He said / she said: Seattle Seahawks vs. Los Angeles Rams

The Hit Job editors julian rogers and Jessica Ridpath discuss and predict the week 15 matchup between the Seattle Seahawks (8–4–1) and the Los Angeles Rams (4–9).

My eyes! My eyes!

When: 5:25 p.m. PT, Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016
Where: CenturyLink Field, Seattle

Rogers: Jess, over the years you’ve heard me spout a few bromides. One I often say is “Any sense of security is a false one.” Turns out I was wrong. The most secure person in the world is Aaron Rodgers when facing the Seahawks pass rush. Check out this vine of Rodgers making a triple-decker sandwich for himself as the Seahawks front line searched for a table and chairs.

But I digress.

The Seahawks get to take on a familiar, if vexing foe, in short order as they attempt to erase the memory of the utter self-demolition they exacted upon themselves, with the help of the resurgent Green Bay Packers, last Sunday. If there’s something new about the Seahawks at this stage of the season, it may be this: doubt.

The Seahawks couldn’t pass rush. Couldn’t pass cover. Couldn’t complete passes. Couldn’t hang on to the ball. Couldn’t compete.

The Seahawks have now produced two awful road defeats (5–14 to Tampa Bay, 10–38 to Green Bay) over the past three games and turn their attention to the hapless Rams (now under new management). Except the Rams are anything but hapless when they play the Seahawks, having won four of the past five contests between the two teams.

Sunday’s 28-point loss represents the worst loss the Seahawks have endured in the entire Russell Wilson era. The blue birds have looked more than shaky of late.

The recent facts emerging only add to the doubt now creeping in about the Seahawks, as they have now fallen from the all-important second seed in the NFC Playoff race, which would give them a first-round bye. They’ll need help to get it back, but it won’t come without poise. And that was in short supply in Green Bay.

Seattle was guilty of a number of cheap shots, some penalized and some not. I’ll be shocked if Richard Sherman is not fined for his blatant, behind-the-head shot on Davante Adams in the open field. It was classless and dangerous. It was also only the first of many such Seahawks transgressions caught on camera, including illegal, cheap shots by Jeremy Lane and Cliff Avril.

Jess, are the Seahawks coming apart due to this recent bit of adversity?

Ridpath: I’m not really sure what to make of Seattle’s performance last Sunday. My brain is a jumble of questions:

  • Are the blue birds suffering from personality disorder?
  • Did Mike McCarthy invest in a set of Seahawks voodoo dolls?
  • Do I even read my own column? Two weeks ago, I called Seattle out for a spate of dismal performances on the road. Why did I think they’d fare better at Lambeau Field (of all places)?

Seriously, though, I think the key question is one that Fox NFL commentator Joe Buck asked multiple times Sunday night: “Who are the Seahawks, anyway?” The truth is, we really don’t know. Sure, they’re a team that can win at home. But fair-weather victories do not a championship team make.

Julian, you tried to tell me earlier today that the Seahawks’ most recent meltdown was “just a bad game” — not a sign of imminent demise. Maybe you’re right. After all, what are the chances that Russell Wilson has the worst game of his career on the same Sunday that Seattle’s defense allows the highest passer rating seen in the Pete Carroll era? (Damn. Another question.…)

Looking to this Thursday’s game, Seahawks should count their blessings:

  1. The Rams are a hot mess,
  2. The Rams are a hot mess that just fired their coach, and
  3. The Rams are a hot mess that must travel to Seattle to face the blue birds in their nest.

Given these circumstances, a Seahawks loss seems almost inconceivable this week. And win or lose, it’s pretty much a given that the Hawks will make it to the post-season. But based on the schizophrenic play we’ve seen of late, my guess is they will be toast come the first playoff road game.

Julian, I know you’re dying to tell me that I’m overreacting. Have at it.

Rogers: It appears at least part of the fan base is acknowledging the doubt. I doubt you’re alone. Pete Carroll sounds like he realizes the Seahawks are not the pretty unicorn they thought they were. His quote in Packersnews.com is quite revealing in a way: “This is such a rare occurrence for our team,” Carroll said. “We’ve been playing for a lot of years and have not seen a game like this. We don’t remember those days. We’ve had a remarkable run.”

Now, the overreactors will probably think he’s talking about the Seahawks being done as a championship-caliber team. I think he’s only referring to the end of that streak of convenience the 12s have enjoyed since around 2010. Still, you’d be willfully ignoring the facts like a (the election is over … I’ll skip this comparison) to not notice that the Seahawks have potentially fatal issues, like every team. Doubt is justified.

The facts in the Seahawks’ favor include residing in a shoddy division this year. Their playoff entrance is assured as they now get to take a victory lap to close the season against three teams with losing records from the NFC West. If Christmas came early for the Packers last weekend, it’s now here for the Seahawks.

The NFC West: If Christmas came early for the Packers last weekend, it’s now here for the Seahawks.

Except … those pesky Rams. Measure the Rams of the recent past and there is no way they should have owned the Seahawks, yet they do. Fit them for a new suit now in their current rudderless state and once again they look outclassed. Firing your head coach during a season is rarely a boon to one’s win/loss column. Except this is the Rams and the Seahawks. My hunch is that the new working conditions the Rams now find them in gives them a temporary jolt — just in time for Thursday’s game.

Jess, the Rams have won two games this season scoring less than 10 points — virtually unheard of in today’s NFL. One was against Seattle in their home opener. The Rams’ defense has been squandered in this now forgotten season for the Southern California returnees. In the Rams, do you see, as I do, a defense that is superior to the patchwork Packers defense that just held the Seahawks to 10 points?

