While conducting his post-game interview on Sunday with Steve Savard and D’Marco Farr, Jeff Fisher made a rather stirring comment in wake of his team’s loss to Seattle.
Despite the fact that Pete Carroll’s team successfully wrapped up homefield advantage throughout the playoffs and his squad just concluded a 6-10 season, Fisher said that the Rams are “closing the gap” between themselves and the Seahawks. These, of course, are the same Seahawks that are coming off a dominating Super Bowl performance back in February.
Now would be the time to be flippant and take sarcastic, less-than-witty shots at how Fisher is delusional about the state of his franchise. But I’m not going to crush him for believing the Rams are closer to catching the Seahawks than they were a year ago. There is some truth to what Fisher is saying, mainly due to how Aaron Donald is now on the same defensive line as fellow first-rounders Robert Quinn, Chris Long and Michael Brockers. T.J. McDonald also made significant strides in his development from last year to this season, and E.J. Gaines turned out to be a steal in the sixth round.
But while the Rams are built to compete with the Seahawks from a defensive standpoint, offensively they might as well be light years away.
Let’s start at quarterback, because that’s the easiest distinction between the two teams. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Russell Wilson rushed for 849 yards in the regular season, which was 210 more than any other quarterback. As Terry Blount of NFL Nation recently wrote, “Based on the down distance and situation, Wilson’s runs added more than twice as many points to his team’s net scoring margin than any other quarterback.”
When squaring off against the likes of Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers or Peyton Manning, defenses mix up coverages in hopes that they can somehow stay a step ahead during a given game. But at least when opponents face pocket passers, they don’t have to account for the quarterback on running plays and thus, from a mathematical standpoint, they still have the edge.
But with Wilson running the read option, defenses are forced to bring additional defenders to stop the run. That methodical advantage that they had on running plays is now gone because at least one defender has to account for the quarterback, who can do things like this.
I’m not breaking any news when I note that the Rams don’t have that type of weapon at quarterback. In fact, they don’t have a reliable option at quarterback period, let alone a dynamic one like Wilson. Finding a quarterback this offseason won’t be a simple task, either.
The other advantage the Seahawks currently have is that they have an established identity. When they traded Percy Harvin to the Jets earlier this season they lost a playmaker at the skill position but the move hardly left them without a personality. Opponents knew they still had to stop Marshawn Lynch and account for Wilson’s mobility both on passing and rushing plays. Losing Harvin didn’t change who the Seahawks were.
On top of somehow finding a quarterback that won’t make them limited in the passing game, the Rams also have to establish a clear identity, one that they can use to impose their will on opponents as opposed to merely hoping will show up on a game-by-game basis. They ostensibly want to be a power-based offense but you’re not going to win enough games to compete for a playoff berth when you’re only gaining 4.1 yards per attempt on the season.
If the Rams are content with bringing back Sam Bradford at a reduced cost and keeping Brian Schottenheimer as offensive coordinator, then they better build up the O-line like Dallas did. They need an upgrade at center, guard and probably right tackle, which is tough to accomplish in one offseason. But if you can’t find an impact signal-caller, the next best thing is to build up the running game as much as possible and rely on a quarterback that won’t turn the ball over. The Chiefs reached the playoffs a year ago with this philosophy and nearly did so again in 2014 despite not one of their receivers catching a touchdown pass.
But the Chiefs also rushed for 6.3 yards per attempt in a win over the Seahawks earlier this year and finished with an average of 4.6 YPA for the season. For comparison, the Rams rushed for 3.8 and 2.2 yards per attempt, respectively, in their two games against the Seahawks. So when talking about finding a true identity, I’m talking about the Rams being able to play to their strength not only against the Oaklands and Washingtons of the league, but against the stiffest competition as well.
The Rams have proven over the past two years that they can be competitive in the division and Gregg Williams’ defense can complete with any opponent in the league (or at least the ones that don’t have Odell Beckham).
That’s probably why Fisher suggested, even following a 20-6 loss, that the Rams are closing the gap with a team like Seattle.
But the Seahawks are consistent and unrelenting. They have their quarterback, their identity and a transcendent defense. For all intents and purposes the Rams might be closer to the Seahawks than they were a year ago, but the fact remains that there’s still a sizable gap.
And with that, they certainly have their work cut out this offseason if they truly want to narrow the distance between themselves and who they’re looking up at in the division.