Hey, it’s the Los Angeles Rams again!
Thursday’s game against the Rams at Lumen Field is the fourth game between the two since Nov. 15 — a span of 14 games overall. That includes two regular-season games last year as well as the wild-card playoff, a 30-20 Los Angeles victory that helped lead to Russell Wilson’s offseason of discontent and some major offensive coaching staff changes.
The Rams have changed somewhat, too, with defensive coordinator Brandon Staley now the head coach of the Chargers, replaced by Raheem Morris.
But in general, as Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said this week, “There isn’t a whole lot we haven’t seen’’ from each other.
And what is that they say about familiarity breeding contempt?
On with our keys to the game.
Matchup to watch
DK Metcalf vs. Jalen Ramsey.
This will be the fifth matchup, including playoffs, of one of the best cornerbacks in the game and one of the best young receivers. The numbers show that, so far, Ramsey has usually gotten the upper hand when defending Metcalf. Metcalf was called for a penalty for shoving Ramsey in a 2019 game Seattle lost 28-12. Last year, Metcalf had four receptions on eight targets for just 44 yards when matched up directly against Ramsey, according to Pro Football Focus, held to eight for 87 by the Rams overall in the two regular season games (he had a 51-yard TD in the playoff game on a scramble play for the only Seattle highlight). While the Rams’ defense has had its issues this year, Ramsey has been as good as ever, ranked fifth of 108 corners in the league this week by PFF, allowing just 15 receptions on 25 targets for only 135 yards, a career-low 9.0 per reception.
Player to watch
C Kyle Fuller
Fuller seems to be getting more comfortable in his first season as Seattle’s starting center, receiving his best pass blocking grade of the season last week from Pro Football Focus. But now comes as stiff a test as any in the NFL in defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has sacked Russell Wilson 14 times in the regular season and two more in the playoffs. Trying to hold down Donald is far from a one-man show — expect the usual assortment of double, and maybe even triple, teams. The good news is Fuller at least knows a little of what to expect. He got his first start for Seattle in November in L.A. against the Rams, giving up five hurries in 53 pass block snaps. He’s only given up five hurries in four games this year.
Coaching decision to watch
Blitzing Jamal Adams
This was our coaching decision to watch last week and it is again, not only because everything involving Adams is worth paying close attention but also because Seattle might have to get more creative this week to get a pass rush on Matthew Stafford, who has been sacked just three times all season, an NFL low. Adams does not have a sack this year, in part because Seattle is using him far less as a rusher — he has blitzed just 13 times this year (and just two last week) in four games compared to 98 in 12 games last year. Adams had one of his best pass coverage games allowing one reception on six targets for eight yards playing more in coverage as the Seahawks used a dime, or six-defensive backs, package often in the game — 26 of 76 snaps. Seattle might use the dime package and Ryan Neal again. But this feels like a game the Seahawks might also want to unleash Adams a little more.
Let’s not overthink this one. Special teams have forever seemed to play an inordinately important role in the Seahawks-Rams series — recall D.J. Reed’s fumble on a punt return in the fourth quarter of the playoff game last year that basically snuffed out Seattle’s last chance to pull out a win. Special teams have mostly been a plus for Seattle this season and were a particular key last week when the 49ers fumbled a kickoff that led to a touchdown, botched a chance to pin Seattle deep on a punt before the Seahawks’ first scoring drive and saw an injury to kicker Robbie Gould result in a bad decision to try a field goal with punter Mitch Wishnowsky that missed (as well as a later point after touchdown). It would be a rare Rams-Seahawks game if a special teams play didn’t prove pivotal.
Player who could surprise
Cornerback Ugo Amadi
Seattle’s competition at the nickel spot seems pretty much over for now. While Amadi played 28 snaps last week, Marquise Blair played just eight at nickel (he also played six at safety when Quandre Diggs left briefly). Amadi had a rough game against the Vikings two weeks ago but played better last week against the 49ers, allowing three receptions on three targets for 27 yards. Thursday, he figures to match up regularly against one of the hottest receivers in the league, Cooper Kupp, whose 30 receptions are tied for second in the league. Of Kupp’s 248 snaps this year, 148 have come lined up in the slot, according to PFF. Defending Kupp won’t be a one-man effort — and the Seahawks figure to again sprinkle in their dime package quite a bit. Amadi figures to get his share of the plays on Kupp, and Seattle will hope he builds off last week.
There’s a pretty obvious tale of two teams here. While the Rams rank second in the NFL in converting third downs at 54.25, the Seahawks are tied for just 27th with the far-from-fearsome offense of Detroit and Jacksonville at 33.3. That Seattle has found ways to be explosive and score a lot of points anyway — the Seahawks are averaging 6.6 yards per play, tied for second in the NFL, and 25.8 points per game, 10th — has mitigated the damage. But going against another explosive offense makes this a good time for Seattle to convert some third downs and go on a few long drives.
The Final Word
Seahawks 24, Rams 20.
Seattle has been held to 20 or fewer points by the Rams in the past four games, only one of which the Seahawks have won. But L.A. is suddenly anything but Ram tough on defense, and Seattle again feels good about itself after the win over the 49ers Sunday. And then there’s that gaudy prime-time record to protect — 33-8-1 under Pete Carroll. Seattle will shine bright under the lights again.