The St. Louis Rams landed a pair of prime-time home games this season, both against tough NFC West rivals.
Before the season, a Thursday night game against San Francisco and Monday night’s game against Seattle represented opportunities for the Rams to make a statement that they were not to be forgotten in perhaps the league’s toughest division.
Heading into Monday night, however, a game that once looked to be another brutal NFC West slugfest now appears to heavily favor the division-leading Seahawks.
The Rams and Seahawks kick off at 8:30 p.m. ET Monday from the Edward Jones Dome. ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and Seahawks reporter Terry Blount discuss this week's matchup.
Wagoner: Out in the Pacific Northwest, there’s been a lot of talk about Percy Harvin making his return. I know it was decided late in the week not to play him, but do you get the sense he's antsy to return?
Blount: Nick, Percy practically is jumping out of his skin to return. He hasn’t played a regular-season NFL game since Week 9 last season. He has looked good on the practice field, but the Seahawks' coaches are being cautious with their $67 million man.
The obvious first question from me is how much the Rams will miss Sam Bradford at quarterback? Can Kellen Clemens lead the team effectively, especially against a defense as daunting as the Seahawks'?
Wagoner: Clemens is a pro’s pro who will absolutely put in the work to be prepared for the Seahawks. That’s never been the thing holding him back from producing. At this point in his career, he’s never consistently thrown with accuracy or made enough plays to win a starting job or many games. He’s 4-8 as a starter. What he can bring to the table in addition to his knowledge of the offense is the ability to scramble and extend plays with his legs. The key for Clemens will be avoiding mistakes and coming up with completions to keep the chains moving on third down. Realistically, though, it’s probably going to be a long day for Clemens and the offense.
The Seahawks have gone through some major injury woes on the offensive line. Terry, how much of a concern is that and is that an area where the Rams' pass rush could help keep them in the game?
Blount: The offensive line clearly is Seattle’s one weak link. The pass protection has been awful, and Russell Wilson is taking way too many hits. He has been forced to run far more than he would like. The backup tackles haven’t played well, and the starting guards haven’t played all that well, either, in passing situations. But they are an effective line in run blocking, so the key for Seattle, as always, is to establish the running game with Marshawn Lynch and use play-action to slow down the pass rush.
Speaking of Lynch, he has rushed for more than 100 yards in his past three games against the Rams, and it appears St. Louis is struggling this season in stopping the run. Nick, what can the Rams do to control Lynch and improve their run defense?
Wagoner: In many ways, the Rams' run defense is much better suited to take on a rushing attack such as Seattle’s. Yes, San Francisco’s power running game is similar to Seattle's, and the Niners had little problem running it at the Rams. But, it’s still a better matchup than the zone-based schemes of teams such as Houston and Dallas, which ripped the Rams to shreds with simple cutbacks. Essentially, the Rams' defense is better off when it can line up and take on the man across from him rather than worrying about backside cuts and dealing with linemen at the second level. The Rams made some progress against Carolina on Sunday, creating at least a modicum of hope that the run defense is better. Still, I believe Lynch is the best back they’ve seen this year, and he’ll likely still get his numbers. The key for the Rams is limiting big, long runs and making Lynch earn it.
On the other side, the Seattle defense doesn't seem to have many holes. And with Clemens starting at quarterback for the Rams, the matchup doesn't look good for St. Louis. Terry, do you see any weaknesses in Seattle's defense?
Blount: It’s a solid group with incredible depth. If there is a weakness, it’s the fact the players will take chances at times, especially in the secondary, to try to come up with turnovers and big plays. It’s a risk-versus-reward mentality, but an offense can burn them at times if they catch them in a safety blitz or one-on-one coverage with no help over the top.
It’s going to be a crazy few days in downtown St. Louis with the World Series games being played Saturday, Sunday and Monday night. Nick, do you think the Monday World Series game at Busch Stadium will hurt attendance at the Seahawks-Rams game?
Wagoner: That’s probably putting it mildly. St. Louis is and always has been a baseball town first, so a Monday night game in May against the Marlins would hurt the attendance of any Rams game, but a World Series Game 5? Add in that the Rams are coming off a loss, sit at 3-4 and that many believe the season is lost because of Bradford’s injury and you have a recipe for a lot of empty seats. When the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011, the 0-6 Rams hosted 5-2 New Orleans the day after the Cardinals clinched. With Tony La Russa and many players in attendance, the Rams stunned the Saints with a 31-21 victory. They did that with backup quarterback A.J. Feeley filling in for Bradford.