Fassel makes coaching debut as Rams visit Seahawks (Dec 15, 2016)
The Week 15 NFL schedule kicks off Thursday in Seattle where the 8-4-1 Seahawks host the NFC West rival Los Angeles Rams. Both teams are coming off devastating Week 14 losses. The Seahawks lost to a hot Green Bay Packers squad 38-10, while the Rams got booed out of the Los Angeles Coliseum in their 42-14 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.
That loss was the final straw for Rams head coach Jeff Fisher. He was fired on Monday.
"This is the right time to make a change as our performance has not lived up to my or our fans' expectations," Rams owner Stan Kroenke said in a team issued statement about Fisher's removal as head coach. "We all are focused on improving as an organization and building a team that makes Los Angeles proud. Our mission is to celebrate a Super Bowl title with our fans in Los Angeles. Today is the first step to bringing us closer to that goal."
The Rams (4-9) have lost four straight games and the offense has looked like "a middle-school offense" in the words of Rams running back Todd Gurley. The second-year runner out of Georgia has regressed this season. Gurley, who had five 100-yard rushing games in 2015, has yet to break that threshold in 2016. Gurley is averaging only 3.3 yards a rush and has scored five rushing touchdowns.
John Fassel, the Rams special teams coordinator, has been tabbed to close out the last three games as head coach. His first game at the helm comes on a short week and on the road. Fassel will be tasked with trying to keep a team together that seems to not be playing with any passion or fire.
When asked if he thinks everyone was showing up to play, Gurley answered, "I don't. I really don't. We're just going through the motions. It looks like everybody's just playing to get through. Man, we gotta play. I don't care if we're out of the playoffs or not. I don't care. Just come up, show up, play. That's why we play this game. Show up, play?"
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll needs his quarterback, Russell Wilson, to show up and play better than he did against the Packers. Wilson was intercepted five times and had numerous other poor throws that contributed to the blowout loss. The Seahawks are the only team in the NFC West with a winning record and should win the division with ease. But Wilson needs to play better down the stretch if Seattle wants to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"When we turn the ball over like that, nothing feels right and you don't have a chance to get anything accomplished," Carroll said. "I know you want to know reasons. I don't know. We've been together for five years now and we haven't seen anything like that so it's a pretty unusual occurrence."
As the running game of the Rams continues to struggle, the ground attack for the Seahawks is picking up steam at just the right time. Running back Thomas Rawls, who is finally healthy, helped carry the rushing attack the past two games. Seattle had 136 yards rushing against the Packers. The Seahawks have rushed for over 120 yards and averaged over five yards a carry in the past four games.
Rawls has 173 yards rushing the last two weeks. He will be looking to add to that total Thursday against the Rams. Los Angeles gives up 110.3 yards per game and 4.2 yards per rush. The Rams also have given up big runs, allowing 11 over 20-plus yards this season. Only San Francisco and Miami have allowed more.
"It's been a month of a big turn from what it was. Thomas really ran hard again the other night. We feel like we can really find the balance that we like," said Carroll of his running back's return.
The improvement on the ground goes hand in hand with Rawls' return to the lineup after missing seven games with a hairline fracture on his fibula. Seattle had gone six straight games without gaining 100 rushing yards before Rawls returned to the lineup.
Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner leads the NFL in tackles with 139 and Seattle's defense is third in the NFL in points allowed with 17.8 per contest. Seattle will be facing a Rams' offense that is the worst in the NFL and only averages 14.9 points a game. The Rams have only scored 194 points the entire season.
Seattle has produced 16 turnovers on defense in 2016 while the Rams' offense has giving the football up 24 times. The Rams will need to cut down on turnovers for a chance to beat the Seahawks on a short week and on the road.