The Seahawks host the Rams on Saturday for the second time in three weeks, but this time in the Wild Card round of the postseason. The two teams split their regular-season meetings, with the Seahawks prevailing at Lumen Field in Week 16 to clinch the NFC West title. If the Seahawks are going to beat the Rams at home once again this weekend, these are three key matchups that could make the difference in Saturday's game:
1. Rams OLB Leonard Floyd vs. Seattle's pass protection.
We usually mention Aaron Donald here, and for god reason—he's one of the most dangerous defensive players in the game. And as always, dealing with Donald is a huge priority, for the Seahawks, who have have actually done a good job keeping him from being a game-wrecker this year. In two games against Seattle this season, Donald has one sack, three quarterback hits and two tackles, but as is so often the case when teams focus their attention on containing Donald, it creates opportunities for Donald's teammates. And nobody has done a better job of taking advantage of those chances than outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.
In two games against Seattle this season, Floyd has 5 sacks, nearly half of his season total (10.5) as well as seven quarterback hits and 12 tackles.
The Seahawks will have their full offensive line back on the field, just the sixth time this season with their starting five all available, and that should help, but if the Seahawks are going to get more explosive in their passing game, something Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson both mentioned as a goal this week, then they'll need to give Wilson time for those plays to develop, and in the previous two meetings are any indication, buying more time for Wilson means taking care not only of Donald, but also Floyd.
"You certainly pay a lot of attention to Aaron, you have to, he's a terrific player," offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer said. "They do a nice job of trying to isolate you into one-on-one blocks. The front structure and the things that they do they make you basically block things straight across the board and they get a bunch of one-on-one matchups. They do a terrific job of running games and things where they cross—he starts on one side and then they bring the guy across and then he loops around, call it a stunt or a game—I think Leonard Floyd is a great example. Leonard's having a terrific year. Leonard's a great player, but certainly people are paying a lot of attention to Aaron, (Floyd) gets matchups gets one on ones, great motor. So he's a great example of a guy that benefits from it. But they're more than just Aaron, they've got a terrific defense a terrific unit, they're well coached, and it'd be fun to go up against them again."
2. DK Metcalf vs Jalen Ramsey, Round 3.
As mentioned above, the Seahawks are hoping to get a little more explosive in the passing game, but they also know they need to be careful how they go about attempting that against one of the league's best defenses, and against first-team All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey in particular. Metcalf, who himself earned second-team All-Pro honors this week, had a spectacular season with a franchise-record 1,303 yards and 10 touchdowns, but Ramsey and the Rams have done a good job making life difficult on Metcalf and the rest of the passing game. With Ramsey spending most of the game following him, Metcalf had only two catches for 23 yards in the first meeting between these teams. The Seahawks didn't challenge Ramsey much in Week 16 either, but they did move Metcalf around more, creating other matchups, and Metcalf had six catches for 59 yards, three of which were third-down conversions.
Ramsey made it clear he hopes to see more of Metcalf this week, telling reporters “I feel personally that it should be like big on big," but he also acknowledged that moving Metcalf around more in the more recent meeting was effective. Metcalf isn't one to back down to a challenge and he will be confident he can get the job done even if Ramsey covers him every down, but expanding on the blueprint from the last meeting of moving Metcalf around could prove to be the best move for the Seahawks. Either way, when those two do line up across from each other, it should be a lot of fun.
3. Rams running back Cam Akers against a stout Seahawks run defense.
The Rams are a team that likes to run the ball in any game, but that could be of particular importance for L.A. this weekend due to their uncertainty at quarterback. Starter Jared Goff is less than two weeks removed from thumb surgery and is listed as questionable for the game, while backup John Wolford is coming off a pretty solid outing in his first career start.
And if the Rams want to lean on the running game, they'll do so with a running back the Seahawks didn't see in Week 16, rookie Cam Akers. Akers, a second-round pick out of Florida State, didn't yet have a starting role when these teams met earlier in the season, and he was out with an ankle injury for the Week 16 game, but in between he rushed for 390 yards in his previous four games, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, and as he showed last week in his return, he's a nice option for Wolford in the passing game catching four passes for 52 yards.
"He's explosive," defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. said. "He can put his foot down and make an explosive run at any point. "We have to do a great job with our fits. He's a guy that can get to the outside. He also has a good inside running game and he outruns people. So again, he's a guy that he makes their offense go."
The Seahawks have played good run defense all season, ranking fifth the league at 95.6 yards per game and 3.9 yards per carry, and another strong performance in that phase of the game will be an important part of slowing down the L.A. offense, regardless of who's playing quarterback.