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Familiar Foes Battle in Seattle on Wild Card Weekend

1:39 p.m. Pacific Time on Saturday.

That's when Sean McVay says we'll know.

In all likelihood, we'll have a good sense of who's starting at quarterback for Los Angeles before then – even if nothing leaks – as it will become apparent when the Rams go through pregame at Lumen Field in Seattle.

Here's my only take on the situation: The Rams can win this game with either quarterback, and perhaps both will be called upon to do so.

Holt History

The last team to travel to Seattle and beat the Seahawks in the playoffs was the 2004 Rams, who won, 27-20. Torry Holt hauled in the game's first touchdown and went for 108 yards receiving that day, which is an opportunity to congratulate him once again on being a finalist for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

That was the last Wild Card berth for the Rams. And since then, Seattle is riding a 10-game home win streak in the postseason, third longest in playoff history according to NFL Research.

Break It Down

Holt is the only Ram with more receptions through his first four NFL seasons than Cooper Kupp, who has been activated off the Reserve/Covid-19 list for Saturday's game.

According to Pro Football Focus, Kupp led all receivers in 2020 in missed tackles forced, which could be critical against the Seahawks. Week 16 goes down as one of the surest tackling performances by an opposing defense this season. Whoever is taking snaps, he'll need Kupp's yards after catch.

Donuts Since Davis

This is also a reminder that as we discussed two weeks ago, the last receiver to score against this Seattle defense was Gabriel Davis of the Buffalo Bills in Week 9. That was eight games ago, a week prior to the first meeting between the Seahawks and Rams at SoFi Stadium.

Let it Rain

Speaking of droughts, L.A. failed to score an offensive touchdown in their final two regular season games. Tyler Higbee's haul at the outset of the fourth quarter versus the Jets was the last time the Rams hit paydirt on offense.

Red Alert

Since, the Rams have been a mess in the red zone.

They've run 23 plays on six trips inside their opponent's 20-yard line the last two weeks; have been flagged for three penalties; committed two turnovers (one on downs and a fumble lost); and come away with 12 points.

And that's not including Jared Goff's interception at Seattle in Week 16, which was thrown into the red area.

Mellow Yellow

And penalties have been piling up in general, which is a trend the Rams will have to curtail to advance. They've had five or more accepted against them in each of their last five contests.

Despite that uptick, their 2020 average came in at 4.4 penalties per game, second-fewest in the NFL.


Hopefully Andrew Whitworth's presence can be a calming one for the offense and solve some of these pre-and-post-snap issues.

The left tackle, now 39, returns this weekend from a knee injury suffered just before halftime of the home loss to Seattle in November.

Early in the week, without Whitworth factored into these calculations, NFL Research had the Rams as the youngest roster in the postseason and in possession of the third-fewest number of playoff games.

I was surprised by those rankings, given the Super Bowl run was less than 24 months ago.

Year of the Wolf

Here's an answer to a fan question I was asked this week: What if John Wolford scores his first NFL touchdown in the playoffs? How rare would that be?

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only two quarterbacks that had their first career touchdown (passing or rushing) in the postseason are Gary Hogeboom in the 1982 NFC Championship for the Cowboys and Caleb Hanie in the 2010 NFC Championship for the Bears.

Coincidentally, Wolford would be the second quarterback in the Super Bowl era to start a playoff game despite having zero career passing touchdowns. The other?

Ron Jaworski, who led the Rams to a 35-23 win over the Cardinals in the 1975 divisional round (Jaws had a rushing touchdown in the regular season, which is why we wasn't included in the group above). Thanks to NFL Research for that nugget.

And lastly, also from Elias, in the prior 40 seasons, the only quarterbacks with one or fewer career regular-season starts to then make a start in a playoff game are Doug Flutie, Todd Marinovich and Connor Cook. All three lost; so if given the opportunity, Wolford can carve out a good bit of NFL Playoff history.

When Your Best Is Required

The Rams played five games against NFC Playoff teams and went 4-1, outscoring the Washington Football Team, Chicago Bears, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Seahawks by a margin of 113-80.

Even if you lump in the loss to the only AFC Playoff team the Rams played, the Buffalo Bills, those figures become a 4-2 record with a 145-115 margin.

Pretty solid.

Point Blank

As you're surely aware by now, the Rams allowed the fewest points in the league. And removing non-offensive touchdowns from the total, the L.A. defense only surrendered 16.8 points per game.

But wait, there's more.

By my count, 11 times the defense took the field with the opposing offense inside the Rams 45-yard line. Every defense faces sudden-change situations, but 11 in a season is a massive number.

Nonetheless, even in those instances, Brandon Staley's group limited the damage to a total of 57 points. Take out those short fields? And the average falls to 13.2 points per game allowed.

Remarkable stuff, especially in the context of the highest-scoring season in league history.

Ball Hawks

That being said, the Seahawks have every right to feel like they actually might boast the best defense in this Wild Card showdown. That's stunning given the porous first half they endured in 2020.

However, Ken Norton Jr. and company allowed a mere 14.0 points per game in their final six, to lead the NFL across that span. The Seahawks defense held two of those opponents to single digits (including the Rams in Week 16).

Coach 'Em Up

Playing a rival for a third time in a season – really, in the span of nine weeks – is as close to a "series" as we'll ever get in football.

