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Will Rams division dominance continue?

For the first time since Sean McVay was hired, the Rams do not hold at least a share of first place in the NFC West. For the moment, at least externally, they're no longer the favorite.

They have a chance to change that over the next two games, head-to-head against the Seahawks and 49ers. And perhaps division rivalries are just the tonic they need following an embarrassing home loss to Tampa Bay.

All the shortcomings they got away with against the Panthers, Saints, and Browns were laid bare at the Coliseum in Week 4. Chief among them, what's the identity of this 2019 group?

In a sense, the Rams are victims of their own success. When you score more points than any franchise in football over the course of two seasons – and do so in perfect run/pass equilibrium – there's only one way you can go from there.

At the quarter pole, it's clear these are not the 2017-18 Rams. At least not yet; at least not offensively. And that's fine! It's a truth that doesn't need to have negative connotations.

Perhaps it's time we stop comparing them to the two-time defending division champions of years gone by, and allow this group of Rams to figure out who they're going to be and how they're going to three-peat.

Contrast in Styles

The Seahawks have a future Hall of Famer at quarterback at the top of the MVP conversation as the calendar turns to October. Yet, they insist on being a run-first offense, and in fact were the only team in the NFL to attempt more runs than passes last season.

Conversely, the Rams have an All-Pro tailback and a recent Offensive Player of the Year in Todd Gurley, but have thrown it on 65% of their offensive snaps so far.

This isn't the space to tease out all the various reasons why those dynamics are real. We'll just point to the paradox and predict that despite their tendencies, both Seattle and Los Angeles will go as their superstars go.

Rethinking Thursday

Speaking of Gurley, his stance against Thursday Night Football is well-documented and widely-shared around the league.

Nonetheless, the Rams have to convince themselves that they won the lottery with this TNF assignment.

First and foremost, it's early in the schedule and the Rams are relatively healthy, which is huge. Second, even though it's on the road, it's in the same time zone. Third, it's against a familiar division opponent that played on the road last week. And finally, being in Seattle Thursday gives you a four-day head start on the 49ers, who host Cleveland in the final game of Week 5.

Yes, for the third time this season, the Rams next opponent will play Monday Night Football before taking on Los Angeles.

It may not feel like it now, but the Rams got a scheduling break. Especially if they capitalize with a win.

Thursday Night Fireworks

The Rams have authored two of the most entertaining Thursday games in recent years.

In Santa Clara in 2017, Goff and Gurley orchestrated a 41-39 barnburner.

Then, home to the Vikings in 2018, the Rams prevailed 38-31, on the back of a perfect quarterback rating.

That leaves Goff with two wins, eight touchdowns, and zero interceptions in a pair of Thursday games since 2017.

If tonight is anything like those performances, we should be in for a good one.

Check out photos of the Los Angeles Rams taking flight to face the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5.

Pete in Prime Time

The Seahawks also have quite the prime time reputation. Since Pete Carroll took over a decade ago, they boast the best winning percentage in the NFL under the lights (26-5-1, .828), including an 8-1 mark on Thursday Night Football and seven consecutive mid-week wins.

Hear Yourself Think In CenturyLink

Just when you thought the Rams would use the familiar calm of the Coliseum to get right offensively, they were more disjointed than ever against the Bucs. 13 penalties accounting for 106 lost yards were predominantly committed on offense and pre-snap. Their ability to get those mistakes corrected on a short week will be thoroughly tested in the crucible that is CenturyLink Field, where "The 12s" are responsible for more false start penalties than any other venue in the NFL.

Pressure Cooker

Last year, Jared Goff was pressured on just 32% of his drop-backs, according to Pro Football Focus. Four games into 2019, that figure is up to 43%.

While a quarterback is largely responsible for his own pressure rate, the Rams offensive line ranks 28th in ESPN's Pass Block Win Rate.

Against the ferocious front of the Seahawks – with the aforementioned crowd at their back – that could spell trouble.

Turnover a New Leaf

Even gloomier, the forecast. Highs in the mid-50s with a chance of rain. Not terrible, especially when you consider that London and Pittsburgh might be the only other "bad weather" destinations on the Rams regular season schedule.

It doesn't bode well for a fumble-prone quarterback, though.

As reported by The Ringer this week, Goff has fumbled 14 times in the last 13 games, including the postseason. His streak of fumbles in 10 straight regular season games is the longest in the NFL since Matt Cassel from 2011 to 2012, per ESPN research.

Most recently, Ndamukong Suh made the Rams pay with a scoop and score. Cam Jordan and the Saints were robbed of a touchdown off a strip sack in Week Two.

Assuming it's cold and wet, Goff must be laser-focused on putting together an interception-and-fumble-free performance – something he hasn't been able to achieve since the last time he faced the Seahawks, Week 10 of 2018.

Russ Running for MVP

Meantime, his counterpart is off to the best start of his NFL career, according to Pete Carroll.

Wilson has accounted for 10 touchdowns without an interception. Last week in the second half at Arizona, he went 12-for-12 passing. He leads the NFL in completion percentage above expectation, a NextGen Stat.

Then again, he hasn't faced his kryptonite yet this season.

Wilson is 6-8 career against the Rams. In addition to that loss total, his eight interceptions and 55 sacks against Los Angeles are all his most against any opponent.

…and you can attribute most of those struggles to Aaron Donald.

In 10 contests against the Hawks, the Rams defensive tackle has amassed 10.5 sacks, 17 tackles for loss, and two forced fumbles. Los Angeles needs him to have one of those vintage performances tonight to secure another road win.

Don't Forget Britt

You might remember Donald and Seattle center Justin Britt getting into it in Week 10 last season.

While Donald has been aligning all over scrimmage so far this season, he'll undoubtedly get his reps against Britt at some point. Worth keeping an eye on whether bygones are bygones.

Dominate the Division

With starters playing, Los Angeles has only lost a single game to an NFC West opponent under McVay, at home against Seattle in early 2017 (an unfortunate five-turnover affair by the Rams).

Overall, they're 10-2 against the division and swept the West in 2018, averaging nearly 37 points per game in the process. Whatever's ailing the Rams, there's no better time to get right than against 3-1 Seattle and 3-0 San Francisco.

The schedule serves as the perfect reminder that the first order of business each year is to be better than the three other franchises in your division. Do that, and you host a postseason game. With the Cardinals still winless, the NFC West has effectively become a three horse race that starts tonight.

Husky Heavy

We'll end on a Pac-12 football note from the Pacific Northwest. Sure, the Seahawks are the home team tonight, but the Rams have more University of Washington products.

It's unlikely Taylor Rapp will be able to go with his injured ankle, which is unfortunate on many fronts. But perhaps fellow Husky Greg Gaines will be active at nose. Cory Littleton and Marcus Peters played their college football at UW. Reserve lineman Coleman Shelton, who we've yet to see in a Rams uniform, also is a product of the Purple and Gold.

And let's not forget our own D'Marco Farr won a national title with Don James and the Huskies.

Point being, they've got Seahawks tight end Will Dissly and linebacker Ben Burr-Kirven outnumbered in their own back yard.

Go Dawgs. (And don't even get us started on the Eastern Washington pipeline to Los Angeles.)

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