Cooper Kupp has been Matthew Stafford’s go-to guy since his arrival with the Los Angeles Rams, highlighted by a 145 catch 2021 season, where Kupp was targeted 191 times by Stafford. When Kupp was injured in training camp, many wondered where all of those targets would end up. Insert rookie Puka Nacua who now has 39 catches on 52 targets through just four games, which is also a rookie record.
Kupp’s return to practice this week poses an interesting situation for head coach Sean McVay, who will now need to figure out how to integrate Kupp and his targets back into the NFL’s fourth ranked offense. When speaking about Kupp and Nacua in his Wednesday press conference ahead of the Philadelphia game, around the 9:23 mark, McVay said:
“I think it’s a balance,” McVay said. “I think there’s always an element of, OK, what do we want to be able to live in? When are those situations coming up that we want to activate those types of plays? What type of structures are we anticipating to attack? And so, there’s a lot of layers, but I think it’s kind of deciding on – I think the first part of it is, it’s a good thing. Let’s see how today goes and let’s see if we’re able to continuously build and how big, how much we’re going to be able to utilize Cooper based on what he’s feeling like. But I’ve been in situations, whether you go back to Washington or I could go on throughout the seven years, this being Year 7, of guys that can do similar things but when you’re in a good position to be able to bring to life some of those skill sets. And I think it is good for guys to have complementary skillsets, which I think those two do of one another as well, but you look at it and it’s a fun thing to be able to work through.”
The Athletic confirmed that Kupp should be ready to go for Sunday and is “expected to play against the Eagles barring any setbacks.”
The Rams traded away Robert Woods after a knee injury last year and brought in Alan Robinson for 2022, a move that did not work out for LA, causing the ball to almost exclusively get funneled through Kupp last season and making the whole offense very one dimensional. This became even more apparent after Kupp went down with an injury halfway through the season and offensively the Rams were ranked dead last.
Nacua has already proven this time around that the Rams offense can now function without needing Kupp to do everything, which is why fans have to be excited at the idea of him and Nacua on the field together. Combined with Tutu Atwell, this is probably the strongest three receivers the Rams have had in a while, not even including the depth of Demarcus Robinson and Van Jefferson.
As McVay said, balance should be the best approach with both receivers. Kupp has dealt with injuries since basically November of last year, and Nacua has been banged up since Week 1 in Seattle. Being able to have both guys have 5-8 catches a game, as opposed to one having 10-15 catches, is only going to help extend the longevity and availability of both players for the duration of the season, as well as allowing Stafford to spread the ball around the entire offense.
The offense began to struggle last season as teams realized the Rams were going to Kupp on almost every passing play, so now they have a chance to make defenses question what is coming, and frankly they already have done a good job of that so far this season. Now any extra coverage that has been on Nacua this season, will be on Kupp, leaving Nacua most likely more open than he’s been all season and visa versa.
As for Kupp, he was back to his old ways at practice on Wednesday and did not appear to be feeling any lingering effects from his hamstring injury. When asked about how Kupp looked, safety John Johnson III said “He was catching acrobatic passes. He jumped for a high ball and got it. Like I said, normal.”
His quarterback Matthew Stafford also seemed happy to have his favorite target back, saying Wednesday at his meeting with the media:
“It was awesome,” Stafford said of Kupp’s return “I was happy for him, first and foremost. Just know the amount of work that he’s put into getting back onto the practice field. So just happy for him that he was out there moving around and looking good.”
I, for one, am excited to see what McVay and the offensive brass can come up with going forward. Given the depth at wide receiver, and a run game that is coming off 102 yard, 2 touchdown day, the Rams seem to be getting stronger as they head into the thick of their schedule.