Keys to the Game Answered: Seattle

Posted Sep 30, 2012

1. Block ‘em Up

THE KEY: Seattle’s defense had its national coming out party on Monday Night Football last week, harassing Green Bay’s high powered offense to the tune of eight first-half sacks and a number of other hits and hurries.

Leading the way for Seattle’s pass rush is one of the most consistently underrated ends in the game in Chris Clemons. He had half of those eight sacks and has five on the season already.

Of course, Seattle also boasts talented pass rushing rookie Bruce Irvin (2.5 sacks in three games), defensive tackle Brandon Mebane (two sacks) and end Jason Jones (.5 sacks).

The Rams offensive line struggled with a similarly talented front four last week in Chicago, allowing six sacks to the Bears, five of which the Bears front four produced.

With a reconfigured offensive line, the Rams struggled against Chicago but the hope is that another week of working together will allow the line to come together and work out some of the miscommunications and errors that led to the struggles last week.

Allowing quarterback Sam Bradford time to throw is paramount considering Seattle’s equally outstanding secondary.

“I think every day that those guys are together helps,” Bradford said. “Now we’ve had the same five guys for – I don’t know what the days are – but longer than we’ve had probably any other line combination. I think the more time those guys spend together on the field and in the meeting room, the better they become together.”

THE ANSWER: All things considered, the Rams offensive line held up pretty well against the Seattle pass rush. Bradford went down just twice on the day and though he was hit others, the pocket was there for the Rams to convert on third-and-10 or more five times.

2. Slowing Lynch

THE KEY: The Seahawks make no secret of who or what they want to be offensively. With a rookie at quarterback in Russell Wilson and previous quarterbacks having struggled, Seattle has been one of the league’s pre-eminent grind it out on the ground running teams.

Carrying the freight is veteran running back Marshawn Lynch, who through three games sits fourth in the NFL with 305 yards on 72 carries. Lynch has become the focal point of the offense and his combination of speed and power makes him one of the league’s elite running backs.

The Rams had their best performance against the run last week in Chicago, limiting a Bears team with a similar offensive philosophy to 3 yards per attempt on 34 carries. That was a step forward after Detroit and Washington had enjoyed much more success.

This week, the run defense figures to take another step forward with the return of massive first-round pick Michael Brockers at defensive tackle. Brockers plugging back into the middle of the line should help make things more difficult for Lynch and allow the linebackers to roam free.

Regardless of how they do it, slowing down Lynch is the key to slowing down Seattle’s offense.

“The offense revolves around him first,” Brockers said. “I feel if we can stop him and keep him limited because he’s a great player and he’s going to get what he deserves but if we can stop him as much as we can; I think we can come out with a victory in this game.”

THE ANSWER: Lynch was his usual, beast mode self, going for 118 yards on 20 carries with a touchdown. He also had 37 yards on four catches. Not the performance against the run the Rams would prefer but they did enough to slow Lynch and limit him from any long runs.

3. Touting Turnovers

THE KEY: The very nature of the way the Rams and Seahawks approach the game would seem to point all signs toward a slugfest in which points will be at a premium. The Seahawks have one of the league’s best defenses and the Rams have one that’s quickly emerging as one of the better groups around.

That means a lot of knock down, drag out type of games similar to what the Rams had in Chicago and what Seattle did at home against Green Bay.

Winning the turnover battle is an obvious key to any victory but when it’s difficult to score points; generating offense via the defense might be the best way to get on the board.

Through three games, Seattle sits plus-2 in turnovers, which is ninth in the league. The Rams are at an even 0, which is 14th in the league. The Rams have five interceptions in the first three weeks but have missed some chances for more.

With a rookie in Wilson at quarterback, the Rams might be able to bait him into some mistakes. When they do, they have to squeeze those opportunities. Likewise, Fisher would like to see his defense get some strips – they have yet to recover a fumble this season.

On the flip side, Bradford and the Rams must take care of the ball. Seattle’s secondary is full of ballhawks and the pass rush can come up with strip sacks at a moment’s notice.

