The Seahawks head to Los Angeles this weekend to face a Rams squad that, at 3-8, is having a season no one could have seen coming from the defending Super Bowl champs. To learn more about this week's opponent, we reached out to ESPN NFL Nation's Sarah Barshop (follow Sarah on Twitter here) with five questions about the Rams.
Nobody was expecting the Rams to be 3-8 at this point of the season. Obviously, injuries have been a huge factor, but what else has contributed to a so-far disappointing season for the defending champs?
Barshop: It's not just that the Rams have dealt with injuries this season, but they've been concentrated among position groups. Los Angeles has had so many injuries to its offensive line that it has started 11 different five-man offensive line combinations in each of its first 11 games. They are the only team in the Super Bowl era (since 1966) to do that, according to Elias Sports Bureau data.
And while not the only reason, those injuries on the offensive haven't helped the Rams' offense find consistency this season. Los Angeles ranks 23rd in the NFL in team pass block win rate and 27th in team run block win rate. Both the passing game and run game have struggled, and it has led to the worst offense since head coach Sean McVay was hired in 2017.
The injuries also highlighted an issue with this Rams' roster: a lack of depth. Part of what goes into trading high draft picks for impact players and then paying those players near the top of their position group, is having to rely on younger and more inexperienced players behind those stars. When star players get hurt -- quarterback Matthew Stafford, wide receiver Cooper Kupp and Allen Robinson and defensive tackle Aaron Donald -- that lack of depth can show up.
For a team that has known so much success in recent years, how do Sean McVay and company approach this stretch of the season with the playoffs more or less out of the picture?
Barshop: This topic has been brought up quite a bit, because this is so unusual for McVay in his coaching career. While the focus is of course on winning each week, McVay acknowledged after the Rams' loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 12 that the team does have to be mindful of the need to evaluate some of the players on this team and figure out who could play an important role going forward.
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said this week that "at this point some of them are not evaluations, some of them are 'Hey, let's establish your role and what you're going to be in this team moving forward.'"
The 3-8 record and near-playoff elimination might also inform the Rams' decisions about who plays the rest of the way. While Kupp could come off injured reserve later this season and Stafford and Donald could return from injury, that may not make sense for the long-term for this franchise. McVay hasn't ruled out the possibility of shutting his star players down for the rest of the season.
A lot of Seahawks fans will no doubt be a little emotional seeing Bobby Wagner face their team in a new uniform, but how is Wagner himself approaching this game against his former team?
Barshop: When we talked to Wagner on Wednesday, he told us that the game against Seattle is "just another game" on the schedule. He said that's an easy mindset to have, in part, because that's how the organization viewed games while he was there.
"You never really make a game too big or too little," Wagner said. "[You] never make a Monday night game or Tuesday night game bigger or the opponent bigger because then it makes you inconsistent because you'll get up for one game, but then you won't get up for the next game. I'm personally just treating this game like it's a normal game."
But although Wagner is downplaying the importance of the matchup, Morris said he has seen and heard from the future Hall of Famer's teammates that they want to win this game for him. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey said there is extra emphasis on this game from the team for Wagner, which speaks to how respected the former Seahawks linebacker has become in this locker room in the short time he's been here.
Aside from the obvious big names, who is a player or players who could be an X-factor for the Rams this week?
Barshop: I've got my eye on the running game, which had its best week of the season in Week 11, specifically rookie running back Kyren Williams. Williams has been back for three games since he injured his ankle in Week 1 and could be an important player on this offense beyond this season.
Williams had seven carries in Week 12 and 11 in Week 13, and I expect that number to increase going forward. This Rams coaching staff was very excited about Williams' role in this offense before his Week 1 injury. He's one of the players I believe they are evaluating for the rest of this season as they decide what the offense could look like in 2023.
Williams will get a chance to prove himself on Sunday against a Seahawks defense that ranks 19th against the run according to Football Outsiders' DVOA.
What matchup or matchups are you most looking forward to seeing on the field on Sunday?
Barshop: Seahawks running back Kenneth Walker III against the Rams run defense. Los Angeles is ranked fifth in Football Outsiders' defensive rush DVOA, but it will be without its best defensive player, defensive tackle Aaron Donald, on Sunday.
Walker has slowed down in recent weeks, but he'll still pose a threat to a defense that has relied on Donald so much. I am interested to see who steps up in his absence and whether the run defense that has allowed an average of 97.3 rushing yards per game -- fourth-best in the NFL -- can continue without him.