A Thursday night game means the Rams and Seahawks had less time to prepare for each other this week, but at least in the case of Seattle, a short week wasn’t necessarily a bad thing given how things played out last weekend.
The Rams are dealing with a coaching change this week as they get ready for the Seahawks, while Seattle is trying to once again show it is a team capable of responding well to a loss. If the Seahawks can bounce back from last week's game with a victory, they'll be NFC West Champions for the fourth time under Pete Carroll and playoff bound for the fifth straight season, but no one in Seattle is overlooking a Rams team that has beat the Seahawks three straight times, including a 9-3 victory in Los Angeles earlier this season.
Here are three key matchups that could make the difference in Thursday's night's game:
1. A talented Rams defensive line vs. an improved Seahawks offensive line.
The Rams' defensive line is one of the best in the NFL, and when these teams last met, Aaron Donald, Robert Quinn and company not surprisingly proved to be a tough matchup for a new-look Seahawks' line that was playing just its second regular-season game together. There have been changes at tackle since that game, but more significantly, the Seahawks line has had time to come together as a unit, and is playing much better now than in September, as is evident in the team's recent success in the running game. And on the occasions that the Rams might win battles in the trenches, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is much better equipped to escape pressure now than he was in Week 2 when he was a week removed from a serious ankle injury sustained in the opener.
"They're definitely more prepared than they were in that game, just in terms of experience, on playing side-by-side with some of the same players that are next to them," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "We've come a long way in that. Our quarterback is obviously different than he was in that game, as well. It'll be different."
All of that being said, even an improved line and a healthy Wilson will be challenged in a big way by the Rams' front. Los Angeles' starting end, Williams Hayes, had 3.0 sacks against the Seahawks in Seattle last year, and the interior line will be tested by Donald, who has a team-high 7.0 sacks, and Michael Brockers.
"They're extremely talented up front," Wilson said. "They've got a great defensive line, their front-seven is unbelievable, they've got guys that rotate in and out. We have tons of respect for what they've been able to do and what they're doing."
It's a tough challenge, but one the Seahawks are looking forward to.
"It's going to be a bar-fight type game, and those are the ones that as an O-line and D-line you kind of enjoy and embrace, because you don't get many of those," center Justin Britt said. "They do what they do well. They don't try to complicate things and hide things. They've got really good players that they can just line up and come at you and see what you've got. We'll be ready."
2. A healthy and hungry Russell Wilson vs the Rams defense.
As mentioned above, Wilson was a very limited version of himself when these teams last met. Instead of being able to escape pressure and make big plays in the passing game, Wilson had to throw the ball away when pressure came his way. Now, however, Wilson is back to 100 percent, or something close to it, which should help the entire offense function much better than it did in Los Angeles.
"When I was dinged up, I couldn't do as much, couldn't really get away sometimes, and you have to find ways to throw the ball away or throw it in the dirt or whatever," Wilson said. "Sometimes, obviously now, I can extend the play a little bit and make something happen a little bit more."
A healthy Wilson also has helped the running game, as has the return of Thomas Rawls, who started against the Rams in Week 2 but left the game with a leg injury that kept out of seven games. Over their past four games, the Seahawks are averaging 163.8 rushing yards per game and 6.1 yards per rush attempt, while in the first nine games of the season, they averaged 77.7 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry.
Of course the other element in play for Wilson this week is the question of how he'll respond to last week's game in which he threw a career-high five interception. And while a tough Rams defense will provide a tough test for Wilson, his teammates and coaches are very confident that their quarterback will bounce back well from Sunday's game at Lambeau Field.
"He's very positive and he's upbeat, he believes in himself, he believes in his teammates, and very seldom will you see him down," Bevell said. "Obviously he's upset with what he did or what might have just happened, but he bounces back very quickly from it. We look at it, we talk about it, then it's really in the past, he's just right there on the field.
"We love the confidence that he has, love the belief that he has in himself. There's five minutes to go, he's fighting not to be taken out of the game, he still feels like if there's one click of the clock still up there then we have a chance to win. You love that mentality in your quarterback."
3. Rams rookie QB Jared Goff vs. the Seahawks defense… and fans.
The Rams made a quarterback switch since these teams last faced off, handing the offense over to 2016's No. 1 overall pick Jared Goff. Now Goff is facing one of the biggest tests of his young career, facing one of the league's best defenses in one of the NFL's toughest environments.
Seahawks players and coaches have said this week that the Rams haven't changed much schematically since making the change, but there is a learning curve at play for Goff, just as there is for any rookie quarterback with only four NFL starts under his belt. That's no knock on Goff, but rather just the reality of playing one of the most mentally demanding positions in sports. Seahawks fans need only to recall their own quarterback's rookie season for an example of how much different a rookie quarterback can look with four starts to his name than he does after playing close to a whole season.
"He's not going to go through his reads like (Aaron Rodgers) did last week," cornerback Richard Sherman said. "He's not going to go to his first read, second read, third read, fourth read, back to his first, back to his second, make those kinds of decisions. He'd be happy to get through three, so you understand that."
And while Goff has played in Seattle when Cal played at Husky Stadium, and while he said "I expect (Seahawks fans) to be loud," there's no preparing for a first game at CenturyLink Field.
"We've just got to do what we do, I think that's going to be hard enough," linebacker Bobby Wagner said. "Coming into C-Link, in my opinion, I don't think he's played in front of crowd like that, so it's really going to test his communication, really going to test how well he talks to the line and stuff like that, so we'll just try to make it as hard as we can for him."
Several of Seattle's city landmarks are lighting up in Action Green this week as the Seahawks ready to debut their Color Rush uniforms on Thursday Night Football against the Los Angeles Rams.