GAME OVERVIEW ::
By Mike Johnson >>
- So much of this game’s outlook will depend on the health and availability of Cooper Kupp.
- Seattle’s offense was one of the bigger surprises of 2022 and looks to build on their playoff bid from a year ago.
- The Seahawks may lean heavily on “12” personnel in this game due to their personnel situation and the lack of explosiveness on the other side of the ball.
- Los Angeles will be hoping to keep this game low scoring and ugly to give themselves a chance in the fourth quarter.
- Seattle is most likely to trust their defense and home field to pull out a win against an inferior on-paper opponent, albeit one that they will respect and who knows them very well.
HOW LOS ANGELES WILL TRY TO WIN ::
The Rams are an interesting case study of the effects of the “win now” mentality of sacrificing draft capital and long-term stability in the interest of winning a championship. While they were able to win their Super Bowl two years ago, they had a steep decline last year with a 5-12 record and are once again facing an uphill battle in 2023. The Rams have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and their core offensive players are the aging Matthew Stafford (who has had retirement rumors following him for a few months) and 30-year-old Cooper Kupp, who recently visited a specialist for a second opinion on his hamstring injury that has had him out for a few weeks now.
Obviously, the season is a blank slate, but it’s hard to be very optimistic about the Rams entering this year. Kupp will almost certainly miss this game, but we at least have a sample from the end of last season to see how they will operate without him, as Kupp also missed the last eight games of 2022. During that stretch, the Rams went 2-6 and struggled to find their way offensively, scoring more than 20 points only twice. During the last few weeks of the season, Cam Akers became the focal point of the offense as he averaged over 23 opportunities per game in the last three weeks and played 100% of the snaps in their last game of the season. The buzz in training camp has been that second year running back Kyren Williams will share the load this year by taking a lot of passing game work and maybe mixing in for some early down snaps as well. That usage breakdown will be one of the more interesting storylines to watch early in the year for the Rams to learn how they may approach the season.
Assuming Kupp misses this game, which feels like a near certainty at this point, the Rams are likely to approach the game with a balanced and conservative offensive approach. Given the timing of this Week 1 matchup and the familiarity of their opponent in Seattle, we may see a few gimmicky plays or downfield shots looking to exploit known defensive tendencies, but the Rams best chance of winning this game is not getting into a shootout. Last year without Kupp, Van Jefferson and Tyler Higbee became the top options in a similarly conservative offense. This year, it appears that rookie Puka Nacua and second year diminutive receiver Tutu Atwell will fill the second and third wide receiver roles and both should be busy with Kupp out. Veteran Ben Skowronek should also get some time, although it definitely sounds like his role will be scaled back from what we saw in 2022, as the Rams play the long game by giving reps to the young guys.
Overall, what we are looking at is a “keep it close until the fourth quarter and hope things break right” approach. Akers should get plenty of touches, although his efficiency behind an offensive line that once again projects to be one of the worst in the league has to be in question. Atwell and Williams seem likely to be mixed in for some screens and designed touches in the short areas of the field as creative extensions of the running game. Meanwhile, Higbee, Jefferson, and Nacua are likely the main targets in the intermediate areas of the field. Seattle’s notorious Cover-3 defense along with the conservative approach of the Rams will likely keep them from taking many downfield shots, but when they do it will almost certainly be to Jefferson.