Jalen Ramsey showed his value to the Rams against the Seahawks
The chess match started with just under eight minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey lined up across from Seattle Seahawks receiver DK Metcalf, his white mouthpiece dangling from the bars of his helmet’s blue facemask. Metcalf ran an in route, and quarterback Russell Wilson looked that direction.
But Ramsey’s presence made the choice risky, and Wilson instead tossed a 21-yard completion to receiver Freddie Swain on a flare route. Though it was a positive play for his team, it symbolized Metcalf’s afternoon.
Entering the week, Metcalf ranked second in the league in receiving yards. Against Ramsey and his sticky coverage, the 6-foot-4, 229-pound 22-year-old saw only four targets, catching two passes for 28 yards and no touchdowns. It was his second-worst performance of the season, contributing to the Rams’ 23-16 win against the NFC West rivals.
“I expect that of myself, even better, to be honest,” Ramsey said after the game. “I played a lot of man against him and I felt like my coverage was really good, my technique was good and I was on my game.”
Andrew Whitworth’s injured left knee is not torn, but the Rams’ left tackle still will miss six to eight weeks. Joe Noteboom will take over as starter.
Ramsey lined up directly across from Metcalf approximately 69% of the total snaps, with safety help on about 18% of those snaps, according to a Times review of film. He shadowed Metcalf on 30 of his 42 routes, and did not allow a catch on the two targets while he was in man coverage, according to Next Gen Stats, a widely used analytical database. It severely limited Seattle’s offense, which struggled to respond to the Rams’ pressure.
Ramsey took outside leverage for most of the game while covering Metcalf, cutting off space near the sideline. The second-year player didn’t see a target in the first half.
His first catch came with a minute left in the third quarter on a stop route for nine yards, Wilson firing a dart when Metcalf found a hole in the zone coverage. Near the start of the fourth quarter, Metcalf again found room in the Rams’ zone, catching a low pass from Wilson for 19 yards that officials originally ruled incomplete. Otherwise, when matched up against Ramsey, Metcalf left the box score empty.
“DK is a great player, but Jalen is a guy that we have a tremendous amount of confidence in, and he answered the bell in a big way,” coach Sean McVay said.
Unlike traditional cornerbacks who follow an opposing team’s best weapon, Ramsey has roamed inside and outside in the secondary under new defensive coordinator Brandon Staley’s scheme. He frequently uses five defensive backs, with a “Star” position that is essentially an extra defensive back in the Rams’ nickel package.
Ramsey’s versatility allows him to flourish in the role, Staley said, recently comparing him to Lakers star LeBron James, who can play point guard and defend most power forwards at the same time.
The Seattle game was the first time this season Ramsey predominantly covered one player. The Rams made him the highest-paid cornerback this offseason so he can lock down elite receivers.
Metcalf fits that description.
In his sophomore campaign, Metcalf has developed into one of the best wideouts in the NFL, tied for second in touchdown receptions (eight), including clutch, go-ahead scores against the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings. Ahead of the game, Ramsey brushed off the matchup with reporters, saying “I’m sure I’ll guard him. I’m sure I’ll guard probably all of their receivers at some point.”
That was an understatement. But Metcalf showed glimpses of strength too.
Wilson heaved a pass to Metcalf on a go route near the start of the fourth quarter. Metcalf stutter-stepped and jetted downfield, creating space and getting behind Ramsey. But Wilson overthrew him on the potential big play, Metcalf extending his arms as the ball grazed his fingertips.
With just about two minutes left, Ramsey lined up about 10 yards away from Metcalf in man coverage, the Seahawks driving near midfield. Metcalf ran a comeback route, got open against Ramsey, but Wilson placed the ball too high.
Offensive wiz Sean McVay was supposed to take the Rams offense to new places with Jared Goff, but expectations haven’t been in touch with reality.
“We had every intention to do that, to get him the football,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “There was stuff called; ball just didn’t go there.”
Two of the Rams’ next three games include the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Arizona Cardinals, who boast star receivers Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and DeAndre Hopkins. McVay said the game plan involving Ramsey will vary week to week. But his adaptability gives them options.
“I think just his overall instincts, awareness and ability to be able to move around allows him to affect and influence the game in a variety of ways,” McVay said.
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