First, it was a beast of an early schedule that challenged the Los Angeles Rams. Now there’s a whole new issue in advance of a meeting against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday in Inglewood, Calif.
The Rams have managed to compile a 3-3 record despite already playing the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Cincinnati Bengals and Philadelphia Eagles — all teams that have left them with losses. They have two road victories, including one over the Seattle Seahawks.
And just when the Rams appeared to find a formidable rushing attack in a 26-9 victory over the Arizona Cardinals last week, that area of the offense has been reshuffled.
Los Angeles running back Kyren Williams is out for at least four weeks with an ankle injury, while backup Ronnie Rivers also is out with a knee injury. Williams had a career-best 158 yards rushing last week, 154 of which came in the second half.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford is now set to hand off to rookie Zach Evans, a sixth-round draft pick out of Ole Miss. Other options could include the return of Darrell Henderson, who was signed to the practice squad this week, while Royce Freeman and Myles Gaskin also were signed.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, like any week, but especially against an outfit like (the Steelers) to be efficient on those early downs and not get into those situations where they can pin their ears back and really dictate the terms,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said while complimenting Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. “That makes it really difficult against excellent players, great schemes.”
The Rams, who are 1-2 at home, can lean into their passing attack with wideouts Cooper Kupp and standout rookie Puka Nacua, but their production was limited while the team scored six first-half points against the Cardinals. Stafford completed eight passes in the first half.
The Steelers (3-2) enter off their bye week, having defeated the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 in Week 5. Despite giving Baltimore fits, they have yet to meet the standard of Tomlin teams in the past at third from the bottom in the NFL with 389.4 yards allowed per game.
Pittsburgh’s defense allows 143.8 rushing yards per game but did manage to sack Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson four times, with T.J. Watt recording two of them. Kwon Alexander had a sack and three tackles for loss.
Steelers wide receiver Diontae Johnson is set to return after not playing since Week 1 following a hamstring injury.
“I’ve been working my behind off,” Johnson said before the bye, while expressing his intention to come back off injured reserve for the game against the Rams. “I feel completely great and healthy. I’m ready to start getting back to work.”
Running back Anthony McFarland (knee), right guard James Daniels (groin) and tight end Pat Freiermuth (hamstring) also moved closer to a return with full practice participation Wednesday.
“We’re excited about the relative health of our group,” Tomlin said.
Embattled Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada received a vote of confidence from Tomlin, with improvement expected in a rushing attack that is 28th in the NFL (80.4 yards per game) and a passing game that is 27th (187.8 yards).
Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick did not practice Wednesday after his arrest Sunday on misdemeanor gun charges. “I’m hoping to have further clarity and information,” McVay said Wednesday.
Los Angeles defensive tackle Larrell Murchison and linebacker Ernest Jones also missed practice Wednesday with knee injuries. Offensive tackle Joe Noteboom (groin) was limited after missing the past two games.