With the Los Angeles Rams coming to town for a game with huge NFC West implications, we reached out to TheRams.com team insider Myles Simmons to learn more about this week's opponent, which currently holds a one-game advantage over the Seahawks in the standings.
Q: The Rams have a chance to take control of the NFC West if they can beat Seattle. Is there a sense that this is a huge game down there, or are they taking the "treat every game the same" approach we hear from Pete Carroll so often?
Simmons: It's interesting, I'd say that the team has seemed to do a little bit of both. Sean McVay and the rest of the team has certainly acknowledged the opportunity that the Rams have in front of them—to establish a two-game lead in the NFC West with two games to go. But they've been clear that they're not trying to alter their approach to anything in terms of their weekly preparation.
I think it would be hard for a team that hadn't even had a season over .500 since many of these players were in grade school to not even acknowledge what's happening. But they're not making it any bigger than it is. I'm paraphrasing, but I feel like I've heard, "It's the biggest game of the season because it's the next one," more than a few times this week.
Q: Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'd guess most people would have called a 9-win season a huge success for the Rams heading into the season. Is there any sense of accomplishment with a winning season now secured, or did a fast start mean expectations have shifted?
Simmons: Oh no, you're definitely not wrong. The expectations within the building may have been different, but this is a team that had four wins last year and hired a first-time head coach. I think it's safe to say the Rams have exceeded everyone's expectations but their own.
And because of that, yes, I think the standards and the expectations have changed. This is now a team that can consistently score points in order to be competitive throughout a game. Teams talk about "expecting to win" all the time. This is now a team where I get the sense that everyone really feels like that's possible.
Q: It seems like every week the Rams are making a huge play on special teams and/or having Johnny Hekker control field position. Every team says special teams play matters, but just how important has that unit been to the Rams' success this season?
Simmons: Special teams has been huge. The Rams have scored three touchdowns off of special teams plays this season—two punt blocks and a kick return. And when a club gets that kind of lift from its special teams unit, that can often be the difference in a game.
One special teams element that's different from when the Rams and Seahawks met in Week 5 is that L.A. has Pharoh Cooper returning both kicks and punts now. With Tavon Austin having some trouble fielding punts cleanly—he did muff one against Seattle in that contest—Cooper got an opportunity and has made the most of it. He's had a return of at least 20 yards in four games this year. And that has certainly helped set up the Rams with good field position to score points.
Q: L.A.'s two lowest-scoring games this season came in losses in which Todd Gurley was held in check. Maybe this is a causation vs. correlation scenario, but how important is getting Gurley going for this offense?
Simmons: To me, it's been fair to say that the offense has run through Gurley all year. That's pretty clear since he's No. 2 in yards from scrimmage and is No. 3 in yards rushing. If he's on, usually the Rams are going to have a pretty good day offensively.
But I think part of the reason why L.A. is scoring 30.5 points per game is because Gurley isn't the only threat. In the past, that's been the case and Gurley has really shut down—that was the case for much of the 2016 season. Now the Rams have receiving threats like Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, and Sammy Watkins—all of whom can make a big play at any time.
That being said, Gurley's success has clearly been indicative of how the Rams' offense as a whole looks in each game.
Q: The Rams had a season-high five turnovers the last time these teams met. Safe to assume that's an area of emphasis this week, especially on the road and with rain in the forecast?
Simmons: Definitely an area of emphasis. It really has been all year, but especially since that five-giveaway game against Seattle. The Rams really haven't had a game like that since Week 5, which is somewhat of an indicator of how much emphasis has been placed on it.
But McVay also said this week that the Rams have done a bit of work with a wet ball. Quarterback Jared Goff didn't seem too concerned about wet conditions, though, mentioning that the Rams played in the rain against the Giants on the road and were still able to score a lot of points.
That doesn't quite account for the crowd noise, though. And a wet ball plus what is sure to be a raucous crowd will definitely pose challenges for L.A.