Tuesday afternoon football is on the docket at SoFi Stadium as the Seattle Seahawks will meet the Los Angeles Rams for the second time this season. The game was scheduled for Sunday but moved to Tuesday due to Los Angeles' issues with a significant outbreak as 25 players (from the active roster and practice squad) were on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as of Saturday afternoon.
The Rams (9-4) are looking for a season sweep against the Seahawks (5-8) after winning 26-16 in Seattle back in Week 5. That loss by Seattle was the turning point of the season as Russell Wilson suffered a finger injury and missed the next three games.
The Lone Star State was kind to the Seahawks as they methodically beat the Houston Texans 33-13 last Sunday. It was not a perfect game for Seattle by any means — they did allow rookie Davis Mills to throw for 331 yards. However, the defense stepped up when it counted the most and limited Houston to just six points over the final 56 minutes of the game. The offensive line had a strong performance as Seattle was able to run for 193 yards, led by Rashaad Penny, who rushed for a career-high 137 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson completed 17 of 28 passes for 260 yards and two touchdowns and connected with Tyler Lockett on the deep ball to the tune of five passes for 142 yards and a touchdown. The third-down issues that have plagued this team all long were non-existent, as the Seahawks converted seven of 13 opportunities in the game.
Los Angeles picked up its second win of the season against a team with a winning record by outlasting Arizona 30-23 on Monday night. The victory also trimmed the Cardinals' lead in the NFC West to just one game. Matthew Stafford completed 23 of 30 passes for 287 yards and three touchdowns. Cooper Kupp had 13 receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown as he continues in his quest to win the receiving triple crown (lead the NFL in receptions, yards and touchdowns). Aaron Donald put an exclamation point on the victory by recording his third sack of Kyler Murray on the final play of the game. The defense won the turnover battle and made enough plays to limit the Cardinals' high-powered offense, which is impressive considering All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey was unavailable after testing positive for COVID-19. Los Angeles will probably have to deal with even more adversity on Tuesday with so many players in COVID protocols.
Seattle (5-8) at Los Angeles (9-4)
Kickoff: Tuesday, Dec. 21 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Rams -6.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Seahawks' balance on offense
Seattle's recipe for success this week will require some semblance of balance on offense. In the first meeting back in Week 5, the Seahawks had 262 total yards and only 92 rushing yards, led by Alex Collins. The total yardage needs to go up around the 350-yard mark if they are going to pull off the upset. Penny needs to see the ball at least 20 times, and the free-agent-to-be has a lot to play for in these final few games. Penny is averaging five yards a carry this season on 43 attempts, and his ability to run the ball effectively will give the offense a huge boost this week if he can grind out around 80 yards.
As for the passing game, it starts with Wilson and his ability to avoid unnecessary negative plays. DK Metcalf must receive several early targets from Wilson as well, as there is nothing to lose by doing so. Metcalf caught five passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns during the first meeting between these two teams but has just 17 catches for 173 yards over his five games since the team's Week 9 bye. It's all about attacking the Rams' secondary, especially if Ramsey doesn't play again this week. Collins' and leading receiver Tyler Lockett's availability also is in question as both are currently on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
2. Will the Rams' offense keep up its momentum?
It will be critical for the Los Angeles offense to keep the foot on the gas and build upon a strong performance on Monday night. When Sean McVay's offense is at its best, the Rams beat people with a balanced mix of run and pass. Sony Michel gave the Rams enough on the ground to keep an aggressive Cardinals defense at bay as he rushed for 79 yards on 20 carries. And the running game could get a boost with Darrell Henderson Jr. removed from the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Saturday. Henderson has been sidelined by a thigh injury the last couple of weeks but his return would give head coach Sean McVay two viable backfield options at his disposal to use to loosen up the Seahawks' defense.
Once that happens, Stafford can advantage of the Seattle secondary by spreading the ball around. Kupp is the No. 1 target but that's no secret and he's still tough to contain (see Monday night vs. Arizona). Odell Beckham Jr. seems to be settling into the offense and he also was removed from the COVID list on Saturday. Van Jefferson (16.6 ypr, 6 TDs) provides Stafford with another option, which is important with starting tight end Tyler Higbee still in COVID protocols.
Execution on third down also needs to be a point of emphasis for the Rams after going just 2-for-10 in the first matchup with the Seahawks. Prolonged drives will not only help wear down Seattle's defense, but it also will keep Wilson and company off of the field, giving Los Angeles' own defense a breather.
3. Which defense is going to step up?
Los Angeles did an excellent job of swinging the momentum against Arizona by forcing Murray to throw a pair of interceptions. The Rams also made Murray's life miserable all night long as they registered four sacks and six quarterback hits. This formula of four sacks and six quarterback hits should work again if they replicate that against Russell Wilson. The key could be stamina, however, as 12 Los Angeles defenders are on the Reserve/COVID-19 list as of Saturday, including the aforementioned Ramsey as well as linebacker Von Miller and safety Jordan Fuller. Depth is very much a concern for defensive coordinator Raheem Morris.
Seattle will have the task of getting off the field against a dynamic Los Angeles offense that can light up the scoreboard when everyone is in rhythm. The Seahawks also need to get big plays from improving players like Darrell Taylor and Jordyn Brooks alongside Bobby Wagner, who has been consistently strong for the most part in 2021. Red zone defense is always important, and this week the Seahawks must force as many field goals as possible to stay in this game.
The atmosphere in SoFi Stadium will be something to watch at the start of this game. With a 4 p.m. kickoff local time, the traffic for fans going to the game should be adventurous. A subdued crowd at the start of the game could benefit the Seahawks, especially if they start fast.
The other key for this game is the COVID-19 situation. The Rams have been hit far worse than Seattle but the visitors could be without two key offensive weapons. Regardless of the disparity, the game must (eventually) go on. As Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said on Friday about the circumstances, "I can't do anything about that. I just wish nobody was getting sick."
Barring a wave of last-minute clearances for Los Angeles, the home team will be at a personnel disadvantage and that could keep the game closer than expected. However, the Rams still have enough star power on their depleted roster to get the job done. In the end, the combination of Stafford and Kupp will decide this one as the dynamic duo will connect on a couple of big plays in the fourth quarter to seal a hard-fought victory.