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How did Rams rookies fare in Week 6 against Cardinals?

Byron Young had a key strip-sack; Puka Nacua had an extremely quiet outing

Arizona Cardinals v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams shut down any hopes of an upset in the second half of their 26-9 win over the Arizona Cardinals. LA sits at .500 on the season and has a firm hold on third place in the NFC West through six games.

One key member of the Rams’ rookie class slammed the door on Arizona’s last-gasp comeback bid. Here is a progress check on that player along with other notable first-year players after Week 6.

Byron Young

Remember how I said last week to be patient with Young and the sacks will come? Well, the rookie defender must’ve taken note and played his best game in the NFL to date. Young made a splash play that held off any possible hope of a comeback for the Cardinals.

Arizona was driving down the field with 6:23 left to play in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals were down 23-9 at the time and needed a touchdown to make it a one-possession game. On second down, Young came crashing down on Josh Dobbs and forced the veteran signal caller to lose the ball on a strip-sack.

That was Young’s second sack of the year and the first forced fumble of his career. I want to show another angle of Young’s sack as it was quite impressive upon further review. On the play, Young fended off the Arizona lineman with one arm as he closed in on Dobbs. His elite closing speed overpowered the lineman which caused Dobbs to not have much chance at all in getting the ball out cleanly.

We’ve been waiting for Young to have his signature play and finally he had it in one of the most important moments of the game. The Tennessee product finished behind Ernest Jones with six total tackles along with one sack while tacking on two more QB hits. He is quickly becoming a force on the Rams defense. Young’s pursuit towards the football is special and adds another layer to this unit.

Puka Nacua

For the first time all season, Nacua failed to reach at least 50 yards receiving in a game. Puka posted a pedestrian stat line with four catches for 26 yards on seven targets. The rookie has taken a backseat to Cooper Kupp ever since the All-Pro returned from injury.

For reference, Nacua was targeted 20 times alone in a Week 2 loss to the 49ers. His target share through the two games that Kupp has played is a tad concerning. It’s fair to wonder how much Kupp’s continued presence in the offense will eat into Nacua’s target share. Nauca failing to reel in a sure-fire touchdown pass had to have put a small dent in Matthew Stafford’s confidence of him as well.

I would hope that the BYU product’s proven body of work through his first five games will show what a reliable target he is. Nacua simply had a tough game which was expected to happen eventually. No young player can maintain that level of dominance for long as even the best of them hit that dreaded rookie wall.

Nacua will bounce back in the coming weeks as I doubt he’ll stay down for long. He’s one of two rookie wideouts on pace for 1,000 yards receiving. After the start he had to his NFL career, anything less than a 1,000-yard campaign will be a disappointment.

On a side note, Puka also could’ve expressed frustration over Kupp “stealing” his targets but he didn’t. Unsurprisingly, the rook took the high road by praising all he’s learned from his star teammate.

Other Notes

  • While Kyren Williams had a monster game on the ground, Zach Evans finally got to see some reps on offense. Evans carried the ball four times for 10 yards, his longest rush going for three yards. Not the most memorable day by any means but any reps for the Ole Miss product will be essential. The rookie only got to see playing time after RB2 Ronnie Rivers exited with a knee injury. Between the injury to Rivers along with Williams suffering an ankle injury, Evans could be given more opportunities. It’ll be a fascinating situation to monitor as Evans was quite the intriguing prospect coming out of college.
  • Ochaun Mathis made his debut in Week 5 against the Eagles and played just 10 snaps. This week versus Arizona, Mathis didn’t record a tackle but he had a QB hit on Dobbs. Pass rush is clearly the weakness of this Rams team and I’ll be curious to see how many snaps he’ll receive moving forward. He is deserving of more snaps and should get them on a defense that can always use more reinforcements.
  • No rookie report would be compete without a punter watch. Fat chance I would’ve punted on that opportunity Turf Show Ramily. Anyways, Ethan Evans had four punts that went for 186 yards. His longest punt was a 52-yarder and he even got a kick inside the 20. Long live his booming leg!