Can Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua co-exist on the Rams offense?

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The Rams offense hasn’t been as good since Cooper Kupp returned from injury

Prior to the bye week, the Los Angeles Rams offense hadn’t been the same since Cooper Kupp returned to the lineup. When Kupp was placed on injured reserve to start the season, the question was how the offense would be able to get by. Now that he’s back, the question is how can the Rams figure out ho to use their diverse set of wide receivers.

Through the first four weeks of the season, the Rams offense looked as you would expect from a unit led by head coach Sean McVay. Puka Nacua arrived onto the scene, looking like a five-year veteran. TuTu Atwell was heavily involved in the offense as well. In Week 1, the two players combined for 16 catches and 238 yards.

In Weeks 1-4, the Rams offense ranked eighth in the NFL with 0.062 EPA per play. Their dropback EPA of 0.122 ranked ninth. The Rams offense was spreading the ball around. While Nacua dominated the target share, four other Rams players had double-digit targets as well.

Since Kupp’s return, it’s been a much different story.

Even taking away the game in Week 9 with Brett Rypien at quarterback, the offense has seemingly gotten worse instead of better with Kupp in the lineup. From Weeks 5-8, the Rams offense averaged just -0.037 EPA per play. Their dropback EPA of -0.086 ranked 25th in NFL. Their dropback success-rate of 40.1 percent ranked 28th in NFL and was the same as the New York Giants.

The Rams offense hasn’t just gotten worse since Kupp’s return, it’s gotten significantly worse. Los Angeles went from having a top-10 passing offense to a bottom-10 passing offense. Now, of course there are other things involved such as injuries to the offensive line and things of that nature. With that said, it’s still very surprising.

In the four weeks following Kupp’s return, the Rams’ star wide receiver and Nacua combined for 71 of the team’s 110 targets or 64.5 percent. Compare that to Weeks 1-4 when Nacua and Atwell combined for just 54.9 percent of the targets on offense. The player affected the most by Kupp’s return has been Atwell who had just 12 targets from Weeks 5-8. The game against the Green Bay Packers in Week 9 with Rypien was the first time since Week 5 that Atwell had more than five targets in a game.

However, it’s not just Atwell. This is a conversation about Kupp and Nacua and how the two players are used together to complement one another. Kupp has gone three straight games without 50 yards. His 2.32 yards per route ran in the four weeks after he returned would be his lowest since 2020. Kupp has been less efficient after the catch as well. Taking away the Week 9 contest with Rypien at quarterback, Kupp was averaging just 5.3 yards after the catch per reception. That number would be the lowest of his career. This is a player who’s been one of the best after the catch over the last few years.

McVay talked about figuring out a way to get Kupp back on track earlier this week in a press conference. Here’s what the Rams head coach had to say,

“Some of the things too that end up taking place where you say, okay, if there is going to be this amount of attention paid to a certain player, well that’s why you play with 11 guys and you got to make the other four eligibles come to life. 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. 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. I think that’s a case by case. I think you got to be able to really look at it and in some of those situations, if there is that extra amount of attention, well then that opens up opportunities…You got to take advantage of that and so it’s kind of similar in that regard, even though different players, different sides of the ball.”

This is not the first time that the Rams have struggled to get multiple receivers involved in the offense with Matthew Stafford at quarterback. In 2021, Robert Woods saw some of his lowest numbers with the Rams that led to him having a conversation with McVay. Just last year, the Rams spent a lot of money on Allen Robinson in the offseason only for him to also have some of the lowest numbers in his career during a healthy season.

Following the infamous “no-win November” of 2021, the Rams offense has looked its best with multiple players involved. Following that stretch, that player was Odell Beckham Jr. During that stretch, five players had more than 20 targets. During that stretch, Kupp only accounted for 35.9 percent of the team’s targets and both Kupp and Beckham combined for a 55.6 percent target share.

That aligns very closely to what the Rams had in Weeks 1-4 with Nacua and Atwell.

Simply put, the Rams must find a way to utilize Kupp and Nacua so that they complement each other. The best example of this was in Week 5 against the Philadelphia Eagles. That game ended in a loss, but the first half of that game was really good and showed the potential of what the offense could be.

We’ll see if the bye week helped and if McVay was able to figure out a way for the offense to work at its highest potential with both Kupp and Nacua. However, it’s not limited to those players as well. It’s imperative that the Rams find ways to get players like Atwell involved in the passing game along the running backs and tight ends.

Since Kupp’s return, the Rams offense has missed something. At times, it’s looked there’s no rhyme or reason for why something is happening and that’s led to a group that looks discombobulated and out of rhythm. McVay needs to get his two best playmakers working off of one another and working together.

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Title: Can Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua co-exist on the Rams offense?
Author: Blaine Grisak

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