The NFL returns to Los Angeles on Sunday with a game that counts as the Seattle Seahawks head down to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to take on the Los Angeles Rams. The Seahawks had to battle to the bitter end last week at home against the Miami Dolphins as it took a late touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin to secure a 12-10 victory. It was a bit of a disjointed performance, as the defense limited the Dolphins to 214 total yards and controlled the line of scrimmage. The offense, however, was hindered by too many penalties and breakdowns in protection, much to the dismay of the Seattle fans. After getting stepped on by Ndamukong Suh, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson was not the same, as he basically hobbled his way to the game-winning drive. Thus, there is plenty of concern about the ability of this offensive line and its ability to keep Wilson on the field for all 16 games.
Los Angeles had about as ugly of a season opener as humanly possible in a 28-0 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. The Rams’ inability to get Todd Gurley going on the ground put the offense in a bad spot right away. Case Keenum was very ineffective as Los Angeles punted 10 times and managed just 130 yards passing. The lack of discipline, which is a trademark of a Jeff Fisher-coached team, also was on display when Aaron Donald was ejected for grabbing Quinton Patton by the neck and bumping an official.
Seattle at Los Angeles
Kickoff: Sunday, Sept. 8 at 4:05 p.m. ET
TV Channel: FOX
Spread: Seattle -3.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Pete Carroll returns to Los Angeles
Carroll was the architect of USC’s rise back to national prominence in college football in the 2000s. It is going to be fascinating to see if Carroll can stay disciplined within his decision-making all game long. If Carroll can avoid going hormonal and not get out-coached by Jeff Fisher, especially in the kicking game, that will be a big plus for Seattle, which has had its issues with the Rams in recent seasons. It also will be interesting to see how aggressively the Seahawks try to attack Los Angeles offensively as the Rams will be amped up for this first game back in Los Angeles. The ability of Carroll and his staff to take advantage of an emotional Rams squad will likely dictate the outcome of this game. If Carroll doesn’t let coordinators Darrell Bevell and Kris Richard loose on both sides of the ball, then Seattle will be at risk of losing if Los Angeles is able to hang around.
2. Todd Gurley vs. Seahawks Defense
After running for just 47 yards on 17 carries on Monday night, look for Los Angeles’ game plan to feature Gurley early and often. Even if Gurley averages about three yards a carry early, the Rams will be banking on him wearing down the Seattle defense as the game progresses. Gurley also will have the added pressure of needing to back up his guarantee of a victory that he made on Friday after practice. There is no question that Gurley is very talented but he can’t beat the Seahawks by himself and will need a fantastic effort from his offensive line in order for his guarantee to come true.
3. Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ passing game
With Wilson expected to play on Sunday despite dealing with an ankle injury, pass protection will be of critical importance on Sunday. When he does drop pack to pass, Wilson will likely look for Doug Baldwin early and often. Baldwin, who caught nine passes for 92 yards and a touchdown against Miami, and should be able to take advantage of a Rams secondary that the 49ers had success against on Monday night. Wilson and Baldwin are quickly becoming one of the more dynamic quarterback-wide receiver combinations in the NFL, so when the two are clicking together it usually means good things for the Seahawks. Wilson certainly can’t afford to take too many unnecessary sacks against Los Angeles, especially with a tender ankle, and also will need to avoid throwing a costly interception at the wrong time that could swing field position in the favor of the home team.
Logic would dictate that based off the performances in Week 1 by both offenses that the first team to 10 points will win on Sunday. However, the beauty of the NFL is that things can change very quickly from week to week. The Rams have played the Seahawks very tough over the last few seasons and with this being the first game back in Los Angeles, the home team will likely come out with their hair on fire early looking to make a statement and get the crowd fired up. In order for Seattle to get the win on Sunday, Pete Carroll’s team will need to play smart and survive the early wave of emotion. It would behoove the Seahawks to jump out to an early lead, otherwise a grind-it-out game could favor the Rams and result in an upset to help kick off the new era of professional football in Southern California. Don’t be surprised if this ends up being a hotly contested battle for 60 minutes, but in the end the Seahawks will make enough plays to scratch out another second straight narrow win to open the season.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, Rams 13
— Written by Scott Whittum, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and also writes for College Sports Madness, covering college football, basketball, softball and baseball. Follow Scott on Twitter @ScottWhittum.