The Los Angeles Rams (10-6) have had an interesting regular season to say the least. L.A. finished the season better than last year, but with the same concerns of offensive inconsistency. One difference is the weaponry and style. The other major factor is an improved defense.
Quarterback Jared Goff is a gameday decision on whether he will start against the Seattle Seahawks (12-4). Against the Arizona Cardinals (8-8), backup quarterback John Wolford started in his place and helped lead the Rams to an 18-7 victory at SoFi Stadium. Most of it was thanks to the defense, recently ranked No. 1 in the league. They provided eight points; one on a holding call in the end zone resulting in a safety, and the other from an 84-yard interception return by cornerback Troy Hill. Kicker Matt Gay provided the remaining 10 points.
The Rams have not had an offensive touchdown since Week 15 against the New York Jets. Much of it is due to Goff committing errors and making bad decisions, plaguing much of the offense this season. He then suffered a broken and dislocated thumb in Week 16 after accidentally hitting a Seahawks defender’s helmet after a throw. The result was starting Wolford under center against the Cardinals the following week. Although Wolford was not able to throw a touchdown pass, he did prove himself a viable option to start against the Seahawks.
Wolford, in his first ever NFL start and regular season game, completed 22 of 38 passes for 231 yards and one interception. Although his first snap was an interception, he made up for it on the ground leading the offense with 56 yards rushing and making several impressive passing plays. His mobility and quickness on the ground is what Rams head coach Sean McVay has needed all season. It allowed the offense to open the playbook a little more and execute plays not normally seen under Goff. Goff is still the better passer and has the playoff experience to lead the Rams. He is limited in practice this week, but there is no decision on who will start or if both quarterbacks will be utilized.
The Rams defense held Arizona to one touchdown in the first quarter. The Cardinals capitalized on a short field thanks to the Wolford interception. Running back Jonathan Ward caught an 11-yard pass from backup quarterback Chris Streveler. Cardinals starting quarterback Kyler Murray was out for much of the game after reaggravating an ankle injury at the end of their first drive. He had only 8 of 11 passes for 87 yards. Murray did come back into the game in the fourth quarter but could not find much success.
The Seahawks ended their season on a squeaker 26-23 win over the San Francisco 49ers (6-10). Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson was outgunned in passing yardage by Niners quarterback C.J. Beathard, but Wilson’s 20 of 36 passes for 181 yards and two touchdowns were enough to clinch the victory.
Wide receiver Tyler Lockett was Wilson’s primary target against San Francisco with 12 catches for 90 yards. He also had all of Seattle’s receiving touchdowns. Running back Chris Carson led in rushing with 11 carries for 44 yards. Alex Collins had the other touchdown on an 8-yard run.
L.A.’s defense will have the same challenges as before in their regular season meetings. They had a victory over Seattle in Week 10 but a loss in Week 16. Wilson is usually chased by the Rams defensive front and was sacked five times in their last meeting, though he had no interceptions. Look for more tackles for a loss and more sacks on Wilson with defensive tackle Aaron Donald and EDGE Leonard Floyd leading the way. Defensive end Michael Brockers is back to play after being on COVID-19 reserve last week. This will put the D-line at full strength against a strong running team and an evasive Wilson.
The Rams offense will receive a boost with leading wide receiver Cooper Kupp returning. Kupp was also on COVID-19 reserve last week. Against the Cardinals, running back Cam Akers led with four catches for 52 yards. Receiver Van Jefferson had an impressive four catches for 50 yards. The offense will still have plenty of ways to spread the ball around with a versatile Robert Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee. Woods has six touchdowns for the season and Higbee has five.
The offensive line will have Andrew Whitworth back from injury at left tackle. Whitworth’s experience and leadership should help against the Seahawks. He was injured in their first meeting during the season. There are also several reliable backup O-linemen to step up if needed. So far, the line has been healthy all season minus a few setbacks. They will need to watch Seahawks defensive tackles Poona Ford and Jarran Reed, as well as, defensive end Benson Mayowa. All three have a total 23 tackles for a loss and 15 sacks. Safety Jamal Adams leads with 9.5 sacks and 14 tackles for a loss. Adams caused an injury to Rams running back Darrell Henderson during a tackle from behind near the goal line in Week 16.
Cornerback Tre Flowers is back off injured reserve to join the backfield. Linebackers Jordyn Brooks, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright are coming off strong performances against the Cards. Also, look for more great matchups between cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Seahawks wide receiver DK Metcalf. Corners Troy Hill and Darious Williams should also do a solid job in coverage on Lockett and the tight ends.
The rushing attack will be no easy task for the Rams who have struggled in scoring in the red zone in recent weeks. On top of that challenge, the Seahawks boast the number five run defense in the league. The Rams will need to get the running game established early and successfully.
Akers had a fumble at the goal line resulting in a Cardinals recovery. Fortunately, the Rams defense responded on their following drive by getting a safety. Running back Malcolm Brown along with Akers will need to make some magic on the ground to power through on runs. They will also need to be especially careful with ball security given the recent fumbles made on crucial plays.
Special teams is no exception to the ball protection as they have also lost fumbles. Punter Johnny Hekker is always consistent, although he has not had too many long punts lately. Kicker Matt Gay has been an excellent choice so far for field goal and extra point consistency.
The Rams are the underdogs in this matchup. Mainly, because of the unknowns at quarterback and the lack of offensive scoring. The Rams defense will take the lead again and are expected to give Seattle a run for their playoff money.
Kickoff is Saturday at 1:40 p.m. PT on Fox.