“They’ve got a really good receiving core,” said Matt LaFleur on Wednesday. “Obviously, Matthew Stafford is as good as anybody at being able to throw the football. They got (Tyler) Higbee. They’re getting their run game going much better. I feel like they’ve revamped their offensive line.
“They’ve got an explosive offense, and it’s a challenge because they’ve got a lot of pieces that they can throw the ball to, and I think they’re doing a good job with their ground game as well.”
The combination of Cooper Kupp and rookie Puka Nacua have proved to be an impressive one-two punch for the Rams’ offense. Nacua currently ranks third in total receiving yards this season with 795. Over the last four games, when he and Kupp have been on the field together, both rank in the top 13 among all receivers in yards and in the top 20 in yards per route run–an efficiency metric from PFF.
Just as good as anyone, Sean McVay and the Rams offense are very deliberate when it comes to moving their personnel around to create mismatches and to provide the defense with different looks. Both Nacua and Kupp are often targeted within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage but are in positions to get the ball in space to pick up yards after the catch. During that same four-game span, Kupp ranks 13th in total YAC and Nacua 10th.
”He’s one of those guys,” said LaFleur about Nacua, “and I remember talking to my brother about this, even before the season, and they thought they had something there with him. Then you turn on the tape, and he does all the little things. He makes contested catches, they use him, they insert block him. He’ll block anybody—linebackers, safeties.
“He’s just a hard-nosed football player that makes plays and I can see why they have so much love for him because he continually makes the plays. He does all the little things. Does all the dirty work that some receivers might not be willing to do. He’s tough and he competes.”
Also not to be forgotten about is Tutu Atwell, who ran a 4.39-second 40 time coming out of Louisville and ranks sixth among all receivers in receptions of 20-plus yards this season. One of the foundational elements of the Joe Barry defense is to eliminate the deep ball by forcing opponents to throw underneath and put together long scoring drives. However, along with that, Green Bay’s cornerbacks often play very soft, which leads to easy catches and YAC opportunities, as we saw this past Sunday against Minnesota.
Coming into the season, the cornerback position was one of few known strengths on this Packers team. However, now, especially without Douglas, it is a question mark. Eric Stokes remains on IR for at least three more games. Jaire Alexander has been dealing with a back injury, and rookie seventh-round pick Carrington Valentine, who was picked on by Russell Wilson in his last start against Denver, is going to be relied upon more heavily. Corey Ballentine and Robert Rochell, two practice squad players a week ago, now find themselves just one play away from being in the game.
“It made it a little tougher to think about doing that,” said Brian Gutekunst on trading Douglas, “just because of where we are injury-wise, with Jaire not being able to play a few games and Stokes with where he’s at. I do like the young guys in that room—Stokes, Valentine, certainly Jaire, who sounds like he’s getting back to full health which will be nice. So I like players in that room, but losing a guy like Rasul this time of the year is tough, but I expect those guys to fill the gaps.”
As of now, it does not look like Matthew Stafford will be starting against Green Bay as he deals with a thumb injury. In Stafford’s place, would be Brett Rypien, a 2019 undrafted rookie. Rypien has thrown 140 passes over his career, completing 60.7 percent of them at 5.9 yards per attempt with four touchdowns and eight interceptions. Last week against Dallas, he was 5-for-10 for 42 yards.
In general, the Packers pass rush as a whole is going to have to be more consistent in the final 10 games of the season in an effort to help out a secondary that is now worse off without Douglas in the mix. Against an inexperienced quarterback like Rypien specifically, pressure can go a long way in disrupting this Rams passing attack.
With that said, while oftentimes going up against a backup quarterback can provide some reprieve – and it still does this week to a degree, Rypien isn’t Stafford after all – having receivers like Nacua and Kupp, who are able to create separation, pick up yards after the catch, and turn quick, short throws into big gains, takes some of the burden off Rypien’s shoulders and can still very much stress this new-look Packers secondary.