Their starting quarterback, leading receiver and their most veteran defensive lineman are out of the season finale because of injury or COVID-19 issues.
On Friday, the Rams experienced more unexpected drama.
Edge rusher Leonard Floyd, who has 9½ sacks, did not practice after trainers sent him to the hospital as a precaution because of abdominal pain, a team official said. Floyd will be listed as questionable for the game Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals at SoFi Stadium, but he is expected to play, the official said.
The Rams (9-6) can clinch a playoff spot with a victory. They also can make the playoffs if the Bears lose to the Green Bay Packers.
John Wolford will start in place of quarterback Jared Goff, who is recovering from right thumb surgery. Receiver Van Jefferson will start in place of Cooper Kupp, and defensive lineman Morgan Fox will start in place Michael Brockers. Kupp and Brockers this week were placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, and coach Sean McVay said Friday that they would not play Sunday.
The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Floyd has been one of the most productive players for a Rams defense that ranks first in the NFL in fewest total yards allowed per game and in passing defense. The Rams are third in rushing defense and scoring defense.
It has been a season of redemption for Floyd.
The Chicago Bears selected him with the ninth pick in the 2016 draft, but the team cut him last March after he performed mostly below expectations for four seasons.
The Rams needed an edge rusher because Dante Fowler had left after a career-best season to sign with the Atlanta Falcons. New Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley had coached Floyd while a Bears assistant in 2017 and 2018, so the Rams signed Floyd to a one-year, $10-million contract that also included millions in incentives.
Floyd said in May he was looking forward to playing alongside star defensive lineman Aaron Donald, a two-time NFL defensive player of the year.
“I know he’s going to be dominating,” Floyd said. “And I’m going to try and get in and dominate right beside him.”
Floyd has taken full advantage of the opportunity.
In addition to his base salary, he earned a $1-million bonus when he reached five sacks, and another $1 million for reaching 7½, a person with knowledge of the situation said. He would earn another $1.25 million if he gets at least half-a-sack against the Cardinals to reach 10, the person said.
Floyd had shown promise when he recorded seven sacks for the Bears as a rookie. His sack totals decreased every season thereafter, bottoming out at three in 2019.
But McVay apparently did not put much stock in Floyd’s previous statistics.
“He has been so steady, so consistent, so versatile,” McVay said, adding, “He’s really smart with the different things that he can do. … He’s been a really underrated player in this league, if you’re just watching the tape and you see what he does snap in and snap out, instead of just looking at his stat sheet.”
Like Fowler did in 2018 and 2019, Floyd has benefited from playing alongside Donald. The star tackle has 13½ sacks, and he is in the running to win the NFL defensive player of the year award for the third time.
But Floyd’s performance, on a team that also includes star cornerback Jalen Ramsey, “stands on it’s own,” Staley said.
“Aaron certainly contributes to everybody’s success, all of our success, my success, Jalen Ramsey, all of our success,” Staley said. “But Leonard Floyd, his performance this year on the edge, that stands alone.”
Donald said that Floyd’s ability to work in tandem with other pass rushers has been “huge” for a defense that will try to contain Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray on Sunday.
“He’s having a great year, he’s got to finish this year strong and come back even better next year,” Donald said. “You have to continue to build off the success you have and continue to have more and more years like that. … To get that household name, you got to do it consistent year in and year out.
“I think he’s got the ability to do that.”
Ramsey said Floyd’s performance this season was not unexpected. But Floyd’s attitude and demeanor has been a “pleasant surprise,” he said.
“Having a dawg out there with me, somebody who I know is going to go out there with that same mindset that I have out there,” Ramsey said. “Somebody who plays real fierce. Super competitor.”
Floyd’s future with the Rams won’t be determined until after the season.
After Fowler amassed 11½ sacks for the Rams last season, the Falcons gave him a three-year contract that included $29 million in guarantees, according to overthecap.com. Fowler has recorded only two sacks this season.
For Floyd, that might cause potential suitors to proceed cautiously if they attribute his production solely to playing with Donald.
The Rams would like to re-sign Floyd, McVay said. But coaches and team executives will not begin exploring that until after the season.
Staley said Floyd is continuing to improve.
“The best is yet to come,” he said.
Linebacker Micah Kiser (knee) who was activated this week from injured reserve, will not play, McVay said. Running back Cam Akers (ankle), who had not practiced the last two weeks, was limited Friday and will be a game-time decision, McVay said.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.