Disregard the fact that the Seahawks are favored by nearly two touchdowns over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, it’s likely going to be a very tough game for Russell Wilson and his offensive line.
No team in the league has sacked Wilson so many times — nor taken such delight in process — as the Rams.
And although Wilson is on one of the hottest streaks since the invention of the forward pass, and the offensive line has improved his protection to an immeasurable degree, Sunday’s game may be the best test they’ve seen in a long time.
The Rams have sacked Wilson 31 times in his career, highest of any opponent.San Francisco is second at 25 and Arizona third with 21.
“Preparing for the St. Louis Rams is one of the tougher things to do,” Wilson said. “Their defense is extremely talented … so it’s going to be a good challenge. I love these types of weeks, because you get to study a ton. You get to try to figure out what their defense is doing, and that’s a chess game in itself. So that will be a cool thing.”
Getting slammed to the turf by hostile defenders, though, is not such a cool thing.
Although the Rams haven’t put together a winning season since Wilson has been in the league, the Hawks are a modest 4-3 against them after having lost two of the last three meetings.
On Sept. 13, in the season-opening 34-31 overtime loss at St. Louis, Wilson attempted a career-high 41 passes and was sacked six times. Two of those were by nose tackle Aaron Donald, who made life difficult for center Drew Nowak, who was making his first career start.
Patrick Lewis has replaced Nowak, and his steady play in the middle has helped the line solidify its protection.
Donald, growing into one of the game’s elite defenders, is going to be tough against anybody, but he’s going to be without fellow rush ace Robert Quinn, who is out for the remainder of the season with a back injury.
The aggressive defensive scheme remains, though.
“It’s an attacking front, pressure wise, scheme wise,” coach Pete Carroll said. “The mixed fronts that they do cause problems. They have really interesting personnel. What they’re doing with Mark Barron is a really cool thing … we’ve got to come up with a plan because he’s a fantastic athlete playing linebacker, much like we see at the Cardinals. There’s all kinds of stuff for us, and hopefully we handle it really well.”
Barron was converted to weakside linebacker from safety when injuries hit the Rams, and since he’s been a disruptive force as a rusher.
Right tackle Garry Gilliam has only played the Rams once, the first time in September, so he isn’t interested in the history of the troubles caused by the St. Louis defensive front.
“If you make it bigger than that, you just mess yourself up; personally, I go up against somebody and I see them as my next obstacle, the person I have to block on that play,” Gilliam said.
“They bring a lot of pressure and you have to make sure you’re targeting things right,” Gilliam said. “They try to confuse you and overload one side and bring it from the other side, so it’s a matter of slowing down a little and trying to find out where they’re coming from.”
Right guard J.R. Sweezy has faced the Rams seven times, though, and understands the significance of Sunday’s game.
“First off, these two teams match up very well,” Sweezy said. “We know we’re going to play each other twice each year and we know it’s going to be a real battle. They have a great defensive front. They have a few guys banged up and out for the year, and that’s made them change a few things, but they still have guys in there who are playmakers.”
Effective protection has been a huge part to Wilson’s streak of five games with 19 touchdowns and no interceptions, with an extraordinary 143.6 passer rating over that span.
That may only make him an even more attractive target for the Rams.
“You know it’s going to be a hard-fought game,” Wilson said. “So we have to get ready for that.”
Especially the guys up front who are paid to protect him.