Insiders

TNF Takeaways: Seattle Still A Force at Home, Rams Still A Mess Sans Fisher

on

It’s been a foregone conclusion for weeks now, but Thursday it became official, the Seattle Seahawks are the NFC West champions for 2016 and will be headed to the postseason for a fifth straight season.

Seattle kicked off Week 15 by becoming just the second NFL team to clinch a playoff spot and the first to clinch a division crown. That they were in position to do that had as much to do with the weakness of their division as it did with their own strength, and both were on full display Thursday night at CenturyLink Field. The Seahawks wiped the floor with a Los Angeles Rams team that had topped Seattle in each of their previous meetings. This time, there was none of that as the Hawks beat the Rams 24-3 in a game that wasn’t even that close.

Over the course of the evening, the Seattle defense limited Los Angeles to just 183 total yards, had rookie quarterback Jared Goff flustered all night and halted LA’s rushing attack, keeping Todd Gurley to just 38 yards on the ground. The Seahawks had their own problems on the ground, with the Rams rush defense limiting Thomas Rawls to just 34 yards on 21 carries, a staggering 1.6 yards per carry average. But after one of the worst weeks of his career, Russell Wilson carried the Seattle offense by playing at his absolute best on Thursday night. The Seahawks quarterback picked apart the Los Angeles defense all night, passing for 229 yards and three touchdowns. It was one of those epic Wilson performances that, combined with the stoutness of their defense, make Seattle a dangerous team come playoff time.

The Seahawks had their own problems on the ground, with the Rams rush defense limiting Thomas Rawls to just 34 yards on 21 carries, a staggering 1.6 yards per carry average. But after one of the worst weeks of his career, Russell Wilson carried the Seattle offense by playing at his absolute best on Thursday night. The Seahawks quarterback picked apart the Los Angeles defense all night, passing for 229 yards and three touchdowns. It was one of those Wilson performances that, combined with the stoutness of their defense, makes Seattle a dangerous team come playoff time.

“We always have great confidence, I don’t think it’s just winning this game or even losing a tough one sometimes,” Wilson told NBC’s Heather Cox after the game. “We have great confidence because of how we prepare. I think that coach really gets us prepared. All of us players, we’re dedicated to the game and we can continue to be better. That’s the great thing. I can continue to be better. It starts there and then we just continue to grow. We’ve got a lot of great things happening. Obviously, it’s a check mark to win the NFC West, but there’s a lot more to get out of it. Every game counts, and we’ve got to go prove ourselves.”

Regardless of the opponent, Seattle did that on Thursday night, with another impressive bounceback, after a deflating 38-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers just four days earlier, and marked the second time in three weeks that Seattle had a dominant rebound effort in front of a national television audience. Previously they followed up a woeful 14-5 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 12 with a 40-7 demolition of the Carolina Panthers on Sunday Night Football in Week 13. The other common denominator in those games is, of course, Seattle’s home field advantage, the best in the league.

The Seahawks are now 7-0 at home this season, accounting for all but two of their nine wins. After a blip last year, when they went 5-3 at home, Seattle is back to dominating at CenturyLink. Over the last five seasons, the Seahawks are now 38-5 on their home field, where they’ll get to host at least one game this postseason. That’s bad news for the rest of the NFC, as Seattle has not lost a home playoff game since 2005, going 9-0 in that span of more than a decade.

But there is also something to be said for the way that this Seahawks squad manages to pump themselves up to play their best in the biggest games, in primetime. After all, one of their only two wins away from CenturyLink Field this season was a Sunday night win over the New England Patriots, who appear by all accounts to be the best team in the league this season. Seattle is 4-0-1 this season in nationally televised games, with only a crazy tie with the Arizona Cardinals keeping them from primetime perfection as well.

As a team that’s now in its fifth straight season of title contention, it’s not hard to believe that there might be some letdown when all the lights aren’t on for a game. But the Seahawks have proven time and again they can bring it in a big way when it matters, and that, coupled with postseason experience the likes of which only New England can boast equally, is going to make Seattle a dangerous team in January. Because of the flaws in their team, which include myriad injuries on defense, an unstable offensive line, and a sporadically successful running game, the Seahawks as beatable as they’ve been in the last five years. But by no means should any opponent take them for granted. That’s a recipe for a blowout loss.

A LOT TO LEARN FOR LA

While the Seahawks were cake-walking to a division crown, the Los Angeles Rams were continuing to find out just what it is they have as they attempt to piece together a plan for the future of the franchise with a whole new regime in place next season.

That plan must begin with Jared Goff, who continues to struggle in his rookie year after being handled with kid gloves early in the season. Perhaps his mid-late season growing pains are proof the Rams should have thrown him into the fire sooner so that he could have the entire season to grow and adapt. But that was never going to happen with a lame duck coach whose job was on the line every game. Goff is in the fire now, and the hope is that with that pressure of performing for Fisher’s job off him, he can put together a season-ending run that provides confidence heading into 2017.

He wasn’t able to do that on Thursday night, but given the chaos around the Rams this week as they prepared to play one of the league’s best defenses on a short week, perhaps he can be excused. Los Angeles closes the season with home games against the 49ers, a game they need to win, and the Cardinals, whose defense will provide a good season-ending test for Goff.

But one thing the Rams must already know is that for Goff to be much better, the talent around him has to be as well. That starts up front where their offensive line can’t pass protect and can block for the run. Last year’s first-round pick Todd Gurley has had a sophomore season to forget and it’s hard to pin much of it on the running back when he’s getting swallowed up in the backfield before he can make a move. Los Angeles must figure out a way to bring back the version of Gurley that ended his rookie season looking like one of the best running backs in the league. It’s vital for their offense.

The Rams defense was stout against the run on Thursday night, just completely taking Rawls and the Seattle ground attack out of the came, as hard as the Seahawks tried to utilize it. But their pass defense still leaves a lot to be desired. They’ve struggled to get pressure on the quarterback all season and it’s hard to fathom what’s happened to Robert Quinn and Michael Brockers, who were supposed to be building blocks of a stout defensive line. Only Aaron Donald is living up to the billing up front at this point. Things aren’t much better on the backend, as Wilson exposed time and time again on Thursday night, finding open receivers down the field in critical situations and they miss Janoris Jenkins and Rodney McLeod more and more every week. What was a strength last year, when the Rams had a Top 10 pass defense, has quickly become a weakness in need of an overhaul. They have to hope a new defensive system can provide a boost there.

Unfortunately for the Rams, the massive haul they gave up to move up for Goff leaves them with just five picks in the upcoming draft, the first of which does not come until the second round. So the start of a turnaround is going to rely heavily on the talent in place and how whoever they pick to head a new regime handles that talent. Making the right decision on a new coaching staff is absolutely imperative for a franchise in a new market just two years out from the opening of a brand new stadium. With so much invested in this squad, they simply can’t afford to get this one wrong.


About Devon Jeffreys

Devon Jeffreys