Austin-Pettis-SEA-Oct-2013

Rams-Seahawks: the gutpunch no one saw coming

On Monday night against the massively-favored Seattle Seahawks, Jeff Fisher, Zac Stacy and the Rams defense started brewing up a massive upset. But just when this heady home-brew started smelling just about right, just when the whole house was ready to party, the dog jumped up and kicked the whole hot, smelly mess all over everyone. 

Sorry. Party over. Sucks about your laundry bill. But hey, come back next week 'kay? 

Already in your mind, two people are fighting to be the literal face of this metaphorical bad dog — Brian Schottenheimer and Kellen Clemens. Which one needs to have his nose rubbed in his mess more? Which one needs to be on a tighter leash the next time out? Which one just needs to be put outside? 

Judging from the postgame reactions from Twitter, the general consensus has been "both." But here's the thing, we're stuck with these dogs, and they're both going to be running around loose again this coming weekend against Tennessee. Because that's the kind of house we've got. 

Here's the thing, though, nobody expected this to be a party in the first place. The gutpunch was supposed to come early, and the punishment was supposed to rain down from these bullies of the division. 

So, what can we take away that's positive from this unexpected gut punch? A lot, surprisingly. 

The Defensive Line lived up to their billing

When Robert Quinn was drafted, Doug Farrar predicted that the pairing of Quinn and Long on the edges "might just be illegal." If that's true, adding Michael Brockers to that mix raises their wanted level to epic heights. If this was Grand Theft Auto, there would be six stars flashing on the screen with SWAT teams, helicopters and possibly tanks swarming around. Or so the preseason hype went. 

Early on, though, quarterbacks like Carson Palmer, Matt Ryan and Colin Kaepernick managed to avoid all but the most furious of pass rushes, delivering the ball early in their drops to wide open receivers and defusing the effectiveness of the D-line. (Much blame for that can be placed on our coverage schemes, of course.) 

Seattle's beat-up offensive line has made Russell Wilson one of the game's most-pressured quarterbacks, but he has been effective regardless, using his feet and downfield vision to escape pressure and post a healthy 8.0 YPA. Versus the Rams, Wilson was sacked 7 times and completed only 3 passes of longer than ten yards. Wilson had nine net yards passing at halftime. His one big play downfield was very nearly intercepted by Janoris Jenkins, who played the ball perfectly until tripping over his own feet at the last possible second. 

Add to that Seattle's inability to move the ball on the ground, and that's a job well done by the defensive front. 

Unpredictability is helping the offense

The Rams piled up 200 yards on the ground against Seattle's defense, and according to Pro Football Focus' game charting, they sent Zac Stacy in every conceivable slot. Here are his rushing splits by lane: 

Outside TE-Left: 4 runs, 34 yards

Outside LT: 3 runs, 18 yards

Between LT & LG: 3 runs, 9 yards

Between LG & C: 4 runs, 27 yards

Between C & RG: 2 runs, 15 yards

Between RG & RT: 5 runs, 12 yards

Outside RT: 5 runs, 19 yards. 

Moreover, while Kellen Clemens was far from efficient, he sprayed the ball around the field in every direction, forcing the defense to play honest. Using PFF's game charting again, Clemens targeted every defensive zone at least once, except for the deep middle (also known as Earl Thomas' kitchen). This and the legitimate threat of the speed of the Rams' receiving weapons may have kept Seattle from loading up against the run as much as they could have. 

This is also a compelling reason to continue to give Clemens the ball, as gut-wrenching a prospect as that is. Players such as Austin Davis or Brady Quinn, who have much less command of the playbook (and have no promise of being more accurate or careful with the football), will force the offense to radically simplify, making it more predictable and putting even more onus on that bad QB to make plays. 

As it turns out, Jeff Fisher agrees. "I think he only stands to improve," said the coach. 

On a related note, what do you call two elephants on a bicycle? Optimistic. 

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