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2021 Week 15 Key Matchups: Seahawks at Rams

Taking a look at three key matchups that could make the difference in Tuesday night’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

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The Seahawks will play the Rams on Tuesday night in a game that was delayed by two days due to the COVID-19 outbreak that hit the Rams last week, and when they finally take the field, the Seahawks will be looking to win a third straight to keep alive their playoff hopes. If the Seahawks, who themselves are now dealing with some COVID-19 issues, are going to earn a victory at SoFi Stadium, these are three key matchups that could make the difference Tuesday night:

1. Rams DT Aaron Donald vs. Seattle's offensive line.

As long as Aaron Donald is in the middle of the Rams' line, priority number one for the Seahawks will be making sure he doesn't wreck the game. A six-time first-team All-Pro and three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, including last year, Donald is having another dominant season with 10 sacks, 12 tackles for loss and 20 quarterback hits, and he's coming off of a three-sack performance against Arizona that earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors. This is Donald's fifth consecutive double-digit sack season, an absurd feat for an interior lineman, who in his eighth season is showing no signs of slowing down.

"He's kind of busting the test of time, he keeps looking explosive, creative, and problematic," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He's such a factor to help other guys play well, that's the trait that's always been there. They've been good the whole time he's been there… It seems like he's been there forever, you can't get away from the dude, and he continues to be a great factor. He doesn't look any different at all is what I'm saying; he looks as good as ever. He's a really highly conditioned athlete with all of the year-round work and he's going to go well beyond the years that guys should normally go, I guess he's already doing it."

The Seahawks held Houston without a sack in Week 14 and would love to repeat that accomplishment, but doing so against Donald and company will be a huge challenge.

"He's such a tremendous player," said Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who injured his finger in Week 5 when his hand hit Donald on a pass attempt. "Aaron Donald has been able to make so many plays over the years, throughout his career. I think that he's such a factor, if you watched the game the other night, he was such a factor in that game. I think for us, to be able to neutralize him as much as possible and slow him down, he's going to make his plays, he just does, he knows how, he's a superstar, he knows how to make his plays here and there, but to be able to make sure that he's not a major factor is always the key."

2. Rashaad Penny and the Seahawks run game vs. a stingy Rams run defense.

As Carroll noted last week, the best way to control Donald and the Rams' pass rush is to not get in obvious passing situations.

"You have to control the rush by not letting them rush at you when it's obvious," Carroll said.

And with that in mind, the Seahawks will be looking to get Rashaad Penny and the running game going a week after Seattle had its best game of the season on the ground.

With Penny enjoying a career-best day, the Seahawks rushed for a season-high 193 yards last week while averaging a season-high 6.7 yards per carry, and Carroll said this week that Penny has earned a shot to carry the load again in Week 15. While injuries have limited Penny in his career, when he has been both healthy and given the opportunity to carry the ball a lot, he has been very productive. Including last week, Penny has four games in his career with more than 10 carries, and in those four games he has rushed for 448 yards and 5 touchdowns, averaging 7.8 yards per carry

Running the ball successfully won't be easy however against a tough Rams run defense that is holding opponents to just 3.9 yards per carry and 100.6 rushing yards per game.

"They are doing well," Carroll said of L.A.'s run defense. "They are giving up 90-something rushing yards a game and are still doing well. We are 3.8 or 3.9 (yards per carry allowed) on the rush and so are they… Remember this was the best defense in the NFL last year, they aren't ranked like that now, but they are still really good all-around."

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16 Lives

"16 Lives," produced with the support of the Seahawks, tells the story of Community Passageway's 30 Days of Peace Program that is trying to reduce gun violence in South King County, which has seen a 50% increase in gun violence compared to the previous 4-year average. In response, Community Passageways, with support of the Seattle City Council, made an urgent call for "30 Days of Peace" and took 16 young men at risk of gun violence out of the city.

3. Rams WR Cooper Kupp vs. Seattle's secondary.

Kupp, a Yakima native, is on pace to have one of the most productive pass-catching seasons in NFL history, and he leads the league in receptions (113), receiving yards (1,489) and touchdown receptions (12). Kupp has exceeded 100 yards in eight of 13 games this season, has gone over 90 yards in nine straight games, and has been held under 90 yards only once this season.

"He's the whole show now, he's a great football player," Carroll said. "He's been a great football player since he stepped into the league. Now, without Robert (Woods), they've had to lean on him more so than ever, but they have always counted on him. Of course, we have Shane (Waldron) here, and Shane talked about the factor that he is for them because he does everything. He catches the ball in critical situations, on all the play-action passes he's protecting, he's in the running game everywhere, and he's just an enormous positive factor. I don't know if there's anyone that's much more valuable to his team than he is."

The Seahawks will try to slow Kupp with a secondary that has defended the pass well of late, particularly when it comes to taking away the type of explosive plays that make Kupp and the Rams so dangerous. The Seahawks could very well be short-handed at cornerback, however, with D.J. Reed landing on the reserve/COVID-19 list on Sunday.

For any Pete Carroll defense, taking away explosive plays is a must, and since giving up a season-high 13 explosives (16-plus yard receptions, 12-plus yard runs) against the Rams in Week 5, the Seahawks have given up an average of 4.5 explosive plays per game, the fewest in the NFL dating back to Week 6. As Seattle's free safety and the player who is often the last line of defense, Pro-Bowl safety Quandre Diggs has a big role in keeping those explosives in check, and will be asked to do so again this week against the Rams.

"I take a lot of pride in it, and in my eyes, I'm the best in the NFL at doing that," Diggs said of limiting explosive plays. "I'll stand on that whether it's coming from running the alley, guys breaking up the middle and I have to get them down, or deep balls and things like that. I take a lot of pride in that, so you guys probably see some frustration out of me sometimes when I get mad because I take pride in not giving up the big play, and that's how we all should be. Whether it's in the run game or on a pass play, it's my job to get them down and be the last defense. That's what my job is, I'm usually free most of the time, so what else do I have to do besides get the player down?"

The odds are good that the player who needs to get taken down on Tuesday will often be Kupp, and how well Diggs and the rest of the secondary can limit his production will likely go a long ways towards determining the type of day Seattle has on defense.

The Seahawks and Rams have met 46 times during the regular season, with a record of 25-21-0. They have met in the postseason 2 times, with a record of 0-2. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.

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