Sports clichés are like horoscopes. They are so broad and so bland, they can be applied to anybody in any situation no matter what the circumstances. To illustrate this, I present two sports clichés below and provide explanations as to how they apply to the Seahawks’ upcoming game against the Rams.
Must Win Game
The reason “must win game” is a label that can be slapped onto any matchup is because there is always an ambiguous tacit condition at the end. A playoffs game is a “must win game or the season is over” (including the Super Bowl); many a late season game is a “must win game to stay in the playoff race” or a “must win game to control your own destiny“; a coach might have a “must win game or he’s going to be fired“. Any game is a “must win game”, if you assume the appropriate implicit condition. (Contrarily, no game is a “must win game”, if your condition is or the world will come to an end.)
In the case of the Seahawks against the Rams, there are two “must win” conditions. One is or the Seahawks’ playoff chances will plummet again. Last week’s loss to the Cowboys resulted in a drop in the Seahawks’ playoff odds of nearly 20 percentage points – from 89.2% to 69.5%. A loss to the Rams this Sunday would almost certainly result in another precipitous decline. The ‘Hawks have a “Wiford Brimley schedule” here in 2014: It’s tough and hard on the outside, soft and warm on the inside. We are now at the inside part. Over the Seahawks’ next five games — Rams, Panthers, Raiders, Giants, Chiefs — they probably have to go something close to 5-0 to retain pole position in the NFC West. A loss to the Rams would obviously make it difficult to achieve this goal. This is a sneakily important game.
The other condition is or the fans and media will freak the fuck out. Who wants to read the bevy of “What’s Wrong with the Seahawks?” and “Super Bowl Hangover!” articles that are sure to follow a Rams upset? Nobody — well, nobody sane, at least. So if nothing else, the ‘Hawks need to win, just so we can avoid this sure-to-be-annoying sports media and social network hysteria.
When These Two Teams Meet, You Can Throw the Records Out the Window
Looking back through the annals of Seahawks-Rams games, I see, objectively, that there have been plenty of games in which one team has squashed the other. But to the subjective fan in me, it feels like every game in which these two teams play is nerve-rackingly close, regardless of their respective spots in the standings at the time. There’s certainly some recency bias in play, as in 2012 the two teams split the season series with a pair of games that each came down to the final drive, and then last year we were all tortured by the greatest (i.e., worst) “I Can’t Believe the ‘Hawks Won That Game” game in franchise history, in which Seattle was outgained 135 to 339 and Russell Wilson was sacked seven times in a 14-9 victory.
So the Rams make me very nervous. And it’s not completely irrational. The Rams are a bad team overall, but they aren’t consistently bad. They play quite well in stretches — like when they went up 14-0 on the 49ers Monday night. And then they totally blow it — like when they gave up an 80-yard touchdown pass to those same 49ers with a minute left in the first half, on a play in which they inexplicably had no safety help on the outside and even more inexplicably their cornerback, Janoris Jenkins, bit on a double move by Brandon Lloyd (there’s a minute left! they’re 80 yards away! how can you possibly be duped by a double move?!). My fear is that the “up 14-0 Rams” come to play on Sunday and stick around the entire game (unlike Monday night).
Coming into the season, the Rams were a decent “sleeper” pick to “make the jump” from mediocrity into the playoffs — just like they have been every other year the past five years. And just like every other year, it hasn’t panned out that way at all. Offensively, the Rams are bad at throwing the ball (this tends to happen with a bad pass-blocking line and an undrafted rookie at quarterback — even one as plucky as Austin Davis), and they aren’t much better at running it. The offensive line has done a decent job run blocking, but Zac Stacy and Benny Cunningham are just OK backs — they’re nothing special. And nothing special is pretty much what everybody expected from the Rams O, in general. That they rank toward the bottom of the pack in DVOA is not surprising. What is surprising is how the Rams have fared on the other side of the ball.
With Robert Quinn, Michael Brockers, Aaron Donald, and Chris Long, the Rams were set to begin the season with the only D-line in the history of the NFL comprised entirely of first-round draft choices. Long was put on IR before he took a snap, but still the unit (with Kendall Langford and William Hayes also in the mix) look poised to wreck havoc. Instead they have one sack. Not one sack each, one sack total. Donald sacked Tampa Bay’s Josh McCown in their only win of the year, and that’s been it. Of all the weird stuff that’s happened in the NFL this season, the lack of St. Louis pass rush might be the most confounding.
The good news, if you’re a Rams fan, is that the Seahawks haven’t been very good at protecting the passer. (Also, Max Unger is likely out again and Russell Okung is playing hurt.) They’ve relied mostly on Russell Wilson’s escapability to avoid pressure and make plays: Sometimes it works (Washington); sometimes it doesn’t (Dallas). In general, the Seahawks O, seems just a bit off — not bad (except last week; it was bad then) just a tad askew. A theory floated by analyst Bucky Brooks is that Darrell Bevell has his sights set on a head coaching job, and so instead of going with the vanilla offense that works, he’s trying to dazzle everybody with complicated game plans that involve exotic sets and men in motion and wide receiver option reverses and stuff like that. I don’t know if there is even a shred of truth in that or not, but I do know what the Seahawks do best offensively: It’s Marshawn Lynch, Marshawn Lynch, Marshawn Lynch, Russell Wilson on a keeper, Marshawn Lynch, play-action pass deep. And that’s not really what we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks. In Bevell’s defense, however, it is difficult to pound the rock when you aren’t on the field. The ‘Hawks have struggled at times to sustain drives (far too many three-and-outs), which probably contributes more to Beast Mode’s lack of carries than does the specifics of the game plan (Bevell sorta says as much in this article). Also, it should be noted that the thing the Rams do best is stuff the run, so maybe this isn’t the game to try to get Lynch 30 carries.
Overall, I don’t have a good feeling about this game, but I had a very good feeling last week, so obviously my feelings don’t have much bearing on the outcomes of professional football games. I’ll just go with the what the numbers suggest instead: an 8.5-point victory for Seattle. Let’s say Seahawks 25.5, Rams 17. Actually, let’s go ahead and round it: Seahawks 26, Rams 17.
[Update: Chris Long was actually hurt in the first game of the season, not before taking a snap as I said above. Also, Robert Mays has an article up at Grantland about the missing pass rushes of both the Rams and Seahawks.]
[Update update: What the what? Who saw this one coming? I think it's a preemptive salary dump.]