Rams Get Tough Task Against Seattle Defense

Posted Sep 27, 2012

Rams coach Jeff Fisher joined millions of Americans in watching Monday Night Football this week as the Packers took on the Seahawks. But Fisher did it with a much keener eye on the proceedings than the average fan.

Of course, it wasn’t hard to recognize the first thing to jump off the screen about the Seahawks: a dynamite pass rush that dropped Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers for sacks eight times in the first half. Yes, eight times.

When Fisher was quizzed about the first thing he thought when witnessing the Seattle pass rushing onslaught, he couldn’t help but think of protecting starting quarterback Sam Bradford.

“I thought about starting Kellen Clemens, honestly,” Fisher said, laughing. “And you can go tell him that, too.”

Fisher was, of course, joking but his point was well made considering that the Rams have to take on the task of facing a defense that is no laughing matter Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome.

Maybe because it’s tucked away in the Pacific Northwest or maybe because it’s not the flashiest group around it goes unrecognized but Seattle’s defense has quietly been building into a dominant force the past couple of years.

Through the first three weeks, Seattle sits fourth in the league in total defense (272.3 yards per game), second in rush defense (58.7 yards per game), 10th in pass defense (213.7 yards per game) and first in scoring defense (13 points per game).

After Monday night’s performance against Rodgers and the high-octane Green Bay offense combined with a dominant effort in week 2 against Dallas, the secret might be out.

“They’re good,” Bradford said. “You look at what they’ve done this year, especially the past two weeks playing Dallas and Green Bay who both have really good offenses. They’ve done a very good job of shutting people down. They’re big and physical up front. They’ve got a lot of speed in the back end. It’s definitely going to be probably one of our biggest challenges of the year. We need to have a great week of preparation, get prepared for all of the looks that they’re going to throw at us and make sure that we’re able to handle it and execute on Sunday.”

While Seattle’s defense might not be full of household names – at least not yet – it is full of talented players at every level. Like any good defense, it all starts up front.

Leading that charge is defensive end Chris Clemons, one of the most overlooked pass rushers in the league and the guy that sacked Rodgers four times in the first half last week.

Clemons is no secret to the Rams, though. He’s been a thorn in their side since he arrived in Seattle in 2010, posting 6.5 sacks in the past four meetings including a three-sack performance when the teams played in St. Louis in 2011.

The Seahawks went out and drafted a tag-team partner for Clemons in the first round this year, grabbing end Bruce Irvin out of West Virginia and he’s paid immediate dividends with 2.5 sacks in three games.

Irvin and Clemons are joined up front by other talented linemen such as Jason Jones, Red Bryant and tackles Brandon Mebane and Alan Branch. It’s one of the league’s deepest and most versatile groups.

“Yes, they’re really fast up front,” Fisher said. “They use combinations of defensive linemen in there and they do different things. They’ve got guys collapsing the pocket and guys chasing down. They do a good job.”

The task of handling that front four falls on Bradford and a Rams offensive line now entering its third week together with the same group. The Rams line struggled against Chicago as Bradford was dropped for six sacks, five of which came from the Bears talented defensive line.

Left tackle Wayne Hunter, who is battling a twisted knee, will draw the unenviable task of taking on Clemons. Next to him, Quinn Ojinnaka gets the mountainous Mebane while Barry Richardson at right tackle takes on Irvin.

The Rams had some major pass protection breakdowns last week against Seattle, many of which came as a direct result of miscommunication. That happens when you haven’t spent much time together. The hope is that another week of working together will make the operation run smoother.

“I think you can say that with any offensive line,” center Robert Turner said. “The longer you play together, the better you know each other and the better understanding you have of where guys are going to be and how guys specifically set. Everybody is going to set different. Your coached to set a three-set but Harvey’s 3-set is different than Quinn’s 3-set so guys’ placement and spacing is different from player to player and the longer you are together, the more that kind of goes without saying and spatial awareness is there.”

On further examination of Seattle’s dismantling of Green Bay’s offense last week, there were a few things that made it a bit worse than it actually was. For one, Rodgers fell down a couple of times and there were some coverage sacks that were a product of a talented Seattle secondary – more on them in a moment.

Regardless of the scenario, those types of negative plays must be eliminated as much as possible.

“I do know that no matter what it is, whether it’s coverage or a guy getting get beat, we have got to hold up in protection as long as Sam has the ball,” Turner said.

Bradford, of course, can help his own cause by getting rid of the ball quickly. Establishing a running game and short, quick passes are one way to counteract a defense with the potent pass rushing skills Seattle brings.

“Obviously, watching that, you just realize how talented they are on defense, how good they are up front,” Bradford said. “It just means that I’ve got to be able to get the ball out of my hands quick this week. If something’s not there, I can’t hold it. Probably be a little quicker in the progressions this week.”

Even that is easier said than done considering that once you get past Seattle’s front four, the Seahawks boast perhaps the league’s best secondary in terms of position for position.

Cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman are two of the tallest and most physical corners in the league and safeties Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor also hit like a ton of bricks with solid coverage skills to match.

“They’re really good,” Bradford said. “They’re definitely the best secondary we’ve seen thus far. Both those safeties are Pro Bowl-caliber players. They’re very rangy, very instinctive, and when they show up on tape, they make a lot of plays. Those guys outside are big, long corners and they’re rangy as well. They don’t give up a lot of easy completions. It seems like everything you see on tape, every play is contested.”
Buoyed by that skill in the secondary, the Seahawks use a lot of eight-man fronts and are able to mix zone and man coverages whenever they see fit.
For the Rams to find success, they’ll have to be creative in how they attack on the perimeter in addition to revving up the run game against those Seattle fronts.

“We’ve just got to change it up, change up what we’re doing,” Bradford said. “Change up just some different concepts, give them some different looks, things they haven’t seen before. Work it in practice; be better at creating separation at the top of our routes. We spent a lot of time today after practice just working on some different things. I’ve got faith in those guys. I know that they’re going to come out this week and they’re going to get open.”