Never mind Todd Gurley’s vanishing act, or Jared Goff’s recent struggles to protect the football.
The Rams offense is facing bigger issues.
Bigger, as in Jadeveon Clowney and Ziggy Ansah, the 6-foot, 5-inch bookends anchoring Seattle’s defensive line.
Although they’re still settling into their roles for the Seahawks, that troublesome twosome figures to present considerable problems Thursday night for a Los Angeles offensive line that has developed some fissures of late.
“They’re way better versed in what we’re doing,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Wednesday, when asked to compare where Clowney and Ansah were in Week 1 compared to now. “We’re learning about these guys and seeing what their special talent is, and where you can feel and adjust with them.”
Both essentially are on one-year deals, and were stars with their prior teams. Clowney was the first overall pick by Houston in 2014, and Ansah was the fifth pick by Detroit a year earlier. Each has something to prove.
The Rams, meanwhile, are trying to regain their footing along their offensive line, which has two new starters this season. That front was unbelievably fortunate the past two seasons, starting the same five linemen week after week. That’s unheard of in the NFL, in which some teams cycle through a dozen or more combinations of players along the line because of injury.
But the Rams are coming off a home loss to Tampa Bay that exposed some fault lines up front. Surprisingly, the problems weren’t with their young newcomers, but with established veterans. Left tackle Andrew Whitworth was flagged twice for holding, and right tackle Rob Havenstein had two false starts.
Center Brian Allen, starting only his fifth NFL game, recognizes the challenge of playing in one of the NFL’s noisiest stadiums.
“Cleveland was loud,” Allen said. “I know CenturyLink will be a lot louder.”
Everyone can have a bad game, but the pressure is on the Rams to be sharp Thursday in one of the NFL’s loudest stadiums, in a pivotal NFC West showdown between two 3-1 teams, and facing a pair of Pro Bowl defensive ends.
That’s not to say the dual disruptors have hit their stride. Ansah missed the first two games, still recovering from shoulder surgery. Clowney, who arrived by trade just before the season started, is just getting comfortable in his role in a 4-3 defense, a scheme he hadn’t played in since his college days at South Carolina.
“The more and more I get reps and get back on the field, the better I feel,” Clowney said. “Like I told coach, I’m feeling my groove and getting going.”
In this new situation, Clowney is breaking new ground. He had his first career interception in a 27-10 win at Arizona on Sunday, running it back 27 yards for a touchdown. On a short pass, he deftly reached up with his left hand and tipped the ball to himself, then beat a plodding offensive lineman down the sideline to the end zone.
Clowney had a sack against Cincinnati, when he chased Andy Dalton out of bounds. Ansah had one against the Cardinals on the final play of a game long since decided. They aren’t holy terrors yet, but their arrows are pointing upward, and Seattle’s defensive front could be rolling once Jarran Reed returns from his six-game suspension. Reed had 10½ sacks last season.
“We knew since Day One, regardless of the scheme or anything, these guys were going to make plays because they’re freak talents,” defensive end Branden Jackson said of Clowney and Ansah. “But we also knew once we started to jell, we’d be a better group week by week.”
No better week than now for the Seahawks, who have lost three in a row to the Rams, and six of the last eight.
McVay has coached the Rams to division titles the past two seasons, and the Seahawks are looking to win the NFC West for the first time since 2016. Three-quarters of the regular season remain, but if the Seahawks were to lose serve at home, their chances of winning the division would be seriously damaged.
For now, it’s that Seahawks defensive front — backed by the outstanding linebacker trio of Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, and Mychal Kendricks — that’s looking to do the damage. And it’s up to a struggling Rams offensive line to collect its composure, block out the noise, and come through.
Times staff writer Gary Klein contributed to this report.