NFL Week 15 picks: Rams' interim coach John Fassel facing tall task vs. Seahawks

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Rams vs. Seahawks: Will LA shut down Seattle yet again?
0:34 | NFL
Rams vs. Seahawks: Will LA shut down Seattle yet again?
Thursday December 15th, 2016

One of the few redeeming footnotes in Jeff Fisher’s Rams file is that his teams, be it while representing St. Louis or Los Angeles, were a thorn in the Seahawks’ side. The Rams actually have won their last three games against Seattle—a year ago, the team completed a season sweep against Seattle when Case Keenum chalked up a victory on the road, and way back in Week 2 this season, the Rams wore down the Seahawks for a 9–3 win.

Fisher, fired on Monday, ended his Rams career 5–4 against Seattle ... and 26–41 against the rest of the league.

Will interim coach John Fassel (son of ex-Giants coach Jim Fassel) be able to keep the Rams as competitive Thursday night? The oddsmakers aren’t buying it—the 15.5-point spread on this game is one of the biggest all season. Part of that could be a coaching change occurring about 72 hours before the game; part is due to the Rams being outscored by a combined 112–45 in their past three games, including a 42–14 shellacking at Atlanta’s hands last Sunday.

So, Fassel has his work cut out for him.

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“I think, in this situation, every player on the team has the utmost respect for Coach Fisher and it has to be a little bit of a rallying cry,” Fassel said during his introductory press conference, via the Rams’ website. “Obviously we’re not going to go to the playoffs, so what are we playing for—we’re playing because we love ball and we’re playing because we love Coach Fisher. To me, the emotions are a great thing. As long as we have that, we’ll find a way to use them to our advantage.”

Another (and possibly the only other) advantage L.A. will try to lean on is in the matchup of its defensive line vs. Seattle’s front. It was the D-line that controlled the Rams’ victory in September, and the Seahawks continue to struggle in protecting Russell Wilson—he was hit nine times and dropped for three sacks by Green Bay last weekend, as part of a 38–10 blowout loss.

For as stout as Aaron Donald and his fellow Rams D-linemen can be attacking the QB, though, opposing offenses have found some success running the ball. Three of L.A.’s past five opponents have rushed for at least 130 yards, with New Orleans piling up 209. The Seahawks’ run game has awoken over the past month, a stretch that not coincidentally began when Thomas Rawls returned from injury. Seattle averaged 163.8 rushing yards per game in Weeks 11 through 14.

Wilson has been good for 36.8 of those yards, a figure bolstered by an 80-yard day in a loss to the Buccaneers. But he is coming off his worst game as an NFL quarterback: five interceptions, and his lone TD came after the Packers had pulled Aaron Rodgers from their lineup to rest his sore calf.

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The Rams have picked off just six passes all year, but they’re also allowing just 230 yards per game through the air, eighth-best among all defenses. While far more of their defensive success has come at home than on the road (last week excluded), L.A. can be tough.

The same cannot be said of the offense Fassel inherited. The Rams are averaging barely more than a touchdown per game (14.9 points) and they’ve topped the 14-point barrier just once in their past seven games.

Just as the Rams were afraid of, their offensive numbers are down almost across the board since rookie QB Jared Goff joined the starting lineup, just prior to the start of a difficult stretch of games. Goff is completing 55.1% of his passes, has six INTs to four TDs and his 9.9 yards per attempt rate is down near the bottom of the QB chart, alongside Brock Osweiler and Sam Bradford. He hasn’t had much help, what with the Rams’ line overwhelmed each week and the receivers—save for Kenny Britt, on occasion—unable to get open.

The Seahawks should be able to use this game to find their footing without injured safety Earl Thomas (leg). If the Rams pick them apart the way the Packers did, it’s time to panic.

The Rams have been disposed of by 28, 16 and 28 points, respectively, the past three weeks. That 15.5-point line doesn’t seem like such an outlandish number in that context.

That said, neither Wilson nor his team has much recent history of success against the Rams, largely due to that feisty L.A. defense. Seattle should be able to put it on cruise control for much of the fourth quarter, but Fassel might be able to rally the troops enough to keep it tight until then.

Key player: Marcel Reece, FB, Seahawks. Signed just a week ago, Reece played 12 snaps in Seattle’s loss to Green Bay, catching two passes for 38 yards. Reece had to finish out a four-game PED suspension to start the year and then was cut by the Raiders, so he had been out of action until this past Sunday. But he was a Pro Bowler from 2012 to ’14 and would have been one again in ’15 had his suspension not made him ineligible.

He can block, run the ball and catch passes. Expect him to do a little of everything.

Bold prediction: Rookie tight end Tyler Higbee scores his first touchdown. Thomas’s injury has left the Seahawks most vulnerable down the middle of the field. Higbee has not had many opportunities to attack the seams yet this season, but he has that ability. He also should be a popular option in the red zone, assuming the Rams ever get there.

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