SEAHAWKS // RAMS OVERVIEW
The 4-4 Seahawks are still in the thick of the playoff hunt, but after a Week 9 loss to the Chargers, Seattle enters the second half with games lined up against the Rams, Packers, Panthers, Vikings, and Chiefs before the season ends — a gauntlet of opponents through which the Seahawks can likely afford only two losses. This will be a big game for them, against an 8-1 Rams team that is coming off a disappointing, hard-fought road loss to the Saints. After this game, the Rams travel to Mexico City to take on the Chiefs on Monday Night Football before finally going on bye. When these teams met in Seattle earlier in the year, the Seahawks leaned heavily on the run en route to a close 31-33 loss.
Of course, “leaning on the run” is a big part of what Seattle does, as they rank last in the NFL in pass play rate, with Russell Wilson topping 26 pass attempts last week for the first time in a month and a half. Watch for the Seahawks to once again attempt to take this approach against a Rams team that ranks 24th in yards allowed per carry (when these teams last met, Russ threw only 21 times) — though the Rams will obviously have potential to jolt Seattle out of this approach with a quick, early lead.
Each of these teams ranks top 10 in time of possession, and each ranks top three in fewest opponent plays allowed per game. Along with the low opponent plays, the Rams rank only 12th in plays per game on offense and the Seahawks rank 20th, as the run-leaning nature of both offenses (the Rams rank 30th in pass play rate) leads to time melting off the clock throughout the game. This projects to be a fairly low-volume spot as a whole, which will lead to “efficiency” being key on either side of the ball.
SEAHAWKS RUN OFFENSE
The breakdown of the Seahawks’ run offense is extremely straightforward at this point, as Seattle is essentially giving around 20 carries to their lead back and around 10 carries to their number two back every single week. Last week, Chris Carson was a game-time decision with his hip injury, and then he left after only 10 snaps with an aggravation of the injury (incredibly, Carson had eight carries — and 40 yards — on those 10 snaps before exiting). In his place, Mike Davis added 15 carries and a surprising eight targets (seven catches for 45 yards), while Rashaad Penny filled out the backfield with four carries and three catches of his own.
While the Seahawks are likely to eventually be chased from their run-heavy approach in this game, this team should remain run-focused for as long as this is at least a two-score game — with Seattle only likely to turn pass-heavy if A) they fall behind by three scores, or B) they are still behind by two scores deep into the fourth quarter. It is worth pointing out that the volume spike for Russ last week came in a game in which Seattle ran an uncharacteristic 81 plays. This team has averaged only 62.5 plays per game, and the Rams are allowing a league low 58.3 plays per game.
If Carson plays this week, he should once again factor in for around 20 carries. If he misses, Davis will take over the backfield lead — pushing for 20 carries and adding a couple receptions along the way. The Rams rank 24th in yards allowed per carry, giving some hope to whichever back gets the start.
SEAHAWKS PASS OFFENSE
Lazy analysis here would say that the Rams will score a bunch of points and force the Seahawks to the air, but Seattle has leaned run-heavy even when trailing, recognizing that it’s no trouble to overcome a 10 or 14 point deficit with a standard approach, as long as there is time on the clock. Seattle will stick with a run-leaning approach for as long as they can, and with this team likely to run more like 60 plays than the 81 they ran last week, it seems unlikely yet again that big volume piles up.
Russ has failed to top even 248 passing yards since Week 1 — though on a more encouraging note, he has played extremely well this year, tossing at least two touchdown passes in all but one game on the season, while pairing his 18 passing touchdowns on the year with only five interceptions. He has also added recent carry counts of 6 // 2 // 5, creating a bit more upside than he was showing earlier in the year.
Since Doug Baldwin returned to the field for the Seahawks in Week 4, target counts on this team have looked like this:
:: Doug Baldwin — 7 // 1 // 8 // 3 // 4
:: Tyler Lockett — 6 // 4 // 4 // 2 // 4
:: David Moore — 2 // 4 // 3 // 4 // 7
:: Jaron Brown — 0 // 0 // 1 // 0 // 2
:: Nick Vannett — 2 // 4 // DNP // 3 // 8
A bet on this passing attack is likely a bet on the Rams jumping out to a big, early lead — so if rostering one of these guys, you should complete the play with one or two pieces on the Rams.
