Seahawks-Rams: Three Key Matchups

With a victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday, the Seahawks will win the NFC West and likely earn the top seed in the National Football Conference. Beating the Rams isn't as easy as it sounds, as the Seahawks found out in Week Seven and the 49ers and Broncos have since discovered. Containing a ferocious pass rush led by Robert Quinn and rookie phenom Aaron Donald will be key.

As much as any other professional sport, the NFL is a team game. No one player can be successful without the assistance of others. That said, individual matchups can and do determine winners and losers on a weekly basis. Scout.com brought in greater Seattle resident and NFL scout Rob Rang to help determine the individual matchups that will determine whether the Seahawks will win or lose this week.

Here are his thoughts on the three critical one-on-one matchups for this week's game.


Seahawks LT Russell Okung vs. Rams DE Robert Quinn

In terms of one-on-one battles, Okung vs. Quinn ranks right up there with Richard Sherman against Michael Crabtree as one of the most highly anticipated showdowns among Seattle's rivals. Quinn and Okung are each former early first round picks and have emerged as legitimate Pro Bowlers at their respective positions. Quinn led the NFC with 19 sacks a season, four of which came against the Seahawks.

Quinn was held sackless over the first six games of the 2014 season but notched his first QB takedown against Okung in Week Seven. He's been on fire since, registering 10.5 sacks and five forced fumbles during that time. The 6-4, 265 pounder, has an explosive first-step, long arms to bat away the reach the pass-blockers and the agility to be able counter back inside when he feels a tackle leaning.

Okung has performed well this season when healthy but has struggled with nagging injuries, including the bruised lung that sidelined him at halftime two weeks ago against San Francisco and held him out of last week's win in Arizona. While Alvin Bailey performed well in Okung's absence, he is lacking in two areas considered critical in defending against Quinn - length and lateral agility. These are two relative strengths for Okung, a 6-5, 310 pounder who boasts 36" arms and showed his power with 38 repetitions of 225 pounds at the 2011 Scouting Combine.

Seahawks RG J.R. Sweezy vs. Rams DT Aaron Donald

Memorable battles in the past earned Okung vs. Quinn top-billing but those looking to Sunday's game with an eye towards the future will want to pay extra attention inside, where the two most athletic linemen for each club will be fighting it out.

Sweezy hasn't emerged as the Pro Bowl right guard that some anticipated heading into the season but he is coming off a terrific performance last week against the Cardinals that Pro Football Focus graded as his best game of the year. Donald, on the other hand, did emerge as a Pro Bowler this season despite the fact that he didn't even win a starting job in St. Louis until Week Five. He enters this week's matchup with 40 tackles, including eight sacks. His best performance of the year, thus far? You guessed it... against Sweezy and the Seahawks in Week Seven in which Donald recorded a season-high five tackles, including a sack.

At "just" 6-1, 285 pounds, Donald is much smaller and quicker than most NFL defensive tackles. This poses a problem for Sweezy, who relies on his agility and aggression to control defenders. When Sweezy is able to latch on, he's generally quite effective. Donald has the burst to penetrate gaps before interior linemen can grab hold of him, however, and he chops his hands like an NFL veteran.

The key to the Seahawks containing both Quinn and Donald is pretty simple - make them defend the run rather than letting them pin their ears back to rush the quarterback. Sweezy, like Okung, is more powerful than his Rams' counterpart and therefore the Seahawks can control the line of scrimmage if they commit to the running game and aren't forced to pass their way back into the game like they did in the Week Seven loss.

Rams RB Tre Mason vs. Seahawks MLB Bobby Wagner

Since rushing for a then-career high 85 yards and his first NFL touchdown against Seattle in Week Seven, Mason has emerged as the Rams' unquestioned top back. He's led the club in carries in each game since and enters the regular season finale with 737 rushing yards, including four touchdowns.

Mason's success came a Seahawks defense that was lacking Wagner, among others. Seattle's middle linebacker was named to his first Pro Bowl this week and likely is eager to prove his worthiness. His instincts, physicality and reliable open-field tackling has helped Seattle return to No. 1 in the NFL in Total Defense, allowing just 268.6 yards per game - nearly 30 yards stingier than the second-place Detroit Lions (295.9).

Short, shifty and able to accelerate in a flash, Mason is a chunk yardage threat every time he touches the ball. The Rams featured Mason in their "upset" wins over the Seahawks and the 49ers (19 rushes for 65 yards) and Broncos too (career-high 29 carries for 113 yards) and they'd like nothing better than to neutralize Seattle's speed and quiet the raucous CenturyLink crowd than by running him 20+ times Sunday against the Seahawks.

If Seattle can get an early lead and force St. Louis to pass the ball, the Seahawks could roll away with this game as impressively as they did last week against the Cardinals. If St. Louis is within a touchdown at halftime, however, the battle between Mason and Wagner could become critical.

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