INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP)The rest of the NFL has swiped plenty of ideas out of Sean McVay’s playbook over the past seven seasons, so the Los Angeles Rams’ head coach didn’t hesitate to take the “tush push” out of Philadelphia’s game plan this year.
Trouble is, nobody can do it quite like Jalen Hurts and the unbeaten Eagles.
“We tried it,” McVay said with a grimace, recalling the Rams’ attempt at the Eagles’ signature short-yardage gainer during their season opener at Seattle. “It didn’t look very good. That’s why we had to go for it on fourth-and-1. We tried it on second down. It looked nothing like Philly’s. We’ve got some other things maybe we’ll try.”
The Eagles’ formidable play is just one thing for the Rams to worry about when Philadelphia visits SoFi Stadium on Sunday, when rebuilding Los Angeles has an opportunity to sneak up behind a Super Bowl contender that looks a bit more vulnerable than its record.
The Eagles are 4-0 for the second straight season, yet there’s some simmering frustration among the defending NFC champions’ fans because of their relatively narrow victories and their struggles on defense, particularly the NFL’s 27th-ranked performance against the pass.
On the other coast, the Rams are only 2-2 in the second season after their Super Bowl triumph, yet most fans are pleasantly surprised by their team’s competence and exciting offensive play in what the franchise has acknowledged to be a reset season for their salary cap concerns and their roster depth.
With Matthew Stafford and rookie receiver Puka Nacua racking up impressive numbers at the forefront of the offense, the Rams feel they’ve got a shot against the NFL’s best despite their overall talent deficit, particularly on defense. But Los Angeles’ relatively undersized defensive line might find it difficult to stop many aspects of the Eagles’ powerhouse offensive game, and the tush push is no exception.
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris said the play relies on both precision and brute strength, but Los Angeles is ready to take a shot at it.
“It’s a play that is not legal anywhere else in football, to be able to push another player,” Morris said. “Whenever you have something that works that many times in a row, clearly it was ingenious of them to think of it. I’m sure they thought it was going to be outlawed by now, and it’s not. They continue to go with it, and we’ve got to do our best to push them back.”
At least the Rams have Aaron Donald, who has done more damage to offensive lines than any player of his generation.
“You’ve got to be stout in the middle,” Donald said. “Offensive line gets low, so you’ve got to try to get as low as you can. I think it starts with the center. You try to get under his pads and pop them up, and then guys crowd the ball and maybe you can stop it. It’s definitely tough.”
Donald is off to a strong start to his comeback season with 2 1/2 sacks and six quarterback hits in four games. The seven-time All-Pro has recorded a sack against 29 of the Rams’ 31 opponents during his career, only missing out against the Eagles and the New York Jets.
“Always have to be alert for the best player on the field,” Eagles coach Nick Sirianni said. “You don’t have to have the tape on very long to know where (No.) 99 is and how disruptive he is. … That doesn’t mean you do something crazy and completely do a bunch of different things that you haven’t done before, but knowing where he is on every snap is going to be critical, because we know how much of a force he is.”
PUKA AND COOP?
Nacua has toppled a slew of NFL rookie records while catching 39 passes for 501 yards in the Rams’ first four games. Los Angeles could get another boost if Super Bowl MVP Cooper Kupp is healthy enough to return from a hamstring injury that has kept him out since early in training camp.
STOP THE RUN
Los Angeles’ ground game has been moderately effective with Kyren Williams, who’s coming off his first career 100-yard rushing game and has scored five touchdowns already this season. The Rams are likely to find it harder to run against the Eagles’ defense, which has allowed just 252 yards rushing all season – second-fewest in the league.
Eagles defensive lineman Jalen Carter and Rams left guard Steve Avila already matched up at SoFi earlier this year when Carter’s Georgia Bulldogs beat Avila’s TCU Horned Frogs for the College Football Playoff championship. They’ll face off again Sunday as two promising NFL rookies on the interior lines.
Former Rams and Eagles coach Dick Vermeil will be honored during a halftime ceremony recognizing his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame last year.
The 86-year-old coach was a Rams assistant coach for four seasons in Los Angeles before becoming UCLA’s head coach and then taking over the Eagles in 1976, eventually leading them to the Super Bowl. He became the St. Louis Rams’ head coach in 1997 and won the franchise’s first Super Bowl championship in his third and final year in charge.
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