Rams DT Aaron Donald has been a two-year menace for the Seahawks and QB Russell Wilson. But St. Louis is a crippled franchise, and the Seahawks are in no mood to offer sympathy.
Upon their 13th consecutive non-winning season, as well as the potential relocation of the franchise back to Los Angeles after 21 years in St. Louis, the Rams are probably the most forlorn outfit in the NFL, aside from Commissioner Roger Goodell’s legal advisers.
But at least the Rams have QB Russell Wilson on the schedule, this Sunday in fact, and will provide him most of their formidable pass rush. That has to make them feel a little better.
The Rams must almost enjoy chasing Wilson, mostly because they catch him more often than anyone. Remember the season opener in St. Louis? Six times they pulled him down, for 32 yards lost, plus numerous harassments that contributed mightily to the 34-31 loss in overtime that began the Seahawks’ early plunge from the NFL summit. Aaron Donald had two sacks among a team-high nine tackles.
Since then, things have happened.
As Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell put it Wednesday, “They’ve gone in a different direction, we’ve gone in a different direction.”
The Seahawks direction, you know about.
The Rams (6-8) were once 4-3, which included a a win over the Arizona Cardinals. But things have gone poorly since. On their injured reserve list are DE Robert Quinn, FS T.J. McDonald, CB E.J. Gaines and LB Alec Ogletree; on offense, OTs Roger Safford and Jamon Brown and WRs Damien Williams and Stedman Bailey, the latter recovering from two gunshot wounds to the head. RB Trey Watts was suspended for drug use.
Then QB Nick Foles, for whom large treasure was expended to acquire in a much-discussed offseason trade, was benched after a 37-13 loss to Chicago Nov. 15 for nothing other than poor play.
Backup Case Keenum, he of the 40.52 QB rating, meet Michael Bennett.
“He went to (the University of Houston),” Bennett, of Texas A&M, said Wednesday. “So I don’t like him.”
What the Rams do have is second-year DT Donald, whom Pro Football Focus says is in the top-five discussion for Defensive Player of the Year.
The motion was seconded by Seahawks offensive-line coach Tom Cable Wednesday: “I think it’s been a while since you’ve had that dominant a player in the NFL (at defensive tackle).”
Coach Pete Carroll gushed too.
“He’s really, really quick and he penetrates run and pass,” he said. “He’s got 11 sacks, so he’s obviously a big factor in the passing game.
“It’s not just that he can run you down, he has explosion — the get-off that gets him to a point where he has an advantage a lot. He’s a big deal for us to deal with.”
Perhaps better than any team, the Rams have broken down Seattle’s protection and also managed to cut off a lot of Wilson’s read-option chicanery. That can happen when a club has five former first-round draft choices along the defensive line.
What the Rams defense presents, despite the absence of star rusher Quinn, is the biggest test of Seattle’s re-invigorated offensive line. The five-game winning streak has come against average to mediocre defenses based on average yards per game – San Francisco (27th), Pittsburgh (24th), Minnesota (13th), Baltimore (14th) and Cleveland (26th).
Largely because of injuries, the Rams defense is ranked 22nd, but it still has premier linemen Chris Long and Michael Brockers to accompany Donald into the Seattle backfield.
“They’ve been a monster to deal with,” Carroll said. “They’ve been really hard. We’ve also had to deal with their kicking game too. Their kicking game is extraordinarily good.
“Those two phases of it are enough to control a football game, and the way they run the football now (rookie RB Todd Gurley missed the first Seattle game), it makes for a really good winning formula. We’ve had some troubles when we’ve played there at times. We’ll see if we can not let that happen again.”
For LT Russell Okung, part of the misshapen debut of the remade offensive line in the opener, a recollection of what happened that game seems to serve as a bit of incentive.
“They hit us first the last game,” he said, “and we paid for it.”
It’s a sad time for Rams fans and coach Jeff Fisher, who is following his first three seasons of 7-8-1, 7-9 and 6-10 with another potential loser in what may be the final season for the NFL in St. Louis.
But the NFL is always pitiless, as are the Vegas oddsmakers, installing Seattle as a 14-point favorite. So the Seahawks, as Okung will go about their business, telling the Rams: You started this.