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Vision Board: Seahawks-Rams
The hills are alive with the sound of special teams! 9/8/2023
Get ready to shout ‘do, re, me, fa, so, la, ti, JOE’ because we’re back, baby.
The Seattle Seahawks open their 2023 season on Sunday at home against the Los Angeles Rams, a team that will look EXACTLY THE SAME as the one from last year…so long as the only three Rams you know are Matthew Stafford, Aaron Donald, and Sean McVay.
Pretty much the exact same team that won the Super Bowl (if those three are all you knew of the Super Bowl team).
It is also time to bring back Seaside Joe’s weekly vision boards. I like vision boards instead of predictions because at least this way we know with 100% certainty that what I write about the game will come true. Last season, Siskel & Ebert, the two thumbs of Tinseltown, brought our visions home each week. I’m going to throw a changeup this year, focusing on a different movie theme for every game.
This week’s theme: The great music scenes in movie history.
Some vision boards will be free episodes of Seaside Joe, while others will be for Regular Joes. Today’s will be for Regular Joes, sign up here or below if interested in reading ahead, thank you all for your support. I will send out the entire article to free subscribers on Sunday. In case you missed Friday’s Seaside Joe on the injury report—Day 1,651 in a row—do check it out for the latest updates.
Seahawks make ‘The Sound’ of music on special teams
Who among us could ever forget the weeks that the Rams tortured the Seahawks—often when Seattle was at its best and St. Louis at its most 7-9ish—with credit going to the third phase of football? Special teams coordinator John Fassel was considered the best in the NFL at his job, kicker Greg Zeurlein was an All-Pro, and punter Johnny Hekker was a four-time All-Pro.
Just from 2012 to 2015, the Rams had four victories against the Seahawks, all of them by six points or less, including: In 2014, St. Louis won 28-26, including a punt return touchdown. In 2015, St. Louis won 34-31, including a punt return touchdown. In 2012, the Rams won 19-13 and Hekker threw a touchdown.
Well, Sean McVay is a much better fit for the Rams than predecessor Jeff Fisher. BUT HE AIN’T ABOUT THAT SPECIAL TEAMS LIFE.
It’s time to play ‘so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night’ with Rams special teams…
In 2020, McVay said ‘so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night’ to Fassel and Zuerlein.
He hired John Bonamego as the new coordinator, then went through three kickers in the offseason and another in the regular season before Matt Gay became his fifth choice.
In 2021, McVay said ‘so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night’ to Bonamego (demotion) and hired Joe DeCamillis.
In 2022, McVay said ‘so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night’ to Hekker.
The Rams eventually went with Riley Dixon after he won a competition to be the new punter.
In 2023, McVay said ‘so long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, good night’ to DeCamillis, Gay, and Dixon.
The Rams hired Chase Blackburn as the new coordinator, drafted punter Ethan Evans in the seventh round, and added two rookie kickers. Both have since been released and L.A. doesn’t have a kicker on the 53 as of Friday; the team signed veteran Brett Maher (who has not had a good career by any stretch of ‘good’) and he’s on the practice squad as a probable call-up.
The L.A. Rams also have a rookie longsnapper, their third new option in the last four years.
So just in the last five years, the Rams have had four different special teams coordinators, three different punters, four different kickers (five as soon as they pick one), and three different longsnappers. I didn’t even count kick and punt returners. I wouldn’t know where to begin with players on the coverage units.
Talking about the last four years, it is fair to say that L.A. has had one of the worst collective special teams units in the NFL. In part because McVay gives no outward appearances of giving a damn about that phase of the game, which is the polar opposite of Fisher. Maybe that’s the point?
“Be nothing like Jeff Fisher, even when it’s at my own detriment.”
That’s the past though. Here’s what I can confidently say about the Rams key special teams players right now:
Ethan Evans can probably punt the ball as far as anybody in the NFL, at least without a negligible difference between him and #1. I mean, it’s not like any team needs someone who can punt it 101 yards. So that’s what makes him L.A.’s punter. However, that’s also been his biggest problem in the preseason: He punts it too far and it gets to the punt returner too fast.
I don’t know the stats, but the Rams must have had one of the worst punting performances of the preseason because there were quite a few big returns despite only playing three exhibition contests. Evans had the longest punt average of the preseason, but one of the worst (if not worst) net punt return averages, and easily the largest gap between those two numbers. (Net punt return is simply the average distance between the line of scrimmage at time of punt and the line of scrimmage on the next play for the opposing team. So I punt it from my 20, you have the ball at the 50, net punt=30 yards.)
Whether it is DeeJay Dallas or Jaxon Smith-Njigba returning punts on Sunday, watch out: This could be the best opportunity all season for a long return.
The Rams cut not one, but two undrafted free agent kickers this year and have settled on Brett Maher, assuming he’s called up to the 53. Maher has been with 10 different teams since 2017. He has only been active for three of those teams (including two stints with the Cowboys) and most recently he was cut by the Broncos before being added to L.A.’s practice squad.
Maher actually went 29-of-32 on attempts last season, 50-of-53 on extra points, and 9-of-11 on 50+. But you always gotta ask yourself why a kicker like that isn’t wanted, especially at a position of need for plenty of teams.
In a 31-14 wild card win over the Bucs last season, Maher missed his first three extra point attempts and finished 1-of-5. The next week, he went 0-of-1 on point after tries.
In 2020, the Rams signed veteran Kai Forbath as a replacement (their second kicker of the year) and then cut him after missing an extra point and a 40-ish yard attempt in only two games. Maher feels like that move again.
The Rams list former UW receiver Puka Nacua as the punt returner, an interesting decision given that Nacua didn’t return anything in college. Longsnapper Alex Ward is a rookie, same situation as Seattle’s Chris Stoll.