Ridpath: The Rams’ defense didn’t look too hot last week in their loss at home to the Falcons. Playing without star receiver Julio Jones, Atlanta still racked up an impressive 42 points, including three touchdown passes that Matt Ryan slipped past the Los Angeles secondary.

Still, the Rams’ offense — and their five turnovers — was as much to blame for those 42 points as their defense. On the plus side, Los Angeles held the Falcons to 4 of 13 on third down and managed two sacks — including defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s seventh of the season. Donald is powerful interior pass rusher who could spell big trouble for Wilson and his unpredictable offensive line.

Thinking back to the week two matchup that saw Los Angeles hold the Hawks to a season-low three points, the Rams’ front seven dominated — shutting down both Wilson (2 sacks, 8 hits) and Seattle’s ground game (2.8 yards per rush, 67 yards total). The blue birds’ o-line may have experienced some incremental improvement since then, but the advantage still goes to the Rams stout defense.

In terms of comparative advantage, however, the mismatch between the Rams’ offense and the Seahawks’ defense makes for a much wider chasm. Los Angeles is ranked last in the league in both yards and points per game (286.2 and 14.9, respectively). And even though Seattle’s defense looked oddly out of sync last week, I expect they’ll have a field day with rookie quarterback Jared Goff — who looked like a dear in headlights for much of last week’s game.

Julian, if the Rams have any hope for an offensive resurgence, it probably lies with formerly hot running back Todd Gurley, who closed out his rookie season (2015) ranked third in total rushing yards. This season, he ranks 18th and is averaging just 3.3 yards per carry. Is he still a threat?

Rogers: Yes. As in the only true offensive threat they have. Well, potentially. His numbers, as you pointed out, don’t say so. However, I have to attribute that to the one-dimensionality of the Rams offense. Defenses, Seattle’s included, are able to load up to stop Gurley. In fact, they held Gurley to 51 yards on 19 rush attempts in week two. The Seahawks will take that again in a heartbeat.

The Rams’ passing game has not gotten better since that week two meeting, which saw Case Keenum put together an 85.3 rating with 18 completions in 30 attempts for 239 yards. He was better than Wilson that day (84.7).

Newcomer Goff will be hard-pressed to earn that level of productivity against the Earl Thomas-less Seahawks. In the four games in which Goff has played (all losses) he had one good outing: a three-touchdown, one interception (100.3) performance against the New Orleans Saints on Nov. 27. His other three games have resulted in ratings of 65.8, 43.9 and 54.4.

Goff’s brand as a quarterback also includes a curious lack of snaps taken under center. I heard that he never took a direct snap from center in his college career at Cal. That indicates Goff has a great deal of development to do in terms of overall awareness and experience in attacking defenses.

But it also affects the run game. Always starting plays from the shotgun or pistol sets can have a significant impact on Gurley’s effectiveness. Some backs do much better from a power-I formation. Gurley is one of those kinds of runners — he’s more of the LeGarrette Blount / Carlos Hyde banger type than he is of the Le’Veon Bell / Lamar Miller shifty type. And, oof, that 3.3 YPC you mentioned. Of the top 50 backs in the league right now, only two (Jerick McKinnon, Doug Martin) have lower averages (3.0). The run game hasn’t been working for Gurley and the Rams.

The other side of the Rams’ offensive equation reveals only one possible threat at wide receiver: Kenny Britt, who has 63 receptions for 937 yards. Supposed №1 receiver, Tavon Austin, has been a disappointment, with 51 catches for 463 yards. However, a lot of that may have to do with the quarterbacking — which is a ways off from being improved at this stage of Goff’s career.

Jess, despite the Rams’ offensive struggles, the defense still is ranked 10th. That’s tough to accomplish when you get no help (ranked 32nd) from the other half of your team. I say they are the Rams’ only hope in this one against the up-and-down Seahawks. Who you got?

Ridpath: I’m going to have to go with Seattle on this one — for one reason and one reason only: They are playing at home, where they are undefeated in 2016. Yes, the Rams did beat the Seahawks in Seattle last December. But they weren’t coming off four straight losses back then. It’ll be a defensive battle and close, low-scoring game … with home field advantage being the ultimate edge. Prediction: Seattle 17, Los Angeles 13.

Rogers: It’s better for the Rams to be out of Los Angeles this week. They went from 90K fans in attendance for a preseason game to a half-empty stadium just last week. It’s also a bit of a boost for the Rams to be under temporary new management — it couldn’t actually make things worse. But all that doesn’t add up to a Rams win in Seattle … but then it never did and the Rams pulled it off last December. At some point the Seahawks have to beat this nagging team. If they can’t do it now, when will they? Prediction: Seattle 27, Los Angeles 9.

Owning up

Here’s what we were right and wrong about last week.

What he got right: The game winner. I picked the Packers to edge out the Seahawks in a high-scoring game. I’m 7–6 on the Seahawks season. A Packers domination was the least expected of the four possible outcomes (close win by either team, big win by Seahawks being the other three). I asserted that “The Packers have a distinctly better offensive line, more productive receivers and probably an edge at quarterback since this game is being played in Green Bay and Rodgers is on a hot streak.” Yes, yes and yes.

What he got wrong: I wildly guessed that Christine Michael would get a touchdown in his revenge game. He had to settle for 36 scoreless rushing yards with a long carry of 10. I had no inkling whatsoever that Wilson had five interceptions in him.

What she got right: Pretty much nothing, dropping me to 6–7 on the season.

What she got wrong: Just about everything — especially the part where I oh-so-poetically wrote “Seattle would kick Green Bay’s ass.” Asses were kicked, for sure. Just not the right ones.

Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath