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Saturday, December 28, 2013
Three things: Rams-Seahawks

By Nick Wagoner

ST. LOUIS -- Three things worth watching in Sunday's game between the St. Louis Rams and Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

Slowing Lynch

Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch remains among the most decorated backs in the NFL but you wouldn't know it from looking at his numbers in recent weeks or in the first game between these teams.

In that Monday Night Football meeting, the Rams shut Lynch down to the tune of 23 yards on just eight carries. Seattle got him more involved in the two ensuing weeks with 45 carries total in those two games but his workload has been spotty since.

Lynch had just 34 carries the past two weeks in no small part because Seattle's offense has been unable to stay on the field on third down.

With so much at stake for Seattle in this one, expect them to get back to basics and ensure Lynch gets the touches commensurate with his value to the offense.

For the Rams, it all starts with stopping the run. All the sacks they've piled up in recent weeks have been the result of slowing down the rushing attack and getting opponents into third and long situations.

If ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long want the chance to do their thing, they must first slow Lynch once again.

"We have to go and play well in the run game," defensive coordinator Tim Walton said. "That's where it all starts with us. When we stop the run early and teams can't run the ball and they have to drop back and throw it, that really plays into the strength of our guys that can rush and then get our hands on balls and force the quarterback to make errant throws. So, it all starts with that. We've got to keep it going. We have to finish that strong."

A Better Clemens

Rams quarterback Kellen Clemens made his first start in Sam Bradford's place against Seattle way back in Week 8. It was a rough start against the league's best pass defense as Clemens threw for 158 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions for a QBR of 16.3, the lowest total he's posted in a start this year.

Since that time Clemens has clearly grown more comfortable by the week and made the most of his opportunities, particularly when the Rams have a consistent running game in front of him.

Clemens has posted solid QBRs of 95.7 and 64.4 the past two weeks against New Orleans and Tampa Bay and figures to have a better grasp of everything when he sees the Seahawks a second time.

"I think we've gotten more comfortable across the board," Clemens said. "I've gotten more comfortable. Guys have gotten more comfortable with me in there. So, there's been some growth. I think we're certainly better prepared this week than we were for that first week, but they're a good football team and everybody knows they're a different beast at home."

Indeed, Clemens has also had his share of struggles against elite defenses when he goes on the road. Aside from that rough first start, Clemens' two lowest QBRs came against Arizona and San Francisco in consecutive road losses.

For the Rams to have a chance in this one, they'll need the Clemens who has played better against non-NFC West division opponents.

Closing arguments

There's been plenty of debate as to which player is most deserving of the Defensive Player of the Year in 2013. Strong cases can be made for a number of players but three are prominently involved in this matchup.

Many view Quinn as a possible frontrunner. He leads the league with 18 sacks and seven forced fumbles. He had three sacks against Seattle earlier this season but will face a tougher test in left tackle Russell Okung, who has returned from a toe injury.

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman has eight interceptions and safety Earl Thomas just might be the best all-around defender in the game. Both players could also use a strong finish to add to their respective resumes in this one.

Sherman, in particular, poses a major challenge to Quinn for the award.

"He's so smart," Clemens said. "Physically, he's talented. He's not a world-beater physically, but he is very, very intelligent. He understands routes. He understands splits. I think he understands, in watching, he understands a quarterback's drop and what routes he's going to throw based on the drop. You can watch him. He's a guy that plays inside of offensive players' heads, and that's what makes him very, very dangerous.

"The other thing, too, is that he's another one of those guys -- you throw a ball up that he can get his hands on, he's probably going to come down with it. Very few times does he get his hands on a ball and not come away with a turnover."