Coordinator Chase Blackburn was Carolina’s special teams coordinator from 2018-2021. He was fired after the 2021 season, a year in which the Panthers went through three different placekickers and three different punters.
Essentially the situation is this: If the Rams still appeared as good on offense and defense as they have over the previous five years, EVERYONE would be talking about L.A.’s gamble on special teams this year. That would be the story of the Rams going into the season: “Why is such a great team figuratively punting their literal punting and kicking units?”
Only because the Rams are taking bigger gambles on offense and defense do we ignore the likelihood of being among the NFL’s worst special teams units.
Conversely, the Seahawks have one of the best coordinators in the league (Larry Izzo), one of the top punters, one of the top kickers, and it’s maybe one of the most underrated storylines of the offseason if JSN wins the punt return job.
The vision: The Seahawks score a special teams touchdown, get a turnover on special teams, and the Rams miss more field goals than Seattle has to convert field goals.
That could be at least a ten point swing on its own, to which I say, ‘good night’.
DK Metcalf has himself a Day-O
I’ve been bringing him up all offseason and now it’s time for the receiver who stands ‘six-foot, seven-foot, eight-foot, bunch’ to stand tall against arguably the worst secondary he’ll face all year.
DK Metcalf, please have yourself a Day-O against L.A.-o.
In nine career games against the Rams, Metcalf has had 622 yards and six touchdowns, including the playoffs. In fact, one of his better performances was a five-catch, 96 yard, two-touchdown game against L.A. in the 2020 wild card loss. However, that came on 11 targets.
He caught 5-of-5 for 98 yards and two scores in a 26-17 loss in 2021, then 8-of-8 for 127 yards and a touchdown in last season’s 27-23 win.
But other than in his first game against the Rams in 2019, Metcalf has always faced Jalen Ramsey. Sometimes that doesn’t matter, usually it does. This time, Ramsey won’t play a role at all since he’s on the Dolphins and recovering from a torn MCL.
One of the only cornerbacks in the entire league—and the reason he was a top-five pick—who can matchup with Metcalf physically is Ramsey. Unsurprisingly, the Rams don’t employ any corners like him anymore:
Cobie Durant is the fastest (not as fast as Metcalf though) but stands 5’11 and weighs 175.
Ahkello Witherspoon is the tallest (not as tall as Metcalf though) but isn’t that fast, weighs 195 and has never held a starting job for very long.
Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson is a sixth round rookie who weighs 180, Derion Kendrick was one of the worst corners in the NFL last season, and Duke Shelley (5’9) was a post-cuts pickup who serves a depth role for now.
It could be Tyler Lockett having a day. It could be Jaxon Smith-Njigba. It could even be Jake Bobo, for all we know-know. But I’m going to keep applying pressure to the 6’4, 235 lb, 4.33 receiver until he reaches his immense potential in the NFL. Metcalf is only 25 (!!!) and now is a great time to get back to the Pro Bowl and borderline All-Pro (was second team) status he had in 2020.
Metcalf had at least 90 yards in his first five games in 2020, then three 100+ yard games in the next six weeks of that season. Where’d he go? Let’s bring him back from the dead, shall we?
The vision: DK Metcalf is targeted 12 times, he catches 10 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns.
Or my name isn’t Otho Fenlock.
Uchenna Nwosu holds Matthew Stafford tight for Seahawks pass rush afternoon delight
“Gonna grab Matt Stafford, gonna hold him tight, gonna grab some afternoon delight; my motto’s always been when it’s right, it’s right, why wait until the middle of a cold dark night?”, as I’ve always said.
With talk of Boye Mafe being ‘most improved’ and Derick Hall being ‘better than advertised’ thus far, the Seattle edge player getting most overlooked is probably also the one with the shiny new contract: Uchenna Nwosu.
Sunday AFTERNOON provides a great opportunity for Nwosu to get off to as good of a start as he had in his Seahawks debut, which was a sack, two QB hits, and a forced fumble against Russell Wilson on Monday Night, 2022.
Nwosu had seven sacks in his first nine games with Seattle, but then only 2.5 in his final nine, including playoffs. However, 2 of those 2.5 came against the Rams and backup John Wolford in Week 13; the other .5 came against Baker Mayfield’s Rams in Week 18. This L.A. offensive line could be as bad or worse than that one.
The Rams have new starters at four of five positions, when you include the fact that Coleman Shelton is moving from guard to center (where has two career starts) and Joe Noteboom is moving from left tackle to right guard (where he has never played before in college or the NFL). L.A. will start a rookie at left guard and a former undrafted free agent at left tackle.
The combination of five is essentially playing together for the FIRST time in practice this week.
New pass rush specialist B.T. Jordan is tasked with helping the Seahawks defense be as good as their potential (last season, Seattle ranked 27th on third downs and 24th in red zone rate on defense) because the talent is certainly there for the team to be top-5 or top-10 in pressures. I’m also intrigued by the presence of players like Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril in camp this year.
Last season, 19 of their 45 sacks came from Nwosu and Darrell Taylor, who has missed basically all of the fall. Mafe was limited in practice this week with an illness and it is not clear how that could impact the pass rush over the weekend. Hall has a shoulder injury.
But this isn’t only about Uchenna Nwosu, I think he simply needs to take on the “Ron Burgundy” role of the pass rushers, as the highest paid, the veteran, the one who dominated L.A.’s offense last season. I like this to be a team effort, just like any good news team.
The vision: The Seahawks sack Rams quarterbacks eight times on Sunday afternoon, including 2.5 by Nwosu, 2 by Taylor, 1.5 by Boye, and one each by Mario Edwards, Derick Hall, and Dre’Mont Jones.
[He inserts a quote from Anchorman, something never done before in history.]