In their first two playoff games, the Los Angeles Rams have played well in all three phases. Star players have stepped up in key moments - such as Matthew Stafford’s game-winning bomb to Cooper Kupp in the divisional round - and the Rams have also received timely contributions from unheralded depth players, such as David Long, Jr.’s pick-six against Kyler Murray in the wildcard game.
The good news for Los Angeles is that they could be getting as many as five players back in the mix this week. Andrew Whitworth and Taylor Rapp are on the active roster but were inactive for the game against the Buccaneers. Ernest Jones, Darrell Henderson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Robert Rochell have been designated for return from injured reserve but have yet to be activated.
Andrew Whitworth, LT
Whitworth was ruled out last Friday with a leg injury that he suffered on the first play of the wildcard game. Joseph Noteboom filled in admirably on the field, being named as a “winner” for his performance.
While there might not be much drop off from Whitworth to Noteboom on the field, the veteran is one of the team’s offensive captains and his presence is important in terms of leadership.
Taylor Rapp, DB
Los Angeles lost both starting safeties to injury in Week 18 versus the San Francisco 49ers - Jordan Fuller suffered an ankle injury and Taylor Rapp left with a concussion. Rapp has not practiced over the last two weeks and there has been little to no news on his status. The league’s concussion protocol is tricky, but it would be a mild surprise not to see him available three weeks after suffering the initial injury.
Nick Scott has been impressive in Rapp and Fuller’s absences, getting a big hit on AJ Green to break up a big pass play in the wildcard round and then intercepting Tom Brady during the first half in Tampa Bay. Second-year safety Terrell Burgess has been quiet, but sometimes that’s a sign a coverage player is doing his job.
Ernest Jones, ILB
Promising young linebacker Ernest Jones could also return from his stint on the injured reserve list this week, which would be a welcome addition for LA.
Travin Howard has played well in coverage from the off-ball linebacker spot, but the Rams use him sparingly against run-heavy teams. Troy Reeder played well against the Cardinals but struggled versus Tampa Bay - missing a one-on-one tackle attempt on Leonard Fournette that resulted in the game-tying touchdown.
Darrell Henderson, RB
Sean McVay has talked at length about using two-back sets in order to create favorable matchups on offense, but we haven’t seen the team utilize these personnel groupings with Cam Akers and Sony Michel. In fact, we did not see much of Michel in the divisional round at all as he carried carried the ball only a single time as opposed to Akers’ 24 attempts.
Could the return of Darrell Henderson allow McVay to dig deeper into his bag and utilize these two-back sets, or should this be the Akers show moving forward? Henderson was effective early in the season, but as wear and tear took a toll he became less of a factor in the running game.
Sebastian Joseph-Day, DT
LA’s defensive line has played at a high level in its first two playoff games and they’ve been effective both against the run and rushing the passer. Greg Gaines and A’Shawn Robinson have emerged as of late, so it’s fair to wonder how much of a boost Joseph-Day could provide; however, as we’ve seen with the Rams, it’s a good problem to continue to bring guys into the fold as you could quickly become short handed (see signing of Odell Beckham, Jr. and injury of Robert Woods).
The Rams will need to stop the run versus San Francisco, and that’s something Joseph-Day has been adept at.
Robert Rochell, CB
As has been much discussed, Los Angeles has lost its last six games versus the 49ers - and Deebo Samuel is a big reason why. Samuel is a unique athlete that San Francisco does an exemplary job using in unique ways. It’s typical to see him line up in the backfield, at tight-end, or really anywhere - and the 49ers are going to get him the ball in space. The Rams haven’t had answers for this in the last several matchups.
But rookie corner Robert Rochell is an athletic freak also, though he’s still considered to be fairly green in terms of football skills. It’s not fair to ask Rochell to matchup with Samuel one-on-one, but at least he could give the Rams someone other than Jalen Ramsey to mitigate the damage. LA could use all the speed it can get on defense for the NFC title game, and Rochell would be a big boost.