The Seahawks head to Los Angeles next week to face the Rams in a game that was postponed to Tuesday. Seattle will be facing a team fresh off an impressive win over the NFC West-leading Cardinals, but a team also dealing with a significant number of COVID-19 cases. To learn more about what's going on this week with the Rams, Seahawks.com reached out to Jourdan Rodrigue of The Athletic with five questions about Seattle's Week 15 opponent:
Realizing that we won't know until the end of the week who is and isn't available, how are all the COVID-19 absences affecting the team's preparation this week regardless of who is/isn't cleared by Sunday?
Rodrigue: It's been a chaotic week for the Rams, really going back to last weekend when the first few designations to the reserve/COVID-19 list began to pop up. Over the weekend ahead of their game against Arizona, and including the morning of the game, they lost five starters or key role-players and by Friday afternoon of this week, that list was up to 29 players with several of them starters or key role-players. They were intensive protocols and working virtually through the start of the week and, as of Thursday afternoon, even on-field work is extremely limited. It's never ideal when a team can't get some actual practices in together ahead of an important game.
After three straight losses in November, what did getting that impressive win at Arizona do for the Rams' confidence heading into the closing stretch of the season?
Rodrigue: While some would call the win against Jacksonville the week before a "get-right" game, my opinion is that the Cardinals game was reallythat for Los Angeles. That's absolutely no disrespect meant toward Arizona, a really good team who was obviously rolling at the time - it's just that the Rams had to prove to themselves that they could still compete among the best in the NFL, especially after such a bleak November. It wasn't just the win, it was the way they won - shorthanded several starters, yet with a balanced offensive attack and an assertive defensive plan that stayed the course even without some of their best players.
Monday's performance looked like one of Matt Stafford's best games since joining the Rams, what went into his performance after some rocky games in recent losses?
Rodrigue: First of all, he played clean ball after three November losses that each featured a pick-6 among other turnovers. That was crucial, of course, but it certainly undersells the level of throws Stafford made at times against the Cardinals - some that defied logic, like a 17-yard slice on third down to Odell Beckham Jr. or that red zone touchdown to Cooper Kupp. Stafford clearly came into that Arizona game with the intent of kicking the door down, and you could see that fire in him after some of those throws. The Rams' plan these last two weeks, led by Sean McVay, offensive coordinator Kevin O'Connell and running backs coach/assistant head coach Thomas Brown, has also married beautifully to what Stafford can do with his arm, eyes and shoulders and is paired with a totally re-designed power run game that now goes through physical downhill back Sony Michel. Michel runs a thread of steadiness throughout the offense even if he's not always the most explosive player - he "falls forward" when he needs to and punches hard, which is not a consistency the Rams' run game previously featured this year. With that, there's a rhythm that also blends with increased usage of play-action and boot-action, pocket movement alongside the pure dropback concepts that McVay had leaned so heavily on in the beginning of the year. McVay is still asking Stafford to be a drop-back passer, and still running a high rate of explosive pass plays out of empty sets and the like, but blending all of the above concepts together more efficiently instead of getting too dependent on one or the other, while also incorporating a steadier run game, has been great for the quarterback, great for the coach and great for the offense as a whole.
Yakima, Washington native Cooper Kupp has been a really good player throughout his NFL career, but what changed this year for him to go from very productive over the past few years to being the league's most prolific pass-catcher in 2021?
Rodrigue: Pairing Kupp with Stafford has honestly exceeded even McVay's high expectations, and as all three workshopped this "new" version of McVay's system entering the season, it was clear when watching Kupp and Stafford communicate before, during and after practices just how much of it would run through all of the things Kupp does well. He excels in creating space, navigating difficult catch windows, creating complex layers within his route concepts that are tough for defenders to track, and can do so effectively out of all seven eligible alignments pre-snap. He's a physical, confident route-runner and blocker who also unlocks much of what the team does in their run game. He's getting open on short, intermediate and deep concepts, and the quarterback is actually getting him the ball on the latter two. And between the three mentioned above, this offense has very much been the product of complete collaboration. At one point in training camp, Kupp was literally bringing new routes he'd workshopped in the offseason to McVay and Stafford and working them into the offensive plan, then they began running them in games.
What are a couple of the matchups you're most looking forward to seeing on Tuesday?
Rodrigue: I'm not trying to be snarky here when I say, I'd just like to see how complete a team the Rams can actually field at this point. It's looking like they will be shorthanded in at least some phases, and so that means young or unproven players will have to really step up. The problem is, nearly their entire rookie class is also on injured reserve.
The Seahawks and Rams face off for the first game of the regular season on Sunday, Nov. 19, 2023. Kickoff is set for 1:25 p.m. PT. Take a look back through history at the Seahawks' matchups against the Rams.