When the Seahawks beat the Rams in Los Angeles earlier this season, they did so in large part because one of the NFL's best defenses was up to the challenge of stopping what at the time was the league's highest-scoring offense.
With the Rams coming to town 10 weeks later, the Seahawks still have high expectations for their defense, regardless of who might be unavailable due to injuries, but if it comes down to the Seahawks needing more out of their offense this time around, players and coaches on that side of the ball feel like they're in a much better place than they were in Week 5.
"We're further along now, there's no question," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "We have much more continuity than we had at the time, and up front, our matchups are going to be OK—they're a very difficult front—but our matchups are going to be OK. It's great to see Duane (Brown) on the left side protecting Russell (Wilson)'s backside. I think our communication is better than it's been at any time, so I think we are much further along."
In their Week 5 win at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, the Seahawks held the Rams to just 10 points and forced five turnovers, allowing them to win despite scoring only 16 points while gaining 241 yards, their second-lowest yardage total of the season. Since that game, the offense has showed significant improvement, and while there's room to grow, most notably in the running game, the Seahawks rank 10th in total offense with 361.9 yards per game, and 11th in scoring at 24.2 points per game. Seattle has scored at least 22 points in every game but one since that win in L.A., and have been held under 300 yards just once since then while eclipsing 400 yards four times.
"It's a different offense, I believe," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We've come a long way; they've come a long way, and we have come a long way. That's a long time ago that game, we've evolved in a lot of ways passing game-wise, we've also been trying to find the running game, and you can see it kind of starting to come together with the continuity that we have."
Wilson, who has had a huge hand in Seattle's offensive success this season, said "it has been impressive just to see how far we have really come and grown since the last time we played them… I think the evolution of our offense has been really, really exciting."
Added Doug Baldwin: "We are more versatile in game plan, game structure, game design. The way we play off of each other, as you can see, Paul Richardson has become a huge factor in our passing game. We've brought in Mike Davis, so he is kind of solidifying our running game when he is in there. So we have improved, but we still have a lot of work to do, so obviously we will continue to do that."
There have been a number of reasons for Seattle's offensive growth, ranging from the play of Wilson and his pass-catchers like Baldwin, Richardson, Tyler Lockett and Jimmy Graham to, as Bevell mentioned, the way the passing game has evolved. But what could make the biggest difference this week and over the final three games of the season is the growth of the offensive line. The addition of Brown in a midseason trade helped the Seahawks upgrade at left tackle, and with Luke Joeckel coming back from a five-game absence, Seattle has started to build some continuity with that unit. Presuming nothing unexpected happens this week, the Seahawks will start the same five linemen—Brown, Joeckel, Justin Britt, Ethan Pocic and Germain Ifedi—for the fourth straight game, something that has not yet happened this season.
"To have the same guys work together continuously, we're building cohesiveness, continuity, all that stuff," Britt said. "Luke and Duane can trust each other, they know how they're going to fit things, I know how both guards are going to fit things, how they work, what they do and what I need to do to help each of them, then it's the same on the right side. Then for the backs, they get the same looks. They know how the guards are fitting them and how the tackles are fitting them, so they have a better idea where their cuts will be and how it will be there. You can go on and on, it just builds a lot of trust."
While that line continuity is showing up most in pass protection right now, there have been signs of improvement in the running game, particularly since Davis took over the starting role.
"I think we are better," offensive line coach/assistant head coach Tom Cable said of the running game. "I think we have a runner who has been productive, I think we're better up front in terms of playing together, and being on the same page."
Yet while the Seahawks are better on offense now than they were early this season, that unit won't go into this game feeling like it has to do more to compensate for injuries on defense. The offense is certainly capable of doing more, but pressing to make that happen can be dangerous.
"Human nature would tell you 'OK, look, there is going to be some kind of give here on the defense, so we have to do more offensively,' but for the most part, we have to correct that as professionals, as people who have been here for a long time," Baldwin said. "No, we are not going to change our mentality. We aren't going to try make things up. We are going to going to continue to go out there and do what we've always planned to do, which is put points on the board. So we are going to do that in the fashion in which we know how, and I have no doubt that our defense is going to go out there and put a good game plan up, regardless of the fact that some guys are missing. As tough as it is to say and to hear, it's the next man up. That is the nature of this business, so it is what it is."
The Seahawks and Rams have played some memorable low-scoring games in recent years, but with the Rams scoring more than 30 points per game this season, and with the Seahawks getting better on that side of the ball as the season has gone along, things could look a little different on Sunday, and the Seahawks will be prepared if that type of game unfolds.
"You've looked at them steadily improve throughout the season," Rams coach Sean McVay said of Seattle's offense. "I think when you look at the way that the quarterback is playing, he is as important to any team as there is, and he is playing as well as anybody in this league, accounted for 32 of 33 (offensive) touchdowns, NFL-record 17 touchdowns in the fourth quarter. You talk about a great competitor that can stay in the pocket, create off schedule eyes down the field with his legs, there is nothing that Russell Wilson can't do, and then when you look at just the playmakers that he's got with Doug Baldwin, who I think is one of the best receivers in this game that nobody talks about. Paul Richardson has emerged as a big time threat and Jimmy Graham leads the league with tight ends for touchdowns with nine. I've been impressed with (J.D.) McKissic as a change of pace back and what he has been able to do as a receiver. They are playing hard up front. You look at Duane Brown and some different things. This is a big-time offense. They definitely look like they've gotten better, and Russell Wilson is playing as well as he ever has throughout his career and he is a big time guy."