Lockett continues to operate as the big-play threat on this team, while Moore has piled up five red zone targets (and three red zone touchdowns) on his limited looks. Baldwin’s knee issue does not appear to be impacting his play in a significant way, but he will obviously need the Seahawks to become more aggressive through the air in order to attain bankable value.
Last week marked the first time Jared Goff has topped 36 pass attempts in a game this year, as the Rams were forced to get aggressive while chasing the Saints. Goff has produced 33 or fewer pass attempts in six of his nine games, and a matchup against a slow-paced, run-heavy Seahawks team — in a game the Rams should ultimately control — should land him in that lower end of his range once again.
Seattle has forced the fifth lowest aDOT in the league this year, but they are allowing a league-average catch rate, and they have had several lapses on the back end that have led to them allowing the fifth highest YAC/R rate in the league. The Seahawks have allowed four receivers to crack 100 yards against them this year, with Emmanuel Sanders doing so in Week 1 off of YAC, with Allen Robinson getting there in Week 2 off of volume, with Marvin Jones getting there in Week 8 off of a couple big downfield receptions, and with Keenan Allen getting there in Week 9 with a sick double-move that freed him for a big gain on third and long. This is ultimately an above-average secondary, but not to such an extent that we should significantly downgrade this elite passing attack. The bigger issue in this spot is that Kupp, Cooks, and Woods could all have arguments made for them as the top play in this attack this week; and given that volume projects to be below-average and the Seahawks do not project to turn this into a back-and-forth, quick-strike shootout, we will probably see only one of these guys produce a truly strong box score.
Target counts in games that each of these three has played from start to finish look like this:
Cooks is the best bet for a big play, and he quietly trails Kupp in red zone targets by only one (11 to 10).
Kupp theoretically has the lowest-upside role, but his ability to turn short passes into big gains and his locked-in red zone role give him plenty of upside.
Woods has not popped off recently, and he has half as many red zone targets (five) as the other two, but the targets are still there, and Woods can typically be counted on for at least one carry as well.
Speaking of targets: Todd Gurley has seen exactly five to seven targets in all but one game this season (a three-target outlier in Week 2, when he scored three quick touchdowns against Arizona before giving way to Malcolm Brown for 12 garbage time carries). Gurley posted his lowest fantasy output of the season last week against the top-ranked run defense of the Saints — but even that game produced what would be considered a strong output for most players in the league, and that game would have looked quite a bit different if it had been Gurley instead of Brown who scored the second running back touchdown. Gurley has recent touch counts (starting with his last game against Seattle) of 26 // 30 // 19 // 31 // 19, with a red zone role that essentially doubles what any other player in the league has. When these teams played in Week 5, the Seahawks held Gurley to only 3.5 yards per carry, but he still produced a 5-36-0 line through the air and added three touchdowns on the ground. Gurley remains the top raw-projected play on the slate.
The Seahawks have been more willing to throw the ball to Mike Davis this year than to Chris Carson (Carson has played 210 snaps but run only 63 pass routes, while Davis has played 191 snaps and run 99 pass routes), and this effectively makes Davis a more “game flow independent” lead back. If Carson plays this week, I’ll likely have interest in neither guy. But if Carson sits and Davis takes over the lead back role, he’ll be an interesting piece to consider, as he’ll be in line for around 20 touches — with two or three catches if the game stays close, and with a few more catches if the Rams take a big lead.
Elsewhere on Seattle, I would have a tough time chasing anything, as this team has simply produced far too little volume for anyone to stand out. It won’t be surprising if Russ posts another solid game, and he can probably support one of his pass catchers, but there are certainly plays in other spots on the slate that require less “hope and pray” than this.
On the Rams’ side, Gurley is always in play, and he should be in line for a strong Sunday once again. In the passing attack, all three of Cooks, Woods, and Kupp are in play — though this means that none of them become “must plays,” for me, as it could be a bit of a guessing game as to who will produce the biggest box score. I’ll be adding all three to my list and trying to find something during the second half of the week that allows one of them to stand apart from the others.