There is a significant amount of hype surrounding Seattle's Week 2 game at Los Angeles. It's the Rams' first home game since relocation from St. Louis, and Pete Carroll will be coaching in the Coliseum for the first time since he left USC to become the Seahawks' head coach following the 2009 season. But none of that will matter once the game begins, and even if the Rams are coming off a 28-0 loss to San Francisco in their opener, the Seahawks know they'll have their hands full on Sunday.
Since Jeff Fisher took over as the head coach of the Rams in 2012, the Seahawks are 4-4 against them, including six games settled by a one-score margin. The Rams have also won three of the last four in the series.
"We have a lot of respect for this team," Carroll said. "We've had them in the division for all these years and we know how difficult they are… This is a really difficult team, and for whatever reason the 49ers had their way in the first game, but these guys were 4-2 in the division last year and we know that. We've had difficult games with them because they are tough to handle. We have a lot of respect for them and we're not going to miss that at all."
Here are three key matchups in what figures to be another closely-contested contest between the Seahawks and Rams:
1. A talented Rams defensive line vs. Seattle's offensive line.
The Seahawks offense came through when it mattered most last week, putting together a game-winning 75-yard touchdown drive in the final minutes of the game, but for much of the afternoon, it was tough sledding against a Dolphins defense that features one of the league's most talented lines. The qualifier "one of" is necessary, because when it comes to debating the NFL's best defensive lines, the Rams also have to be in that conversation.
"They match up really well against us," offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell said. "In the past they've just had a nice game plan. Their front seven is very strong, starting with (Aaron) Donald. He's one of the premier three-techniques in the league. (Robert) Quinn coming off the edge, one of the premier pass rushers—they just have great players across the board. There's things that obviously we need to take care of and that we can do a better job in helping our own selves. It's a great team that we play, a great defensive team that we play. They also have a good scheme. I think (defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams has always done a great job, so it's a battle."
The Seahawks are expected to J'Marcus Webb at right guard again if Germain Ifedi doesn't make it back from an ankle injury, and an extra week practicing at guard should help Webb after he spent all of training camp and the preseason at tackle before making the switch last week to replace Ifedi. But while Webb figures to be better, it's on everyone, not just one player, to hold up against a line that is more than capable of wrecking a game plan.
"They're really gifted," Carroll said. "They've got guys in all their spots and they've got backups that can run and rush too. Their linebackers are faster than they've been in years past and more athletic. They just cause problems. There's no one person that's going to feel the brunt of that. It's going to be the whole group and we've got to do a nice job."
Dating back to 2012, the Rams have sacked Russell Wilson 35 times, an average of more than four per game, but Wilson has the utmost faith in his line while still respecting the Rams line.
"Their personnel is really talented, you have to give them credit," Wilson said. "Aaron is one of the best defensive linemen there is in the National Football League. You've got Quinn over there as well, both of those guys are great pass rushers, they're physical. (Michael) Brockers makes a lot of plays, (Eugene) Sims is a good player, too, a really good player. There's just so many guys that come in and out for them, that's one of the things that's a strength for them. I'm looking forward to our offensive line going against their defensive line. It's going to be a great matchup. Our offensive line has been doing a really good job so far. They're really strong and stout. It's going to be an exciting game. That's where most games are won, upfront, offensive line and defensive line. You got to do a great job upfront and we'll see what happens."
Offensive line coach Tom Cable said his line's play was only OK for the most part, though he was happier with center Justin Britt and left guard Mark Glowinski, and Cable's players agree they can be better this week than they were against the Dolphins.
"We have a lot of room to grow," Glowinski said. "A lot of it is us growing communication-wise. Every week there's something new, and we're starting to get to the point where we don't need to over-communicate, everything's starting to fit in. Even that little grunt or some sound you make, the guy next to you knows what's going on. I feel like we're building each week."
2. Rams running back Todd Gurley vs. the Seahawks front seven.
One reason the 49ers were able to stymie the Rams offense in Week 1 is that they held Pro Bowl running back Todd Gurley to just 47 yards on 17 carries, making Los Angeles' offense one-dimensional and putting the Rams in a lot of unfavorable down-and-distance situations.
Gurley, who rushed for 1,106 yards as a rookie despite missing three games, rushed for 128 yards or more in five games last season, and it's no coincidence that the Rams won four of those games. Gurley also gained 83 yards on 19 carries in a win over the Seahawks late last season, a solid outing considering the Seahawks led the NFL in run defense in 2015. Stopping Gurley doesn't guarantee success, but it would certainly help.
"You have to put a lot of hats on him," defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. "It's going to be all 11 men out there playing run defense, that's really what it comes down to."
And regardless of how things go early, the Seahawks fully expect to see a steady dose of Gurley throughout the game, as well as plenty of touches for dynamic receiver Tavon Austin.
"They're going to try to get (Gurley) going and they'll try to get the ball in Tavon Austin's hands a lot more too, so we know the offense really focuses on those two guys," linebacker K.J. Wright said. "Like ever week, we've got to stop (the run) and make them one-dimensional."
3. Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin vs. the Rams secondary.
After finishing the 2015 season on fire, Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin looks to be picking up right where he left off this season, having caught nine passes for a team-high 92 yards and the game-winning touchdown last week. Wilson-to-Baldwin will be a tough matchup for any opposing defense for years to come, but it's one to watch this week in particular because the Rams are coming off of a loss in which San Francisco's Jeremy Kerley was his team's leading receiver only two weeks after coming to the 49ers in a trade. Kerley, like Baldwin, is most dangerous in the slot, and if a player new to his team can have success against the Rams in that role, it stands to reason that a receiver and quarterback who have been building chemistry for four-plus seasons might also be able to exploit some favorable matchups.
"Doug really causes a lot of problems for a lot of people," Wilson said. "Anytime that we can find that match up, we're looking for it. Doug seems to get open a lot, which is a good thing for us. All the other guys do too as well. We want to be in attack mode. We want to be able to make those plays and make those situations in a positive light for us and a good situation for us. Doug finds that a lot of the time."