What to Watch is getting a makeover for the 2015-16 season. This will now be a gameday article highlighting a matchup for the day that I feel could be what swings the game, or at least will be entertaining to watch.
This week everyone is talking about the Legion of Boom, and wondering how they will play with Bailey in for Kam and Earl having missed the preseason. However, that is not the DB group that I would be most worried about for this game. As fantastic as St Louis’ D-Line is, they are vulnerable in the secondary and Seattle is better set up to take advantage than they’ve ever been.
Janoris Jenkins and Trumaine Johnson are the starting corners for the Rams. Jenkins is the classic high draft pick, big talent player that hasn’t turned into a star. That being said, he has turned into a solid starting corner. Johnson was a 3rd round pick a few seasons back. He is a big (6’2″) corner who has played well each season and shown himself to be a starting quality player.
Last season Jenkins played in both games against Seattle, allowing 11 catches for 158 yards total with his Week 17 game being one of his worst of the season. He was an equal opportunity victim as 4 different receivers combined to catch 8 passes in Week 17 on him. Johnson missed the Week 7 game, and played well in Week 17 giving up only a single catch for 13 yards and batting a pass. Jenkins is smaller, but faster and Johnson is bigger but less mobile and this results in who they match up on being a key factor to watch.
At Safety the Rams are playing TJ McDonald and Rodney McCleod. McDonald is more the coverage safety than McCleod and he had a couple of rough games against Seattle last year. In Week 7 he gave up 89 yards on 4 receptions, and in Week 17 he gave up a single 28 yard catch to Luke Willson but was helped out by Willson dropping a couple of balls that would have made for an ugly day in coverage.
This unit is going to have to show some improvement, because they were a big part of the Week 17 loss to Seattle and the Week 7 win seemed more in spite of than because of the secondary.
Jermaine Kearse is a bad size matchup for Janoris Jenkins, so one on one down field that is a throw Russel Wilson is likely to make. Doug Baldwin has shown he can sit in and rip apart the Rams in coverage (10 catches for 176 yards in the two games in 2014). Those players are known quantities that are likely to produce the same as they did last year when the season series was split 1-1.
The big changes this year are the addition of Jimmy Graham and the newly appointed WR3 Tyler Lockett. Cooper Helfet and Luke Willson combined for 5 catches and 93 yards in the two games at TE, and that is in spite of Willson’s 2 drops in Week 17. I think we can all agree that Jimmy Graham is a much better receiver than either Willson or Helfet, so you can expect those 3+ targets and 50+ yards a game to represent a minimum level of usage. Graham could end up being a first down machine in this game.
Lockett also appears to be in line for a potential big game in Week 1 as well. Tyler Lockett is likely to take the targets that went to Norwood and Richardson last year and these were two of their better games. Richardson had 9 catches for 93 yards in the game, and Norwood had 3 catches for 38 yards. That would imply there are at least 4 targets that could go to Lockett in the game, and the odds of him making a big play on at least one of those is pretty good. Jenkins matches up well on him on the outside as far as size/speed goes, but Lockett made bigger CBs like Johnson look ridiculous in college routinely (see the UCLA bowl game last year).
This is something of a trap game for Seattle, and this matchup could go a long way in deciding which team will win. Look to see if receivers can get open before the pass rush gets to Russ, and how many first downs are gained through the air. With two good defenses these are often low scoring games, so any big plays that happen here could really decide who wins.