Rams-Seahawks matchups: Who will fill the void left by Cooper Kupp?

Los Angeles, CA - September 18: Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford rolls out for a pass.
Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford rolls out for a pass against the Atlanta Falcons on Sept. 18, 2022. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Breaking down how the Rams and the Seattle Seahawks match up heading into their season opener 1:25 p.m. PDT Sunday at Lumen Field in Seattle. The game will be shown on Fox.

When Rams have the ball

Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson catches a pass in front of Cardinals inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons at SoFi Stadium.
Rams wide receiver Van Jefferson, right, catches a pass in front of Arizona Cardinals inside linebacker Isaiah Simmons at SoFi Stadium on Nov. 13, 2022. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Star wide receiver Cooper Kupp was placed on injured reserve Saturday because of a hamstring injury that has lingered since he suffered it during training camp. The Rams’ offense without the 2021 NFL offensive player of the year is nowhere near as potent. So quarterback Matthew Stafford will begin his 15th NFL season without his top target.

Receivers Van Jefferson, Tutu Atwell, rookie Puka Nacua and Ben Skowronek will try to fill the void, but look for coach Sean McVay to make veteran tight end Tyler Higbee the go-to receiver for Stafford.

Without Kupp, and the need to keep Stafford upright, McVay also could go run heavy and have Stafford repeatedly put the football in the hands of running back Cam Akers. The fourth-year pro aims to pick up where he left off last season, when he rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games.

The line will include left tackle Alaric Jackson, rookie left guard Steve Avila, center Coleman Shelton, right guard Joe Noteboom and right tackle Rob Havenstein.

The Seahawks defense is anchored by veteran linebacker Bobby Wagner, who is back in Seattle after a one-year stint with the Rams. Seahawks standout safety Jamal Adams will not play because of a knee injury.

When Seahawks have the ball

Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith warms up before a preseason game.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith warms up before a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers on Aug. 26. (Kiichiro Sato / Associated Press)

Quarterback Geno Smith proved doubters wrong last season and showed he was better than his journeyman reputation. Now Smith, who signed a huge extension, must prove he can produce two seasons in a row.

Smith has a formidable receiver trio in DK Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and rookie Jaxson Smith-Njigba. Running back Kenneth Walker III, who narrowly missed being voted the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year last season, has been nursing a groin injury. His backups are DeeJay Dallas and former UCLA star Zach Charbonnet.

Seven-time All-Pro lineman Aaron Donald is the only remaining star on the Rams defense. Third-year linebacker Ernest Jones is the signal-caller for a young unit that includes edge rusher Michael Hoecht.

The secondary is motivated to show that the back end of the defense is better than the NFL-worst preseason ranking it received from the Pro Football Focus website.

Second-year pros Cobie Durant and Derion Kendrick are part of a cornerback group that includes rookie Tre Tomlinson and veteran Ahkello Witherspoon.

The Rams signed veteran John Johnson III, a former starter before he joined the Cleveland Browns via free agency, near the end of training camp to bolster a safety corps that includes veteran Jordan Fuller and second-year pros Russ Yeast and Quentin Lake.

When they kick

After the final preseason game, the Rams signed kicker Brett Maher, who last season made 29 of 32 field-goal attempts for the Dallas Cowboys. Maher, a fourth-year pro, is part of a new Rams specialists group that includes rookie punter Ethan Evans and rookie long-snapper Alex Ward. Seahawks kicker Jason Myers made the Pro Bowl last season.

By the numbers

Gary Klein’s prediction

The NFC West rival Rams and the Seahawks always play each other tough. The Rams might surprise doubters but they will not be able to overcome Kupp’s absence.


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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.