Refreshed. Recharged. Rejuvenated.
Those are words Rams coach Sean McVay used to describe his team after its off week.
Now McVay and his staff must find ways to help star receiver Cooper Kupp regain his usual productive form — or the Rams almost certainly will continue to regress.
In the last three games, Kupp was mired in a minislump that, from a statistical perspective, ranked as perhaps the least productive stretch of his seven-season career. Not coincidentally, the Rams are in the midst of a three-game losing streak heading into Sunday’s NFC West game against the Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium.
Not that as Kupp goes, so go the Rams.
That mantle belongs to quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is on track to start Sunday after a thumb injury suffered in a rout by the Dallas Cowboys forced him to sit out a defeat to the Green Bay Packers.
Former backup Brett Rypien relieved Stafford against the Cowboys and started in his place against the Packers.
So a physically sound Stafford should ostensibly help Kupp increase his production.
Kupp said Thursday that “while I certainly would love to be producing in terms of statistical stuff,” his main concern was making sure he was helping the Rams win games.
“Everyone wants to talk about production — and certainly you want to produce,” he said. “But what’s more important to me is being a positive piece of the offense.”
Stafford, Kupp and star defensive lineman Aaron Donald are star pillars on a roster the Rams opted not to replenish with premium-priced veteran talent as part of a financial pullback designed to maximize 2024 investment.
Receiver Puka Nacua, offensive lineman Steve Avila and edge rusher Byron Young are among rookies who emerged in the first half of the season, but the Rams cannot make a playoff run without Stafford, Donald and Kupp validating their status as highly paid stars.
In 2021, Kupp achieved the so-called triple crown of receiving by leading the league in catches, yards receiving and touchdown receptions. He was voted NFL offensive player of the year and capped the season by being voted MVP of Super Bowl LVI.
The Rams rewarded Kupp with a three-year extension that included $75 million in guarantees.
Midway through the 2022 season, Kupp suffered a season-ending ankle injury that required surgery. During training camp, he suffered a hamstring injury and was put on injured reserve for the first four games of the season.
In his season debut against the Philadelphia Eagles, Kupp caught eight passes for 118 yards. The next week, he caught seven passes for 148 yards and a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals.
There was no sign that the offense would do anything but thrive once Kupp, Nacua and receiver Tutu Atwell got into sync.
Instead, the offense nosedived during a three-game losing streak.
Against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the sure-handed Kupp dropped the first two passes that came his way. He finished with only two catches on seven targets for 29 yards.
The next week at Dallas, Kupp caught only four passes for 21 yards. An apparent rare miscommunication with Stafford resulted in an interception that was returned for a touchdown.
At Green Bay, Kupp caught only two passes for 48 yards.
Do the Rams have a plan to get Kupp on track?
“His time will come,” offensive coordinator Mike LaFleur said. “He’s Cooper Kupp.”
McVay said he and his staff used last week to self-scout. That included evaluating ways to maximize Kupp.
“There are certainly some opportunities, some different things that we can do, and I think that’s what we all wanted to be able to look at,” McVay said. “All right, what are the things that we can do to help really put not only Cooper, but all of our guys, in favorable situations while continuing to see them be able to progress?”
McVay compared Kupp’s situation to that of Donald. The three-time NFL defensive player of the year garners increased attention from opponents every week.
“Certainly a team wants to game plan against you,” Kupp said, “and at the same time I do want to be able to find ways to get open regardless of what a defense is doing, and be able to break leverages and things like that.
“I put that on myself to be able to overcome some of those challenges a defense might present, but at the same time I want to do my job.”
Helping Kupp is only one challenge facing McVay as the Rams attempt to end their losing streak and make a playoff run.
Nacua, who has already broken Kupp’s Rams rookie record with 64 receptions, is playing through several issues that are a byproduct of his physical style. Nacua is “just banged up,” McVay said, and was limited early in the week.
“I’ll be interested to see if he’s ever truly back full speed, not full speed, but feeling like you don’t have to be cognizant of taking care of him to get him to game day feeling as good as possible,” McVay said.
With Kupp sidelined early in the season, Atwell capitalized on increased opportunities.
Now McVay must find ways to blend Atwell, Nacua and Kupp.
And Kupp remains the key.