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With an uncertain NFC, the Rams could be poised to make a run
The Los Angeles Rams lost to the San Francisco 49ers Sunday, in a game LA looked mostly in control of until halftime. The Rams have far exceeded most national expectations through two weeks, and while the fan base may still be feeling the loss to the hated divisional rivals, there are many reasons for fans to feel optimistic about the team heading into the remainder of the season.
Cooper Kupp’s potential return in 3 weeks
The Rams have had so much success through the air with rookie Puka Nacua, who has 25 catches and 266 yards in just two games, as well as Tutu Atwell, who also has 196 yards of his own. Because of their outstanding wide receiver play, I think it gets lost that LA still doesn’t even have their number one guy available yet. It’s fun to imagine how potent this offense could be with Cooper Kupp, Tutu Atwell and Puka Nacua lined up all together on the field.
It will be the first time since 2021 that Kupp should have a legitimate receiver (or two) across from him to take away some of the double teams, and with defenses focusing on Kupp and Nacua, who’s going to keep up with Atwell streaking down the field? The idea of these three guys, along with tight end Tyler Higbee, should have fans drooling for week 5, where Kupp is “hopeful to play” after head coach Sean McVay gave a positive assessment of Kupp’s recovery timetable last week.
Rams schedule gets a little easier after Week 5
Los Angeles had a gauntlet of a schedule the first five weeks of the season, facing 4/5 weeks against playoff teams in 2022. With a 1-1 record, and holding their own in both games, the Rams seem to already be ahead of the game. They go into this week with a Monday matchup against the 0-2 Cincinnati Bengals, who have not lived up to their offseason hype and may be without QB Joe Burrow after he reaggravated a calf injury from training camp. There’s no reason to think the Rams couldn’t legitimately pull out a win after going toe to toe with the 49ers, who are considered a better team that Cincinnati, especially if they are without Burrow.
Week 4 they head to Indianapolis, who have a rookie quarterback and will be without superstar Jonathan Taylor due to his IR status. On paper, LA should walk out of Lucas Oil Stadium with a win. There’s a real possibility the Rams head into Philadelphia week 5 being 3-1 and fully in contention with the NFC’s best.
After Philly the schedule lets up a bit, as the Rams get the Cardinals and Steelers at home. While the Cowboys week 8 will be a tough game, they then go Packers, Seahawks, Cardinals and Browns. After seeing how the Rams played against the San Francisco, I see no game here that LA doesn’t have a chance to win. In a perfect world they could go 8-3, maybe even 9-2 if they can sneak one out against The Eagles or Cowboys.
This team is very young and will only grow
What’s even more encouraging about Puka Nacua’s performance is remembering that it’s only his second game as a pro. Same goes for guard Steve Avila, who let up no pressures and no sacks through week 1 and had another strong outing against arguably one of the best defenses in football.
In addition to the offense, the Rams also have some stand out rookies on defense in edge rusher Byron Young and defensive tackle Kobie Turner. Young has registered 1.5 sacks through his first two games with six tackles, Kobie Turner has been a solid presence in the middle as well, with a half sack of his own and a five assisted tackles.
Even younger players outside of the rookies have been stepping up, like second year cornerback Cobie Durant or third year linebacker Ernest Jones. Durant has played very well since replacing All-Pro Jalen Ramsey and Jones looks like he learned a lot from his single year with Bobby Wagner in 2022. He has been fantastic thus far as a defensive captain and signal caller, and has nine tackles through two games.
Potential team additions and a first round pick next year
Cam Akers was a healthy scratch against San Francisco, something McVay called “a coach’s decision” and “best for the team at this time”. With the breakout of second year running back Kyren Williams, it looks like Akers time in LA is all but done. Williams has three rushing touchdowns and another one receiving through two games, which makes the rumors that teams around the league expect Akers to be available on the trade block, for the second time in two years, completely understandable.
I would also include fourth year receiver Van Jefferson in potential trade conversations as well. He has had two big drops through two games and with Nacua and Atwell exploding onto the scene, as well as Kupp possibly back in three weeks, where does Jefferson fit in the wide receiver room going forward?
If LA could package Akers, Jefferson and maybe a low to mid round pick to Indianapolis for Jonathan Taylor, would that be something they would consider? They have no real receivers outside of Michael Pittman and Akers would give them a young replacement for Taylor.
Brian Burns is also having contract disputes with the Carolina Panthers, and is someone the Rams have tried to trade for in the past. Could the Rams include a high draft pick along with Akers and Jefferson to some how bring Burns to LA for some extra help along the edge? It’s something they could desperately use against run heavy teams like the 49ers and Seahawks.
Unlike previous years, LA is expected to have an abundance of cap in 2024, with over $50 million dollars projected, and a first round pick for the first time since 2016. These are moves the Rams could potentially make, as they have the capital and the future money to get and resign the players they may acquire.