LOS ANGELES (AP)Rams running backs Kyren Williams and Ronnie Rivers are likely to miss games after getting hurt late in Los Angeles’ 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Sean McVay gave no specifics or prognoses Monday for Williams, who hurt his ankle in the fourth quarter after rushing for a career-high 158 yards, or backup Rivers, who hurt his knee earlier. But the coach indicated he could be without his top two ball-carriers when the Rams (3-3) host Pittsburgh on Sunday.
Williams and Rivers “are going to be out for a little bit,” McVay said. “It’s tough information for both of those guys, who have done a really good job. … The initial prognosis looks like it’s going to be challenging for those guys in the immediate future.”
The Rams, who traded away running back Cam Akers last month, could be relying on rookie Zach Evans or practice squad veteran Royce Freeman in their backfield in the immediate future.
The injuries put a damper on the good feelings from one of the Rams’ most impressive ground performances in recent years.
Los Angeles fell behind 9-6 at halftime after the Cardinals’ unorthodox defensive fronts fooled McVay and Matthew Stafford into flexing out of some rushing plays. But after running the ball only three times in the first half, the Rams aggressively committed to the run game after halftime with impressive results.
McVay, ever ready to criticize himself, absorbed a lesson in trusting his plan.
“We got talked out of some things that we didn’t necessarily need to,” McVay said of the Rams’ hesitant play-calling in the first half. “I knew we had, what was it, three runs in the first half? So, yes, I was aware of that.”
Although McVay has been calling NFL plays for nearly a decade, the Cardinals threw out some unusual schemes that fooled the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl into some regrettable decisions.
“However you cut it, it’s an excuse,” McVay said. “I have to do a better job right from the jump for our guys and put them in some better spots.”
The Rams’ passing game remained solid with strong play from Stafford and another big game from Cooper Kupp, but Los Angeles appeared to have the ingredients for a balanced offense capable of helping out its deliberately undermanned defense. Stafford believes the Rams can excel by establishing their running game whenever possible.
“It’s not as easy as lining up and just running the ball all the time,” Stafford said. “The defenses are going to have their hand in it, and we have to do a good job staying on the field on third down, all those kinds of things.”
The Rams curiously added only one new starter to the offensive line after the unit struggled with injuries and performed poorly overall last season. Yet the line has been significantly better this season, even in the latest injury absence of Joe Noteboom. After this impressive run-blocking effort against the woeful Cardinals, the line deserves credit as a primary reason the Rams are still at .500.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Kupp’s return has minimized Tutu Atwell’s role in the offense, and that seems unwise. After catching just two balls a week ago against Philadelphia, the speedy third-year pro turned his only target against Arizona into a 30-yard gem of catch-and-run football. The Rams need Atwell’s downfield speed to worry opposing defensive coordinators, but he won’t threaten them if Stafford never looks his way.
Edge rusher Byron Young had the best game yet in his promising rookie season with six tackles, five pressures, one sack and two quarterback hits, according to Pro Football Focus. He also forced the fumble that allowed the Rams essentially to wrap up their victory. LA’s defense badly misses edge rusher Leonard Floyd, but Young is becoming a factor.
Puka Nacua is six games into a record-setting start to his career, but the rookie’s hands are not perfect. He dropped what would have been a touchdown pass from Stafford in the first half, although the Cards were called for defensive holding on the play. Nacua had more drops than any receiver in the NFL by some measures over the first five weeks, though that’s also a product of being targeted more than any receiver.
Along with two major injuries at running back, NT Kobie Turner came out of his first career start with a shoulder injury, but McVay didn’t know how serious it was. Los Angeles is already thin at nose tackle with Bobby Brown sidelined for several more weeks because of a knee injury.
49 – The number of games played by the Rams since a running back put up more yards than Williams’ 158 against the Cards. The Notre Dame product was slowed by injuries last year, but he seized a starting role this season with two 100-yard games and seven total touchdowns.
A visit from Pittsburgh (3-2) is a chance to get above .500 against another opponent roughly on the Rams’ level. Aaron Donald will get to face his hometown team for only the third time in his career, and he’s 0-2 against the Steelers.
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