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Rams’ plan to replace star WR Cooper Kupp? Rediscover run game

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The question is simple, but the answer will take time for Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay to figure out.

How do you replace the production of All-Pro receiver Cooper Kupp?

The Rams will be without last year’s triple crown winner for at least the next month as he recovers from surgery to fix a high-ankle sprain he suffered in last week’s loss to the Arizona Cardinals. Kupp’s absence leave’s a crater-like hole in L.A.’s offense; he accounted for nearly 40% of the Rams’ receiving yards through nine games. 

It’s up to McVay and the rest of his coaching staff to jumpstart a failing offense without the team’s top playmaker, relying on a revolving door at offensive line and a young, evolving skill position group.

“We have to figure out the best way for us to utilize the players that we’re expecting to play and what do they do best,” McVay said. “And then how does that get reflected in the way that you’re trying to attack certain schemes relative to the upcoming opponent, with this being the New Orleans Saints. Those are things that you try to be able to work through and will continue to learn, and it’ll be an ever-evolving process.”

McVay went on to say that the most important thing for him and the coaching staff is connecting with the players currently on the roster, giving them a chance to compete and putting them in position to make plays. 

For the Rams, last in the NFC West at 3-6, it starts with creating ways to better run the football. Los Angeles averages a league-low 68 rushing yards per game, easily the worst running offense McVay has had since he took over as head coach in 2017.

Between Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson or Cam Akers his rookie season, over the years McVay’s successful offenses usually have featured an effective running game to create balance and effective play-action passes. 

The Rams have resolved issues with Akers, who had been on the trading block before the deadline, and McVay must design runs that better fit his skill set, along with the team’s top rusher, Darrell Henderson Jr., (274 rushing yards) and rookie Kyren Williams

And McVay will have to do so with the team’s 10th different starting offensive line combination in 10 games. Starting left tackle Alaric Jackson is out for the year after developing blood clots. The Rams also lost last week’s starting right guard, Chandler Brewer, for four-to-six weeks because of an MCL injury that requires surgery.

However, starting left guard David Edwards has a chance to return after missing four games with his second concussion this season. If Edwards returns, that would give the Rams four of the five projected starters from the beginning of the season: Edwards at left guard, Brian Allen at center, Coleman Shelton at right guard and Rob Havenstein at right tackle. The only new player added to that group would be Ty Nsekhe at left tackle in place of Jackson. 

The possible return of Matthew Stafford from concussion protocol also helps. The 34-year-old QB practiced on Wednesday after missing last week’s contest against Arizona and appears to have a chance to play on Sunday against the Saints. Having Stafford back on the field would create more stability, an expanded playbook and playmaking ability for the Rams.

Along with revamping the running game and getting Stafford back, the Rams must find a combination of players in the passing game to replace Kupp’s production.

That starts with Allen Robinson taking a larger role in the offense and third-year pro Van Jefferson getting more involved.

L.A.’s top free-agent addition, Robinson is third on the team in receptions (29) and receiving yards (292). Jefferson caught his first touchdown of the season last week after missing the first seven games with a knee issue.

Tight end Tyler Higbee also will be asked to do more in the pass game. He’s second on the team in receptions (44) and receiving yards (385). 

Bottom line is it will take a group effort to replace someone as talented and productive as Kupp.

“Obviously, you never, ever replace a player like Cooper Kupp,” McVay said. “But we’ve got to figure out the best way to accentuate the skill sets of the guys that will be playing. It’s a lot of guys that we’ll be continuing to learn about because until you play in these types of games, you don’t really know. 

“That’s part of what is enjoyable about the challenge and the journey and trying to be able to pour into these guys as good as we possibly can as coaches and see if we can get them to play to the best of their ability.”

Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.


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