The last time the Los Angeles Rams visited Seattle, they were announcing themselves as the new powerhouse in the NFC West by handing the Seahawks a drubbing unlike any they had experienced in Pete Carroll’s tenure.
As much as the Seahawks would like to forget that day last December, a 42-7 loss to a division rival lingers.
Less than a year later, the Rams are more than just the favorites of their division. A quarter through the season, they may be the prohibitive Super Bowl favorites. The Rams (4-0) make their annual trip to Seattle on Sunday looking to take control of the division just five weeks into the season.
“I think there’s definitely a lot of confidence that comes with playing well and definitely can get some momentum going, but I think we’re just executing,” Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. “We’ve done a pretty good job executing.”
And there is little reason not to believe Los Angeles will be leaving town with a three-game lead.
The Rams are scoring an absurd amount of points, having scored at least 33 points in all four games. Goff is coming off a career-high 465 yards passing and five TDs, carving up a Minnesota defense that was regarded as among the best in the NFL and posting a perfect passer rating in the process. Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks each had 100 yards receiving against the Vikings.
Oh, and there’s still Todd Gurley, who the last time he saw the Seahawks rushed for 152 yards and scored a career-high four total touchdowns. And this time, they’ll be facing a Seahawks defense without safety Earl Thomas after suffering a season-ending lower leg fracture last week against Arizona.
“Not having Earl now, this week changes a lot and just how good he is at understanding offenses and concepts,” Goff said. “You wish he was there, you want to get them at full strength with him as part of that and how good he is. Would have been great to compete against him.”
The Seahawks (2-2) have recovered from a 0-2 start by knocking off Dallas and Arizona in consecutive weeks. The Seahawks have rediscovered their run game with consecutive 100-yard rushers and their defense has held three straight opponents to under 305 total yards of offense.
But they know the Rams are a different challenge.
“They’re going to do something that we haven’t seen before, but if we’re disciplined and we do what we practiced, we should be fine,” Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner said. “That’s why your eyes are so important this week.”
Here’s what else to watch for:
FIRST THINGS FIRST
Slowing the Rams’ powerhouse offense on first down would be huge for the Seahawks, but it’s been almost impossible this season. Goff is an astonishing 46 of 56 for 668 yards and six touchdown passes on first downs in the Rams’ first four games, averaging 11.9 yards per pass. Add in Gurley’s steady running on every down, and Los Angeles is tough to contain.
“We’ve done a pretty good job so far (of) staying in second-and-manageable, and then third-and-manageable, as well,” Goff said.
Seattle is coming off consecutive 100-yard performances by running backs for the first time since the 2014 season. But it was two different backs accomplishing that feat, leaving open the question of how Seattle divides the carries going forward. Starter Chris Carson is expected to return Sunday after missing last week with a hip injury. Mike Davis has earned a role after rushing for a career-high 101 yards and two TDs in the win over Arizona. And, rookie first-round pick Rashaad Penny has started to look more like the back Seattle expected in a limited role.
Running won’t be easy against a Rams defense giving up just 86 yards per game on average.
Second-year safety Tedric Thompson knows he’s about to get a lot of attention. Thompson will be stepping in at free safety replacing Thomas after the former All-Pro was lost for the season in last week’s win. Thompson gained plenty of experience in the offseason and training camp when Thomas was holding out as part of a contract dispute, but there couldn’t be a tougher team to debut against than the top passing offense in the NFL through four weeks.
“He’s really mature about stuff, he’s really worked hard to understand the scheme and the principles of what we want and he plays really strict and disciplined football,” Carroll said.
Kicker Cairo Santos will make his Rams debut in Seattle. Los Angeles signed the former Chiefs kicker Tuesday after cutting Sam Ficken and determining that All-Pro Greg Zuerlein isn’t quite ready to return from a groin injury.
Santos, who injured his own groin twice last season, is getting his shot at an NFL return in a high-pressure rivalry game, but he welcomes the challenge.
“Coming out and playing for a great offense, hopefully I’ll get a bunch of kicks and show the other 31 teams that I’m back and I belong in this league,” Santos said.
AP Sports Writer