Keys to the Game Revisited: Rams vs. Seahawks

Posted Dec 30, 2013

The Rams completed their second consecutive seven-win season on Sunday with a 27-9 loss at Seattle. Here’s a look at how the Rams performed in three key areas in their season finale against the Seahawks.

The Key: Win the Ground Battle

In the season’s first meeting between the Rams and Seahawks, the Rams put on perhaps their most dominant showing on the ground on both sides of the football, outgaining Seattle 200-44. The Rams enter Sunday ranked seventh in the league in run defense, which, if maintained, would be their first appearance in the league’s top 10 since 2001, when they ranked third. Sunday’s matchup will feature their second challenge of the year against Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch, who the Rams limited to just 23 yards on eight carries in the Rams’ 14-9 loss to the Seahawks on Oct. 28.

RB Zac Stacy led the Rams with a career-best 134 rushing yards in that game, and enters Sunday just 42 yards shy of becoming the third Rams rookie to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. Offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer conceded that a similar output on the ground against Seattle could prove challenging.

“It just doesn’t happen to this defense,” Schottenheimer said. “Certainly they’ll adjust. We felt good about our ability to do it, but certainly we didn’t win the game. They found a way to win the game and that’s the objective. It doesn’t matter how many yards we have running, throwing, anything. We want to get the win, but again it’ll be tough sledding this week. They’re a real good group up there. They’re really talented. They move a lot. They’ve got a lot of depth and that makes it hard.”

The Answer:

The contrast between the two outcomes in the ground attack against Seattle this year could not have been more significant. After piling up 200 yards rushing on October 28, the Rams were held to just 13 yards on the ground Sunday, their lowest single-game total of the season. The running game was hampered by the loss of T Jake Long and C Scott Wells, as Stacy averaged a single yard per carry on 15 attempts. Meanwhile, Lynch made considerable amends for his 23-yard outing in St. Louis, running for 97 yards on 23 carries to carry the Seahawks offensively.

The Key: Rams Receivers vs. Seahawks Secondary

Seattle begins Sunday boasting the league’s top-ranked defense against the pass, led by Defensive Player of the Year candidate Richard Sherman, who paces the NFL with eight interceptions. The Seahawks have picked off 26 passes on the year, most in the league. In the first start of the season for QB Kellen Clemens, that Seattle secondary limited the Rams to just 139 passing yards in the two teams’ last meeting, the second-lowest passing output of the year for the Rams.

“They’ve got great ball skills in the back end,” Clemens said at his Thursday press conference. “Obviously, (S) Earl Thomas is a phenomenal player, (S) Kam (Chancellor), (CB) Richard Sherman. (CB Brandon) Browner’s out, but the kid that came in for him, (CB Byron) Maxwell, is doing a really good job and I think they get (CB) Walter Thurmond back this week. So, they’ve got great ball skills. Sometimes, you go against a team where there’s a guy you can just throw one up because he’s not going to find it. It’s not the case this week.”

The Answer:

The Seahawks’ secondary was every bit as good as advertised. Seattle collected two more interceptions Sunday, and narrowly missed a third. Of the Rams’ 21 receptions, just six were recorded by a wide receiver. Tight ends Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook each grabbed a team-high five catches.

The Key: A Battle of Special Teams

One would be hard-pressed to find two teams with more success in kick coverage in 2013 than the Rams and Seahawks. No team has allowed fewer punt return yards than the 106 the Seahawks and Rams have allowed—combined. Rams P Johnny Hekker leads the NFL with a net punting average of 43.8 yards, which leaves him in reach of the NFL record of 44.0 entering the season’s final game. There have been only 16 attempted returns against Seattle’s Jon Ryan, for a meager average of 1.6 yards per return. The Rams’ coverage team has seen its greatest success in recent weeks, as it became the first Rams team since 1960 to not allow a single punt or kickoff return yard for two consecutive games.

“I think the special teams guys, with all the youth, made a lot of improvement and that was something that we talked about before the season, is let’s be better in the last eight games than the first eight games,” Rams special teams coordinator John Fassel said. “I think we’ve probably done that. You look back on it at the end of the season and see, but it feels like it.”

The Answer:

Capping a spectacular second half of the season for the unit, the Rams’ kickoff coverage team did not allow a single return yard for the third consecutive week. P Johnny Hekker also put the finishing touches on a Pro Bowl season, as his 44.2 net yards per punt broke Andy Lee’s single-season NFL record.

Despite being without rookie Tavon Austin, the Rams also performed well in the return game. The Seahawks entered Sunday allowing just 25 punt return yards all season, but Austin Pettis and Justin Veltung combined for 57 yards on five returns.

“The things that took place in our special teams room this year and on the practice field and in games was outstanding, for us to be able to set that record (net punting average in a single season),” Head Coach Jeff Fisher said. “It was really a great effort on behalf of (Special Teams Coordinator) Coach (John) Fassel and (Special Teams Assistant Coach Paul F.) Boudreau and that group. I was really impressed.”