Kickoff of the St. Louis Rams first divisional game starts in less than an hour. After play clock error cost the Rams a win in the opener against Detroit and poor officiating gave Seattle a win against Green Bay, St. Louis is anchoring the NFC West in terms of overall record. However, Seattle is the only team with a division loss after being “upset” by the Cardinals and are on the road after a short week following the Monday Night game. Expectations are high for both teams right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. So, how should we expect this game to play itself out? Here are 5 bold predictions for Week 4…
1. St. Louis secondary will cause more turnovers than Seattle
The Rams secondary has been one of the most dominate and game changing groups in the NFL so far this season. They single-handedly kept St. Louis in the game against both the Detroit Lions and Chicago Bears, and ultimately ended the game against Washington with the chippy play. They are 2nd in the league in interceptions with 5, 8th in allowed third down completion percentage, and have given up only 2 touchdowns through the air, with none coming from Calvin Johnson or Brandon Marshall. Seattle has been similarly dominant, but not nearly as effective in the important areas. The ‘Hawks are ranked 22nd in the league in allowed third down efficiency, have given up 5 passing touchdown, and only snagged 2 interceptions. Cortland Finnegan alone has 3 interceptions on the year. Look for him, and the rest of the secondary, to add to that total playing against, easily, the worst pure-passer they have played against so far.
2. The Rams will have doubled their sack count by the end of the game
Currently, the defense is sitting at a pedestrian 4.0 sacks on the season. The primary factor in the lack of potency in the pass rush has been the play of the interior defensive lineman. With Brockers sidelined, Heard and Cudjo have attempted to anchor the middle of the field, with very limited success. This has allowed teams to single block the inside of the line, and double Long and Quinn on the outside. With Brockers return, the opposing offensive line will have to go guard-to-guard to protect the inside pass rush, leaving either Long or Quinn, or both, one-on-one against the tackle. Combine Brockers presence with the injuries to the Seattle line and the short week and you could easily see the Rams defense pulling out 4 sacks by the end of the game.
3. Seattle will have more rushing yards than passing yards
Much like the rest if the NFC West, the Seahawks offense is predicated on a stellar running attack to catalyze the passing game. Marshawn Lynch is the only consistent, playmaker currently on their roster and Pete Carroll is very much aware of that fact. With 72 attempts already this season, Lynch is second to only Arian Foster in rushing touches. At that pace, he would end the year with nearly 385 rushes, knocking dangerously close to the NFL record 416 attempts by Larry Johnson in 2006 with the Kansas City Chiefs. Those numbers mean less passes for Russell Wilson, who has had trouble throwing the ball this season. Wilson averages less than 150 yards passing per game and has completed over 55% of his attempts only once this season. He has averaged an abysmal 44.1 quarterback rating, which is actually inflated by the Cowboys game, and has realistically thrown only 3 touchdowns in 3 games. Given the Rams struggles in stopping the run and the outstanding play of the secondary in the passing game, Lynch should put up some big numbers and leave Wilson clawing to reach his season average.
4. Brandon Gibson will get back on track with a touchdown, Golden Tate will not
Gibson fell off the map last week again the Bears, and Bradford struggled as a result. Prior to last week, Gibson had snagged a touchdown in every game, but after dropping a perfectly thrown deep ball early, he was a non-factor in Week 3. Gibson’s success has less to do with his playmaking ability and more to do with the distractions caused by Steven Jackson and Danny Amendola. They allow him to sneak past the 8- or 9-man stacked box, which, if he can hold onto the ball, usually turns into points on the board.
Golden Tate is lucky to have even one reception for a touchdown this season, but was lucky enough to be the right man running the route against one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. The receiving gods graced Tate with another touchdown in the final seconds of the Packers game, which will likely be his only claim to fame aside from his ridiculous name. Bias aside, Tate does not even crack the top 40 receivers in yards with only 109 on the season. He will be an afterthought to Janoris Jenkins, Bradley Fletcher, or Cortland Finnegan, and likely not catch more than a pass or two for moderate gains.
5. Greg Zuerlein will be the leading scorer in the game
Last week, Zuerlein knocked through his 8th field goal of the season, booting one from a career long 56 yards. The rookie has kicked two field goals in every game, and, of course, is perfect on extra point attempts. With two stingy defenses and subpar offenses, special teams play will likely determine the outcome if the game. With no single player likely to dominate offensively, look for Greg the Leg to tally at least 9 points on the night, take the scoring cake.
Note: This article was written by Nathan Kearns.