One of the goals this season for Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay was to get back to the playoffs after failing to reach the postseason last year. Mission accomplished.
Now the that Rams are in, McVay would like to make some noise, starting on Saturday in the opening round of the NFC Wild Card on the road against the Seattle Seahawks. McVay is 5-3 against Seattle during his tenure in L.A.
McVay’s Rams are facing an uphill climb, however, taking on a Seattle team that has won 10 straight home playoff games led by quarterback Russell Wilson, who’s 5-0 at Lumen Field in the postseason.
And McVay enters the game with a question mark at quarterback; he’ll wait to announce until game time if Jared Goff will make his first start since having surgery to repair a broken thumb on his right, throwing hand, or if backup John Wolford will get his second NFL start.
“Our job as coaches is to make sure that we’re making good, sound decisions, putting together good plans that give our players the best opportunity for success,” McVay said this week. “I’ve heard (Patriots Head) Coach (Bill) Belichick say it before, and I think it’s exactly right -- ‘Coaches lose games, players win them’ -- I think we’ve got to do a great job. When I look back and I always try to look inward and you say, ‘Are you really doing a good enough job?’
“There were some things that I was not pleased with when we played them the last time that I thought I put us at a disadvantage, specific to the offense. I think just overall, I’m excited about the opportunity to go really shoot our shot and go compete to the best of our ability and let it all hang out.”
In two games against Seattle, Cooper Kupp has been targeted 16 times, totaling 13 receptions for 116 yards. If Goff does play, look for him to use Kupp as his security blanket, getting him the ball early in the progression on underneath routes, particularly in got-to-have-it situations on third down and in the red zone. Playing in Seattle will be the closest the Yakima, Wash. native gets to playing close to his hometown, so Kupp should be properly motivated. Kupp matched up against the second level of Seattle’s defense should be advantage L.A.
One to watch
The Rams offensive line has allowed eight sacks over the last three games, and L.A. has averaged just 114 rushing yards a contest during that stretch. Both of those numbers should improve with the addition of Andrew Whitworth returning to start at left tackle. In the last matchup, Seattle defensive end Benson Mayowa finished with a season-high eight QB pressures on 24 pass rushes (33.3% pressure rate), per Next Gen Stats. With Whitworth back at left tackle, expect Mayowa to have less of an impact in the pass rush on Saturday. Add a healthy Cam Akers to the backfield and the Rams should have some success running the football.
Fun to watch
Jalen Ramsey basically told Seattle offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer to stop hiding DK Metcalf and line him up across from him. But if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? The Seahawks likely will keep moving Metcalf around the formation to free him up for big plays. We’ll see what the adjustment will be for the Rams.
Keys to the game
It’s a pretty simple recipe for success for the Rams to win on Saturday. Take care of the football. Score TDs in the red zone. Create balance by running the football. Don’t let Russell Wilson beat you in the fourth quarter. The Rams can play care-free because all the pressure is on Seattle to win at home in a game that NFL observers nationally expected them to win. The 12s will be at home sipping on lattes and craft brews, wearing their 12th man jerseys. The Rams were relaxed and loose at practice and in media interview sessions this week, a good sign if you are a Rams’ fan. Interesting stat culled from Michael Lombardi’s column at The Athletic (subscription needed) -- the Seahawks are minus-20 points in the fourth quarter this year, generally considered winning time for Wilson. During Seattle’s Super Bowl run in 2014, the Seahawks were plus-61 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Seahawks were playing historically bad defense before turning things around the second half of the season. This year’s version of Russell Wilson is different, and so are the Seahawks.
Rams 24, Seahawks 17