The Los Angeles Rams defense did what it typically does against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks: make their lives miserable. Now they’ve got Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers to figure out. After losing out on the NFC West Division crown to the Seahawks, the Rams were forced to face their rivals for a third time this season.
The Rams and the Seahawks split their first two meetings. Both games involved plenty of physicality on both sides of the ball. The Rams defense dominated Wilson and DK Metcalf in their hookup. Wilson and the Seahawks made some adjustments to come away with the win the second go-round.
When it comes to the postseason, the theory usually is whatever team plays the best defense will usually come out on top. If that scenario is true, the Rams would win hands down with their top-ranked defense beating the snot out of Seattle’s offense. And once again, the unstoppable Aaron Donald and the defensive line was at the center of the Rams’ 30-20 win at CenturyLink Field.
“Great team win, a lot of guys that really stepped up and answered the bell in a big way,” Rams coach Sean McVay said during his opening remarks to his postgame press conference. “Darious Williams showing up in a big way; I thought that was a huge momentum shift for us. As you could see I was very excited. I have no voice, even though my voice is normally raspy. The thought process going into the game was our starting quarterback had thumb surgery. He did everything in his power to get himself ready. We felt like him being ready, even in a limited capacity behind John (Wolford) was going to be the best option. He handled himself incredibly well, showed great leadership through the course of the week.”
The Rams sacked Wilson five times. Two of those sacks came courtesy of Donald. Outside linebacker Leonard Little also recorded two sacks in the Rams’ NFC Wildcard victory. By and large, the Rams defense rendered Wilson and Seattle’s offense inept on the day. Wilson would finish the game humbled by his 11 of 27 passing day for 174 yards.
As a whole, thanks to the relentless pressure that Donald, Little and the rest of the Rams defense put on Seattle’s offense, the Seahawks could only generate 11 first downs and 278 total offense. The big red flag for the Seahawks was their inability to convert third downs. The Rams held Wilson and his crew to just making two of their 14 chances on third down.
“Regardless of what’s going on the other side of the ball, we want to come out and be a staple, be aggressive; we want to limit yards, limit big plays, you know. That’s what we’ve been doing all year,” Rams defensive back John Johnson said. “Regardless of what the offense and special teams are doing, we know we’ve got to hold each other down and play hard for one another.”
Indicative of the way the Rams defense haunted Wilson and the Seahawks was a game-turning pick-six interception by cornerback Darious Williams. Williams’ 42-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter gave the Rams defense the cushion they needed to keep up the pressure on Wilson.
At the time of Williams’ interception, the Rams were up 6-3, with a quarterback who wasn’t even supposed to play unless called in for emergency duty. When Williams stepped in front of Metcalf on a botched wide receiver screen to pick off Wilson and hauled himself downfield for the score, the play almost assuredly took the wind out of the Seahawks’ sails.
“I saw it a couple of times. I think we got it last week (against Arizona Cardinals), you know. With Jalen (Ramsey) being as dominant as he is, they got to move Metcalf around to get him away from Jalen, and basically feature him,” Williams said. “That’s a play that I knew was going to happen. I knew they were going to try to feature him, get him the ball somehow, let him break tackles. I just read it and jumped it.”
Williams’ gamble was a high-risk, high reward play if he successfully makes the right call against a four-wide receiver set. If he doesn’t make the play that he did, there’s a good chance that Metcalf is off to the races.
“When I film study, I memorize plays real good, and I think that’s what helps me,” said Williams. I know that he (Wilson) was going to motion all the way to one, and those guys are tight; a big guy out there. They were going to get him the ball and let him work.”
The Williams’ score helped give the Rams a 13-3 lead. The Rams eventually took a 20-10 lead into halftime, but the big play by Williams earmarked the Rams for victory. It was important that the Rams defense show up and bottle up Wilson, a quarterback who threw for 4,212 yards and 40 touchdowns in the regular season.
For one, the guy McVay sent out to start the game in place of Goff, was knocked out of the contest by a rough hit. Wolford, Goff’s backup, wound up completing just 3 of 6 passes before being smacked upside the head and being escorted from the game. Goff was able to hold steady enough to anchor the team’s win, completing a pedestrian 9 of 19 passes for 155 yards and a touchdown.
Goff did just enough to help the Rams pull off this road win. Outside of their stout defense, the Rams had another star shine brightly, and that was the play of running back Cam Akers. In his first playoff game, the rookie from Florida State softened up Seattle’s defense by pounding his way for 131 yards and a touchdown.
Because Akers was successful at running the football, the Rams held a 33:39 to 26:21 advantage when it came to the time clock. McVay and the Rams may need to use that same formula when they play Rodgers and the Packers in an NFC Divisional game matchup. Rodgers completed 70 percent of his passes for 4,299 yards and 48 touchdowns against just five interceptions during the regular season.
So, it will be the Rams defense going toe-to-toe with Green Bay’s potent offense. Something has to give.
“I think it’s about who plays the best in that three-and-a-half-hour window,” McVay said. “It’s going to be a five-star matchup between a great defense and a great offense, but really, it is about our teams. I would say I’ll take the defense because that’s the team that I’m on and I feel very confident in the way that they’ve carried us in a lot of games this year. They were obviously a huge part of how we got it done the other day. I thought (CB) Darious Williams’ pick-six was kind of the turning point in the game. But just the energy, the effort, and the execution at which they play with week-in and week-out has been so impressive, that consistency that seems like we talk about week-in and week-out. I think this is the greatest challenge that we’ve had yet as a defense and I’m looking forward to it.”
Featured image caption: Los Angeles Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald (99) chases Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) during an NFC Wildcard playoff game on Saturday, Jan. 9, 2020. The Rams defeated the Seahawks, 30-20, at CenturyLink Field. Photo credit: Los Angeles Rams