The Los Angeles Rams welcome the Seattle Seahawks to SoFi stadium this week for their second divisional battle of the year. LA was able to take the victory Week 1 in Seattle, but they are dealing with a few more injuries, and potentially in a more difficult position at 3-6, this time around.
In a matchup that is extremely important for the Rams to win if they hope to make any waves late into the season, here are the four most important storylines I believe could affect the outcome of the game.
QB Matthew Stafford’s health and play
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to start vs Seattle this week, his first game back after injuring his hand against the Dallas Cowboys. It was reported Wednesday by The Athletic’s Jourdan Rodrigue on “X” that Stafford looked to have his normal velocity and spin on the ball in the limited media showing from practice. It’s worth noting that practice was also held in the rain, making it even more encouraging that Stafford was able to grip and throw the ball well, given the conditions.
That said, head coach Sean McVay has already admitted that the veteran QB probably wouldn’t be at 100% and that “he’ll be pushing through.” The Rams signed veteran quarterback Carson Wentz to join the team incase Stafford suffered a setback, but with Wentz’s limited time in LA, even not at full health Stafford is probably the best chance that Los Angeles has at running their normal offense.
Stafford will get some protection back on Sunday in the form of right tackle Rob Havenstein, who is expected to return from injury after missing the game vs the Packers. The Rams have dealt with injury along the offensive line all year, however in this game it looks as though Stafford should have all of his starters to help protect his injured hand and keep him upright off the turf.
Could RB Zach Evans finally get some carries?
Sixth round pick Zach Evans only has four attempts for 10 yards so far this season, but could the rookie tailback finally be in the offensive game plan against Seattle? On The Coach McVay Show during the bye week, McVay specifically made a comment about Evans potential in the back half of the season:
“Zach Evans is another guy that I’m intrigued to see if he gets an opportunity to get some carries towards the second half of the season,” McVay said. “He’s gotten better and better and practice, and then see if he gets an opportunity to get out there.”
Is it possible the Rams were trying to save the young back for the second half of the season and not have him tack on too many miles early on? Maybe or maybe not, but it’s the only reason I can come up with as to why the team has not given him a chance to play with both Kyren Williams and Ronnie Rivers on IR the last few weeks.
If Evans is left out of the game plan again, the combination of Darrell Henderson and Royce Freeman will continue to handle the load. The pair have filled in admirably during Williams and Rivers absence, but lack the explosiveness that Evans showed in college and the preseason.
Can Puka Nacua and Cooper Kupp get back on track?
Week 1 against Seattle was rookie Puka Nacua’s coming out party, as the young receiver went for 10 receptions on 119 yards in the game. Unfortunately, as of late Nacua has been dealing with a knee injury and has not performed to his normal standards the last few weeks - totaling just six receptions on 75 yards in the last two games.
While McVay has already said that Nacua being limited in practice was just precautionary, he also made note that Nacua was “limited in terms of just some of his overall movement against Green Bay, and you know just the style at which he played I’ll be interested to see if he’s ever truly back full speed”
McVay then back pedaled on the comment about Nacua not ever truly being back to full speed this season, however it does make one wonder how injured he actually is. Nacua is a physical receiver that takes many hits and has been banged up all season long, first with rib injuries sustained in the first Seattle game, to now some knee swelling as of late.
Meanwhile, Cooper Kupp missed the first game vs the Seahawks, but has been back since Week 5. Stafford’s go-to receiver has just not been able to find his rhythm since returning from a hamstring injury though, and has not had over five receptions, or gone over 50 yards, in the last three games.
This could be a rebound game for Kupp though, as he has always seemed to play well against Seattle. In his last game vs the Seahawks, Kupp went for nine receptions, 136 yards and two touchdowns. The Rams are hoping that he can put on a showing like that again this time around.
The return of MLB Ernest Jones and NT Bobby Brown
Rams captain, and arguably the best player on their defense not named Aaron Donald, MLB Ernest Jones was out with a knee injury vs the Packers, and it showed as Green Bay ran for 184 yards in the game. Seattle has one of the best young running backs available in second-year player Kenneth Walker, and LA will need to find a way to stop him on the ground. Jones’ return could be a major help in that department.
Los Angeles also welcomes back some reinforcements on the defensive line, as nose tackle Bobby Brown makes his return from IR after being out since Week 6. Brown had played in 40% of possible defensive snaps through the first five games this season, and was a big presence in their run defense, even if his numbers don’t particularly show it on the stats sheet.
At a minimum, Brown’s return will put less pressure on rookie Kobie Turner to play every snap. Turner has actually been a bright spot since taking on a larger role, and both players should mutually benefit from the ability to rest a bit more between series.
The Rams also brought OLB Keir Thomas up from the practice squad. Thomas was the only player this preseason to record a sack for LA, and may have been brought up to lessen the load for the struggling Michael Hoecht.