Turnovers are always important but in games like this, they take on even more meaning.

“You always need takeaways,” assistant head coach Dave McGinnis said. “You always need to be able to bring takeaways with your defense to a ball game. You don’t plan takeaways but you have to play with the type of passion and fervor and alertness that it takes to get takeaways and that’s what we have to do.”

THE ANSWER: As always, turnovers played a huge, key role in the game and the Rams came out on top both in the takeaway battle but also in the game. St. Louis picked off Wilson three times, including Bradley Fletcher’s to seal it and give the Rams a win. The Rams turned it over once but they were plus-2 on the day.

4. Special Emphasis

THE KEY: Much like turnovers, a game in which offense is hard to come by can be significantly altered by field position or even more through big plays on special teams.

The Rams proved that in week 2 when Matt Mulligan’s blocked punt helped turn the game in the team’s favor. Kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Johnny Hekker have been solid as well in their early-season efforts though they will both face another tall task this week after allowing Chicago returner Devin Hester some opportunities last week.

Hekker and Zuerlein will have to be more consistent with their kickoffs and punts, respectively, with Leon Washington handling those return duties for Seattle. He’s not quite as accomplished as Hester but he’s dangerous in his own right.

Through three games, Washington is tied for the NFL lead with an average of 32.5 yards per kick return. He’s returned seven kicks for touchdown in his career, good for second all time.

On the other side, the Rams could also use a spark in their own return game. Seattle punter Jon Ryan is off to a big start with a 50.6 yard average (6th in NFL) and net of 45.6 yards (2nd in NFL).

The Seahawks jumped on the Cowboys early in week 2 when linebacker Malcolm Smith blocked a punt that Jeron Johnson scooped up and scored.

No matter which way it comes, limiting returns, coming up with their own returns and executing kicks and punts to help maintain field position could play a big factor in this one.

“Every game, Coach Fisher stresses offense and defense but special teams as well,” safety Rodney McLeod said. “It’s a three phase game. We just know that one play can change a game like the Washington game. We know every special teams play we get is vital because this game happens one play at a time.”

THE ANSWER: To put it mildly, the Rams dominated this area and it made a huge difference. Aside from one kick return miscue and a long kick return for Washington, the Rams made big play after big play. Zuerlein was perfect again on three field goal attempts and Hekker threw a 2-yard touchdown pass on a fake field goal. The Rams also recovered an onside kick to open the second half.

5. On the Run

THE KEY: Rams running back Steven Jackson has been battling a groin injury that slowed him down last week against Chicago. In order to try to get him back up to speed, the team allowed him more rest during this week of practices.

But the Rams need Jackson to perform well in much the same way the Seahawks need Lynch.

Jackson not only provides the Rams their most established runner but he also is by far the team’s most reliable pass protector among its running backs. Rookie back Daryl Richardson could also get a more expanded role as the Rams attempt to get the running game back on track after a down week.

Of course, revving up the run game will be an even more difficult task considering the opponent. Through week 3, Seattle sits second in the league in run defense, giving up just 58.7 yards per contest.

While the likes of Clemons and Irvin generate pass rush up front, Mebane and end Red Bryant are two of the league’s most formidable run stuffers. Linebackers Leroy Hill, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are also stout against the run.

Still, it’s important to stick to the run. When Green Bay reversed its fortunes a bit last week against the Seahawks, it did so by powering up the running game and allowing Cedric Benson to get his touches.

“Seattle is built on speed,” Jackson said. “They are doing an excellent job so far this season. They have established that they are going to come after the quarterback and we are going to have to protect Sam. In the running game we are going to have to make sure that we get our reads right and we get a man on a man and take advantage of the creases that are going to be there. If not, we have to establish the run so we can keep them off balance.”

THE ANSWER: Jackson had plenty of success in the first half but the Seahawks clamped down in the second as Jackson finished with 55 yards on 18 carries. He had one touchdown reversed on a holding penalty. Still, the Rams were committed enough to the run to keep Seattle off balance with 27 rushing attempts.