Rams stay in their lane on pass rush and Seahawks' Russell Wilson can't steer clear
There were no excessive stunts along the line or blitzes from the secondary. The Rams defense bottled up the dangerous and elusive Russell Wilson and hit the mute button on a high-powered Seattle Seahawks offense the old-fashioned way Sunday night.
The Rams stayed in their lanes, pushing their rush equally from the middle and the outside and not over-pursuing the quarterback, to generate pressure that collapsed the pocket around Wilson and left few escape routes for the NFL most valuable player candidate.
The evenhanded and effective rush, combined with some tight coverage, kept the Seahawks offense out of the end zone for only sixth time in Wilson’s 125 career starts and the first time since the 2017 season opener against Green Bay to snap a streak of 46 games.
“That was a focal point this week — we had to make sure [Wilson] didn’t hurt us as much as he did in the first game with his legs,” linebacker Samson Ebukam said after the Rams kept their playoff hopes alive with a 28-12 victory before a crowd of 71,501 in the Coliseum.
“We had to be disciplined. We had to do our job and trust that the plays are going to come to us instead of always trying to go make plays, because he will make you miss. He’s a baller.”
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Wilson carved up the Rams in a 30-29 victory in Seattle nine weeks ago, completing 17 of 23 passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns and a 151.8 quarterback rating. He had flustered the Rams with a variety of play-action fakes and bootlegs and his knack for extending plays with his legs.
Compared to that performance, Wilson looked like he was operating in quicksand Sunday night. He completed 22 of 36 passes for 245 yards, no touchdowns and one interception for a rating of 69.8. He had only two completions of 20 yards or more and rushed five times for 28 yards.
The Rams sacked Wilson five times for losses of 43 yards, with Ebukam dropping him twice for a loss of 18 yards and edge rusher Dante Fowler and tackle Aaron Donald notching 1½ sacks each. The Seahawks converted only five of 14 third-down plays (36%) and one of two fourth-down plays.
“We decided to rush together today, to collapse the pocket and don’t let him get out of there,” Rams defensive lineman Michael Brockers said. “I think that’s the best way of rushing him. I’ve seen him wreck games when we try to rush our own way and he gets out.”
The Rams defense set the tone on Seattle’s first possession after Wilson drove the Seahawks from their 25-yard line to the Rams’ 15, where he was sacked by Ebukam for a six-yard loss on third down. Seattle settled for a Jason Myers 39-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, Wilson failed to complete a pass to Malik Turner — who was being covered by cornerback Jalen Ramsey — on fourth-and-one from the Rams’ 24-yard line. The first half ended with Fowler sacking Wilson for a loss of five yards.
Seattle safety Quandre Diggs intercepted quarterback Jared Goff on each of the Rams’ first two second-half possessions, returning the first 55 yards for a touchdown to pull the Seahawks to within 21-9 with 12 minutes, 54 seconds left in the third quarter.
But the Rams defense kept its thumb down on Wilson the rest of the way, forcing a three-and-out after Diggs’ second interception and sacking Wilson for a loss of 11 yards — by Donald — late in the third quarter.
Ebukam sacked Wilson for a loss of 12 yards midway through the fourth quarter, and Fowler and Donald combined for a high-low hit on Wilson for an eight-yard sack on Seattle’s last possession, which ended with Troy Hill’s interception in the end zone.
“I think the defense really turned the tide in the third quarter,” linebacker Clay Matthews said. “Look at how it started. Seattle got a pick-six coming out of the tunnel when we’re trying to put our foot on their throat, and it’s the Seahawks, where they get a little momentum, and you go, ‘Here we go again.’ But for us to rally and hold them to three points the rest of the game … we did a great job.”
Wilson had only one play in which he scrambled before completing a long pass, hitting D.K. Metcalf down the left sideline for a 35-yard gain on a third-and-22 midway through the fourth quarter.
“He presents a unique challenge because he can avoid the rush, let lanes in the pocket develop and scramble through them and find his receivers downfield,” Matthews said.
“I thought for the most part we did a great job of not getting too sloppy with our rush lanes, collapsing the pocket and keeping him in there, keeping him uncomfortable.”
The Rams get their fill of Wilson, playing the NFC West rival Seahawks twice a season, and they’ve had their fill of mobile quarterbacks in recent weeks.
Dual-threat Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson had his way with the Rams in a 45-6 win on “Monday Night Football” two weeks ago. The Rams dominated Arizona rookie Kyler Murray in a 34-7 win last week.
“We’ve been playing scrambling quarterbacks for the last few weeks, so every one of them was like a preparation for this one,” Ebukam said. “But Wilson is a little special in the way he scrambles. All of them are different, but he has more experience, more savvy.
“We didn’t spy him a lot. We just had to stay disciplined and cover our gaps. Don’t over-pursue. Be patient. Do your job, trust others are going to do their jobs, and don’t always try to force a play, because that’s when he hurts you. He finds a gap and exposes that.”
The Rams didn’t dramatically alter their defensive scheme against Wilson, but there was one notable difference in their defense: Ramsey, the shut-down corner acquired from Jacksonville on Oct. 15. Ramsey, who mostly covered Metcalf, was still a member of the Jaguars when these teams last met.
“You look at the change in our defense since he joined our team — it’s allowed us to play different defenses that play to his favor, especially man-to-man, which allows a four-man rush,” Matthews said.
“When you know you have an elite cornerback there who can lock down their best receiver, it allows the rush to get home and when we do get there, to get the quarterback off the spot and not allow him to have time to throw it downfield. It’s kind of a yin and yang type thing, and it’s worked out really well.”