10th to the still-in-St. Louis Rams). And maybe that influences why coach Pete Carroll always says stopping the Rams begins with stopping Gurley. “He’s an incredible factor,’’ Carroll said this week. “When he’s at his best, they’re on it.’’ Gurley had only 51 yards on 15 carries in the first game between the two teams this season but he’s had a few of his bigger games against Seattle — 151 at CenturyLink Field in 2017 and 120 at the Coliseum last season.
Gurley’s production has been a little erratic this year. But he’s coming off one of his best games of the season with 95 yards on 19 carries in the 34-7 blowout over Arizona, which came a week after he had just 22 on six. Asked the reason why Gurley got more carries last week, Rams coach Sean McVay said “me not being an idiot.’’ That seems a pretty strong indication the Rams will force feed Gurley this week and make Seattle stop him before moving on, a task that usually falls heavily on the shoulders of linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.
COACHING DECISION TO WATCH
How much to use the George Fant package?
Seattle had its best running-game performance of the season Monday against the Vikings with 218 yards on 43 carries. They got much of that production during the 42 snaps that George Fant was on the field in his role as an eligible tackle/tight end — the most snaps he has ever played in that role. According to zonecoverage.com, the Seahawks ran the ball on 31 of Fant’s 43 snaps, gaining 138 yards on those plays for an average of 4.5 yards per carry, which includes each of the 1-yard TD runs.
The Rams, though, are one of the stingier teams in the NFL to run against, allowing just 3.7 yards per carry, less than all but two other teams (the Bucs and the Jets, showing that run defense maybe isn’t the key to success, after all). The Rams’ run-defense numbers may compel Seattle to want to pass more. But last week’s success may also want them to keep getting Fant out there.
PLAYER TO WATCH
WR Tyler Lockett
Lockett has battled a shin injury and the flu the past two weeks and has just one catch for 38 yards in that time. He had no catches against the Vikings, only the sixth time in his career he’s been held without a reception. But Lockett has had three of his top-10 games in terms of receiving yards against the Rams, who have often left him in man coverage. That includes touchdowns in each of his past three games, including the amazing toe-drag score the first time the two teams played this year.
Expect Lockett to get back on track this week.
WR Josh Gordon
Could this be the game when Gordon truly breaks out? Gordon has four catches on five targets in three games with Seattle, for 47 yards. The good news is all four have come on third down and resulted in a first down. And Gordon hasn’t been playing a ton — he’s been on the field for 27, 20 and 27 snaps in his three games. The emphasis on the run game last week also obviously limited targets all the way around. But at some point you’d expect Gordon to get a little bit more involved.
WILD-CARD PLAYER WHO COULD SURPRISE
LB Cody Barton
Barton was our choice for this category last week, too, with Mychal Kendricks listed as questionable and a game-time decision for the Vikings game with a hamstring injury. Kendricks was healthy enough to start and play most of the game, though Barton did get 11 snaps, the most of his career. But Kendricks’ availability is even more in question this week — he didn’t practice all week and was listed as doubtful for the game. Barton got all the first-team reps at strongside linebacker in his place and as such is even readier to play this week if called on. Barton, a third-round pick out of Utah, has played just 18 defensive snaps so far this season and has one tackle, but the team has spoken highly of his development behind the scenes.
Seattle’s fumble recoveries for the season, which leads the NFL and includes seven in the past three games — which by itself is more than 11 other teams have for the entire year. Seattle has recovered at least two in each of the past three games, as big of a key as anything else to winning each of the three. Fumble-recovery stats are often widely erratic — no one can control how the ball bounces. But the key to getting them is to first force them, which Seattle has also done well of late. Seattle has caused nine in the past three games.
Seattle’s fumble recoveries are nowhere near a team record. Back in the day, when turnovers were much more plentiful, the Seahawks recovered a whopping 28 in 1983. But it’s a vast increase from most of the past few years. Seattle recovered just nine in 2017 and only eight in 2015 and 2016, each among the lowest seven totals in team history.
THE FINAL WORD
Seahawks 27, Rams 23
Can the Seahawks really run their road winning streak to seven games this season? At this point there really seems no reason to doubt. The Rams showed last week they are still a talented and dangerous team, and maybe the blowout of Arizona will have gotten Los Angeles back on track. But Seattle just seems to keep finding a way each week and here’s to thinking Russell Wilson and company will do it again.