The Los Angeles Rams narrowly missed starting their season with a 4-1 record on Thursday night, falling to the Seattle Seahawks by a score of 30-29. And that was just the beginning of the bad news to finish out the week.
On Friday, the team announced that outside linebacker Clay Matthews suffered a broken jaw in the game, and is expected to be out at least a month. But the show doesn’t stop there, despite the team losing its sack leader.
Sean McVay addressed the media on Friday and was asked who would be filling in for Matthews, and he was definitive in his response: “Samson (Ebukam) would. Samson would step up.”
The Eastern Washington linebacker - who was taken by the Rams in the 4th round of the 2017 NFL Draft - has played in every game since being drafted. He finished his 2018 campaign with 40 tackles, three sacks, three forced fumbles and an interception, which he returned for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs. Through five games in 2019, he’s tallied nine tackles and has recovered a fumble and is ranks third in snaps among linebackers behind Dante Fowler Jr. and Cory Littleton.
It’s fair to say this is a big hit for the Rams’ defense, and McVay said as much on Friday. The Rams’ head coach typically maintains his positivity regarding situations of this nature, displaying full confidence in the team’s ability to not regress. When asked about Ebukam’s play thus far through 2019, McVay’s endorsement was...less than ringing?
He’s played okay. I think he’s done some good things. Samson’s been a productive player for us over the last handful of years. I think he’s done a nice job really supplementing (LB) Dante (Fowler) and Clay on the edge. But now he will be asked to step up in a bigger role, play more snaps. We’ve seen him do that last year when he ended up making a big impact. We’ll certainly miss Clay, but it will be something that Samson will have to step up and we have confidence that he can do that.
It’s entirely possible I’m reading too much into that, but the sentiment I get is that he really feels losing Matthews is a huge blow for the team, and that his “next man up” is still a big step down.
Another alternative, though not mentioned (at all), is 2018 5th round (160th overall) edge rusher, Ogbonnia Okoronkwo. “Obo” suffered an injury to his foot last spring, forcing him to have surgery which ultimately landed him on the PUP list. He returned to health in November, but did not play in any games to finish out the year. And despite some heightened expectations that a healthy Okoronkwo could make an impact this year, he’s been inactive for every game.
Maybe Obo will see some action in the coming weeks while Clay recovers. Maybe not. For now it appears the plan is to move forward with Ebukam, who’s got some big shoes to fill. Hopefully he’s able to instill a little more confidence in his coach and the fans...starting next Sunday at home against the San Francisco 49ers.