The Seahawks (3-1) host the Los Angeles Rams (3-1) at CenturyLink Field, a big early-season test for two NFC West contenders. To learn more about Seattle's Week 5 opponent, we reached out to therams.com staff writer Stu Jackson, who answered five questions about the defending NFC champs.
Q: How have the Rams bounced back from a wild loss to Tampa on Sunday? Is this a case of a team welcoming a short week to move on from that game?
Jackson: I'd say that's very much the case. Though it's a short turnaround, Rams head coach Sean McVay called it a "blessing" because despite the condensed week, it forces them to move on quickly and turn their attention toward their first divisional game of the season.
Q: Jared Goff's numbers obviously aren't bad by any means, but they're not quite up to the standard he set the previous two years under Sean McVay. Is there anything concerning going on or do the Rams feel like this is just a minor blip on the radar?
Jackson: It's just a minor blip, and an inexperienced offensive line is partially to blame.
Rams run game coordinator Aaron Kromer, who also coaches the group, at the beginning of the season said it would be a work in progress, and it wasn't hard to see why with a new starting left guard (Joe Noteboom) and starting center (Brian Allen). Both players saw snaps as rookies last year but in a reserve capacity, backing up Rodger Saffold, who signed with the Titans this offseason, and John Sullivan, who wasn't re-signed by the club this offseason, respectively. In other words, they entered their second seasons placed into starting roles without having made a start in the NFL before.
Goff's numbers should improve as the offensive line gains more experience, giving him more time to throw and less pressure from opposing pass rushes to face. At the same time, it's up to him to make the correct reads and smart throws with the time he does have.
Q: The Rams went from allowing a league-worst 5.1 yards per carry to being a top 10 defense in that category four games into this season, allowing 3.8 yards per carry. What has gone into improving the run defense, and how much does that unit feel like this game is a measuring stick after allowing 463 rushing yards to Seattle in two games last year?
Jackson: Last year's mid-season trade for OLB Dante Fowler has likely played an underrated role in that. While Fowler mainly has a reputation as a pass rusher, defensive coordinator Wade Phillips recently said Fowler doesn't get enough credit for his contributions to the Rams' run defense.
Additionally, though DT Aaron Donald hasn't gotten to the quarterback at the rate most fans would expect, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year currently grades out by Pro Football Focus as the No. 1 interior defensive lineman against the run. So between Fowler and Donald, it starts mainly up front.
An argument could also be made that safety Eric Weddle has played a role in the improvement. Prior to joining the Rams, he was part of a Ravens defense in 2018 that allowed the fourth-fewest rushing yards per game in the NFL. Weddle is also the Rams' leading tackler.
While there hasn't been talk of this being a "measuring stick" game, several of the Rams defensive players are very aware of the Seahawks' rushing attack and the emphasis placed on it.
Q: Cooper Kupp is off to a great start, how important has the Eastern Washington University product become for Goff and the Rams offense?
Jackson: He's the Rams leading receiver with 32 catches for 388 yards and three touchdowns, and on top of that, an argument could made he is Goff's favorite target even though Goff likes to spread the ball around to his receivers. Kupp has seen a team-high 46 targets through the first four weeks, a number that also ranks second in the league per the NFL's Next Gen Stats.
Josh Reynolds filled in capably for Kupp last year, but Kupp's ability to get yards after the catch is what makes him most valuable to L.A.'s offense.
Q: Should Seahawks fans be encouraged by the fact that Aaron Donald only has one sack in four games, or concerned that he's due for a breakout game?
Jackson: Good question. I think they should be concerned, but not for fear of a breakout game.
Yes, Donald has enjoyed individual success statistically against the Seahawks – in 10 games, he's collected 46 total tackles (17 for loss), 10.5 sacks and two forced fumbles – but the increased attention he's receiving is opening things up for DT Sebastian Joseph-Day and DL Michael Brockers, as well as Fowler and OLB Clay Matthews when it comes to the pass rush.
Given the numbers Donald has posted against Seattle in his first five seasons, it wouldn't be surprising to see a breakout game. But again, what Seahawks fans should be watching more closely for is who's left open as a result of Donald getting double-teamed or triple-teamed – assuming Seattle's offensive line tries what others have done through the first four weeks of the season.
The Seahawks and the Rams will meet at Lumen Field for the Wild Card round of the 2020 playoffs on Saturday, January 9 at 1:40 p.m. PT. Take a look back at photos from past games between the two teams.