So after the Rams took Game One and the Seahawks evened the score in Game Two, I think the impact of coaching is amplified in game-planning for Game Three.

Schematically, what's the right mix of sticking with your bread and butter versus "What else ya' got?"

"This is where head coaches earn their money. Right now, on Wednesday-Thursday-Friday," my broadcast partner D'Marco Farr said on Between the Horns. "Once they take the field, the hay is in the barn."

Nothing against Pete Carroll, Brian Schottenheimer, and Norton – their credentials speak for themselves – but I'd sleep well as a Rams fan knowing McVay and Staley and the L.A. staff put in their hours and the competitive advantage they can generate, collectively.

"I think our job as coaches is to make sure that we're making good, sound decisions, putting together good plans that give our players the best opportunity for success," McVay said Thursday. "I've heard Coach (Bill) Belichick say it before, and I think it's exactly right – 'Coaches lose games, players win them.'

"I'm excited about the opportunity to go really shoot our shot and go compete to the best of our ability and let it all hang out."

Age Is Just a (Record-Breaking) Number

One other coaching factoid worth mentioning: Carroll is 34 years and 131 days older than McVay, which will reset the record for the largest age differential between opposing head coaches in a playoff game in NFL history.

You're old enough to remember the previous record came from Super Bowl LIII and the nearly 34 years separating Belichick and McVay.

Stars O-Lining

The Seahawks had their projected starting offensive line (Duane Brown, Mike Iupati, Ethan Pocic, Damien Lewis, Brandon Shell) together only five times this year.

Seattle went 5-0 in those games, scoring 31 or more points in each.

They're expected to start together on Saturday.

On the Rams side of the equation, Whitworth is back, but left guard David Edwards was limited throughout the week with an ankle injury and is designated as questionable.

If he can't go, Joe Noteboom presumably would kick back inside after filling Big Whit's shoes at left tackle for the past seven-plus games. Noteboom began the season as the Rams starter at left guard before suffering a calf injury in Week Two.

Cooking With Gas

Back to Seattle's offensive line, though. I'll be curious to see how their health impacts Russell Wilson's kitchen. His passer rating was 25.8 points lower in the second half of the season compared to the MVP-level first eight games.

When Wilson does pick his moments to cook, this game may hinge on whether or not Jalen Ramsey can be every bit as sensational as he was throughout the regular season.

Mike Renner delivered as succinct and impactful a summary as I've seen on what should be a first-team All-Pro campaign:

"In the single most prolific passing season in NFL history, Jalen Ramsey only allowed 20 yards per game in his coverage."

According to PFF, Ramsey shadowed Metcalf on 53 of his 77 routes in 2020, holding him to one reception for 11 receiving yards (on four targets). But given the amount Metcalf motioned away from Ramsey in Week 16, Darious Williams and Troy Hill and the rest of the secondary better be on point, too. All other Rams defenders allowed seven receptions and 76 receiving yards (on eight targets) against Metcalf.

A Bargain At Any Price

This has nothing to do with why Seattle and Los Angeles both desperately want to advance, but it is an element I find fascinating.

As you know, the Rams traded 2020 and 2021 first-round picks to Jacksonville for Ramsey, along with a fourth-rounder this spring. (The Jaguars used the Rams 2020 pick on linebacker K'Lavon Chaisson at 20th overall.)

The Seahawks sent 2021 and 2022 first-round selections to the Jets for Jamal Adams, along with an upcoming third-rounder.

Safe to say, both franchises feel good about the return on investment so far.

But the team that wins Saturday – and potentially advances to the conference championship or Super Bowl – will benefit from an even greater bargain, as they'll be sending draft picks much lower on the board to the East Coast.

Check out the top photos from Thursday's LA Rams practice as they prepare for Wild Card weekend against the Seattle Seahawks.

Resume Builder

After last Sunday's win over the Cardinals, Aaron Donald made clear that he wanted one more shot at Seattle.

Understandable, considering he's sacked Wilson 13 times in 14 career meetings.

A third NFL Defensive Player of the Year honor is absolutely deserved for Donald, and it would cement his Hall of Fame resume before his 30th birthday (the cement was already mixed, poured and floated… it just has to dry).

The only thing missing from his resume that I can see? A full playoff sack.

In four postseason appearances, he only has credit for a half-sack he shared with Michael Brockers in the 2017 Wild Card loss to the Falcons.

Actually, you know what? He's also missing a touchdown. Just putting that out there as a potential resume builder, too.

Career Years

And lastly, while I certainly hope to have the opportunity to write this column again next week, in the unfortunate instance where the Rams don't advance, I wanted to briefly acknowledge the individuals who achieved a career-best season in the midst of a pandemic, playing in empty stadiums, and without an off-season program. (At least two seasons of experience prior to 2020 is required for this to be considered a "career year.")

On offense, I think that group certainly includes Malcolm Brown, Austin Corbett, Joe Noteboom (at left tackle), and Josh Reynolds. While his counting stats may not exceed his 2019 totals, I also think there's a case to be made that this was Kupp's most complete campaign.

On defense, there's no question that this group took it to a new level: John Johnson, Darious Williams, Troy Hill, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Leonard Floyd, Kenny Young, and Morgan Fox. And while their bar has been set ridiculously high, I also think Ramsey and Donald could be included.

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