The Seahawks have a chance to get some payback this week as they visit the NFC West rival Rams, who shut them out in the second half of a season-opening loss in Seattle. While Sean McVay always seems to give this team trouble, the good news is that these two teams look far different than they did two months ago. Let’s take a look.
Here are nine things to know going into their Week 11 matchup.
Week 1 loss was a long time ago
Going into the season opener, we wrote that what happened in 2022 between these team’s didn’t matter. For one thing, Matt Stafford didn’t play in either matchup. (Stafford is active this week but dealing with a thumb issue). For another, football time moves differently – and last season might as well be another century. This week the same lesson applies, as Week 1 was a very long time ago in terms of this season and how it’s playing out.
First of all, the Seahawks are playing far better than they were in that game. Since the loss to Los Angeles, Seattle has won six of their last eight games. Meanwhile, the Rams have gone the exact opposite direction, losing six of their last eight. Anything can happen in divisional games, but these Seahawks are still a much better team on paper – no matter how the last matchup played out.
Devon Witherspoon has arrived
The biggest difference for the Seahawks is that their defense is operating at a much, much higher level than it was Week 1. Their pass rush has come alive, their run defense is (usually) sharp and they’re playing tight coverage on the back end. The inspiration for the change has been the arrival of rookie Devon Witherspoon, who did not play in Week 1 against LA. Witherspoon made his debut the following week and ever since Seattle has been one of the league’s top teams in terms of EPA. For his part, Spoon is arguably already the best cornerback in football.
The Rams offense has regressed big time
The Rams have also gone through some major changes since they last won at Lumen Field. While they managed to put up 30 points on the Seahawks, their offense has fallen off hard in the interim. Heading into Week 11 they are only averaging 19.8 points per game, which ranks No. 22 in the NFL this season. Cooper Kupp doesn’t look like himself, Puka Nacua has slowed down after a blazing-hot start and Matt Stafford’s production is nowhere near where it was in 2021.
Boye Mafe has been on fire lately
Another significant development since Week 1 has been the emergence of Seattle’s pass rush. While they were unable to get to Stafford for even a single sack in the season opener, this group has since come alive. Second-year outside linebacker Boye Mafe has become the team’s top edge rusher by a huge margin. After a slow start Mafe has recorded a sack in seven consecutive games and is up to 10 quarterback hits and `15 pressures on the season.
Leonard Williams is making a difference
The Seahawks made another big change just before the trade deadline, dealing two draft picks to the Giants in exchange for star defensive lineman Leonard Williams. In his two games for Seattle Williams’ traditional numbers don’t look like much – he has been credited with one sack, four tackles and two pressures so far. However, that belies the impact he is making on the field. Williams is consistently moving the pocket and creating opportunities for his teammates.
Seattle's screen attack and YAC game are... good?
Perhaps the most surprising change is how much Seattle’s offense has grown in certain elements of the passing game. Specifically, they now have one of the better screen attacks in the league after spending two and a half years as a total joke in that department. They have also dramatically improved in producing yards after the catch, racking up 258 in last week’s win over Washington – the second most in an NFL game this season. The biggest catalyst here has been the integration of rookie wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba, who excels at both.
Third down is still a huge problem
While offensive coordinator Shane Waldron deserves credit for his part in turning around the screen/YAC game, this offense still has a back-breaking problem on third down. It was an issue once again against the Commanders, as the Seahawks managed to convert on just 4 of 14 attempts. For the season they still rank No. 30 in the league with a 31.48% success rate.
The full Geno Smith experience
Waldron’s playcalling and breakdowns in pass protection have played a role in those third down failures, but so has the performance of starting quarterback Geno Smith. Now that we have had a full season and a half to watch him operate this offense, we can reliably say what he’s all about. While Smith is still producing at a top-10 level, he will have stretches of games where he struggles with ball security. While he managed to avoid it last week Geno committed eight turnovers in the previous four games. It’s a relatively low number of interception-worthy throws that he’s making, so the Seahawks can probably live with those stretches at the price they’re paying for it.
Beware Byron Young and Aaron Donald
After years of watching him swallow up Russell Wilson, Seahawks fans are well aware of Aaron Donald and how dangerous he can be in the trenches. Donald remains an obvious threat this season, but the Seahawks also have to be wary of rookie Byron Young (the other one). Through nine games he’s matched or bested Donald in some categories. Donald leads the team with 5.5 sacks and has 13 QB hits and 17 pressures. Meanwhile, Young has five sacks, 14 QB hits and 22 pressures.