For all the defensive prowess of the Seattle Seahawks over the last several years, the team has not been perfect. We all know about the struggles against quality pass catching Tight Ends and Runningbacks, along with the difficulties of the team last year when players like Cary Williams were taking snaps. However, there is a more glaring issue that the team had to confront last season, and they set out this offseason to do something about it.
The Seattle Seahawks fell from 6th in 2014 in run stuffing rate, to 15th in run stuffing rate in 2015. The team was noticeably worse at stopping the run last year, and it changed the way the team was able to play against teams.
Los Angeles Rams
One team that would surely look to take advantage of a softer Seattle Seahawks Run Defense would be the rush happy Rams. When Case Keenum is your quarterback and you are paying Tavon Austin like a number one Wide Receiver, you’ve got to look to your run game to help. I know that may sound like piling on or making fun, but the numbers are what they are. Case Keenum has completed 56.1% of his passes and has 15 TDs to 11 INTs with a pathetic 6.4 yards per pass with the Rams and Texans. Tavon Austin is in his 4th season in the NFL and has not yet recorded 500 yards receiving in a season. This is a team that MUST throw the ball to be successful.
Luckily for the Rams they have fantasy darling and 1st Team All-Hype 2016 Runningback Todd Gurley. After an impressive college career at Georgia that was cut short due to injury, Gurley announced his arrival in the NFL in 2015 by running for 1106 yards and 10 TDs in just 13 games. He was the focal point of the Offense and everyone knew that Jeff Fisher was going to run Gurley down their throat, and he still managed an impressive 4.8 yards per carry. Those numbers include a 19 carry 89 yard performance against the Seahawks.
That was all last year though, and in 2016 we have a single game worth of data…and that data isn’t great. Gurley rushed for just 47 yards on 17 carries for a sad, Trent Richardson-esque 2.8 yards per carry. Now, it would be crazy to write off Gurley as the next Trent Richardson, but that bad outing against the 49ers requires a deeper look. Gurley only played one game in the Preseason, and that was Game 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs. He had 4 carries for 20 yards and a TD, looking pretty solid. However, that was his only action. There is a pretty solid chance that Gurley still has some rust to shake off, and it will take some carries to do that. Keenum not completing even half of his passes and the Offensive Line looking like they are struggling means it is all on the Rams, and all Defenses in the NFL are good enough to shut down a one dimensional Offense.
After making the fall from 6th to 15th in run stuffing, along with other indications the 2015 roster simply could not manage the type of play that the 2013 and 2014 Super Bowl teams could, the team went about making moves to create a more physical team. Along with drafting Runningbacks and upgrades on the Offensive Line, they made significant additions along the Defensive Line. Seattle spent a 2nd Round Pick on run stuffing Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed, and a 5th Round Pick on Quinton Jefferson who can play on the outside against the run or inside against the pass. Perhaps most important though, the team brought back massive 6’7 305lb Tony McDaniel along the interior, while resigning Ahtyba Rubin over fan favorite Brandon Mebane. This allows the team to potentially roll out a group consisting of 4 out of 5 of Rubin, Jefferson, Reed, McDaniel, and Michael Bennett that would weigh over 1200 pounds combined and still be mobile.
What did all of this do in Week 1? Defensive Line Efficiency Statistics aren’t readily available so early in the season, but in Week 1 Seattle ranked 2nd in Defensive DVOA and 4th in Run Defense. They allowed Arian Foster just 38 yards on 18 carries, and even with a few solid runs from Ryan Tannehill the team managed just 3.2 yards per carry. Part of this is the Defensive Line making tackles, but just as important is the way that all that bulk up front occupies the Offensive Line. Seattle is playing Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead in their Nickel packages along with the human tackling machine known as Bobby Wagner. This Defensive Line, much like the early 2000’s Ravens line, allows players like Wagner, Kam Chancellor, and good tackling Defensive Backs to crash in on the ball carrier and make tackles close to the line of scrimmage and even in the backfield.
To focus in very quickly on one guy, Jarran Reed made his debut in regular season NFL action last week and he really looked good. Cassius Marsh deservedly got a lot of credit for his coming out party with a sack and looking to be all over the field, but Jarran Reed quietly brought his lunch pail to work and did the dirty business of an interior Defensive Lineman. He lined up on every interior gap, and made 2 tackles as well as swatting down 2 passes. He was a constant disruption inside, demanding a double team at times as he showed a strong ability to shed the Guard and make tackles. At this point in his career Reed is primarily a 2 down Defensive Tackle who comes off the field on obvious passing situations, but that is a very good player to have. If the Run Defense sticks in the top 5 this season, the high motor DT out of Alabama is going to be a big reason why.
This Defense is built to stop the run and have rangy playmakers on the back end against the pass. That is a combination the Rams do not want to see. It is possible the Los Angeles Offensive Line plays better in Week 2, but Case Keenum is a known quantity as are the receivers. This is a key matchup in the game, and it clearly goes in favor of Seattle.