QB Matthew Stafford
Matthew Stafford isn’t putting up eye-popping numbers this season. With almost as many six touchdowns to five interceptions, it’s been somewhat of a mediocre start to the season, which is evidenced in their .500 record. Although each of their losses has come at the hands of the elite teams in the league, Stafford was able to rebound nicely against the Arizona Cardinals.
Stafford, already a Super Bowl-winning quarterback and probably headed to the Hall of Fame, isn’t done yet. He and Sean McVay work very well together as they are “retooling” in an attempt to chase down the division-leading San Francisco 49ers. With the solid stable of receivers and running backs (even though they aren’t currently healthy), Stafford and the offense are performing in the top third of the league statistically.
Pittsburgh does catch a break as rookie running back Kyren Williams will be out for the contest, leaving the Rams to choose between veterans Royce Freeman and Darrell Henderson and rookie Zach Evans, who has four carries on the season. In light of that, watch for the Rams and Stafford to be a pass-heavy unit on Sunday.
WRs Cooper Kupp, Puka Nacua
For Steeler fans, this combo should have you worried. Puka Nacua, a rookie out of BYU, made everyone forget that Cooper Kupp was injured – until Kupp returned. With 50 receptions on the season already, and averaging 12 yards per catch, Nacua does not play like a rookie. He is seemingly always open and developed chemistry with Stafford in Kupp’s absence.
Upon returning from injury, the ascension of Nacua has elevated Cooper Kupp’s play if that is even possible. With almost 300 yds in the last two weeks, Stafford and Kupp are back at it again but now with a similar player that can man the other side of the field. Double Kupp, the Steelers defenders better be stuck to Nacua as Stafford will make Pittsburgh pay.
The Pittsburgh defense has been prone to allowing elite receivers — to be elite. Coming off the bye, the extra time to gameplan may have Pittsburgh ready to face the downfield attack of the Rams but it will not be easy. Both receivers have hands of glue and like Pittsburgh’s Dionte Johnson, they know how to get open. The repour Kupp and Stafford have is as special as the days of Manning and Harrison. Now slide in a Kupp clone in Nacua, that extra week of preparation almost becomes necessary for an opposing team.
DT Aaron Donald
Aaron Donald has already been sized for his gold jacket. A sure-fire hall of famer, he’s not who he was but who he is --- is still pretty darn special. On pace for double-digit sacks from the inside, Donald must be accounted for on every single play. Before Watt was Watt, Donald was Donald – game wreckers!
Donald is considered by many to be one of, if not arguably, the best defensive tackles to ever play the game. The Rams defense isn’t what it was during their Super Bowl-winning season but any defense with Donald on it is a defense that can destroy offensive game plans.
Whether it be stuffing the run or the perfectly timed sack, Aaron Donald plays the game the way it should be played. Coming out of Pittsburgh in college, he and Matthew Stafford were the keys that handed Sean McVay his first championship.
Looking for one more, much like Stafford, Donald is being called upon to make plays as well as lead a younger group of players to the promised land. Watching Donald against the Steelers' offensive line will be a very solid indicator as to whether or not this group is playing like a unit.
Very rarely has a game been played where you do not hear Donald’s name mentioned over and over and it will be up to Mason Cole to call out the correct line adjustments to keep Donald from single-handedly coming away with victory, a la T.J. Watt Fashion – by domination!
DB Ahkello Witherspoon
Former Steeler, Ahkello Witherspoon, has found a new home in LA and is making the best of it. With two interceptions on the year and five passes defensed, Witherspoon has been a much-needed spark in the Rams' secondary.
Fortunately, Pittsburgh should be able to use the knowledge of their former player against him. Witherspoon was up and down in his play while in Pittsburgh but continues to hone his craft and it is paying off for the Rams as he has established himself as a prime contributor for the defense.
With good length and speed already, it may just be the veteran’s time in the league that has him finally playing fast and not thinking. Being named a player to watch against his former team, Witherspoon will be looking to make some plays against his former squad. Every player wants to show their former team they should have never let them go and Witherspoon is no different.
His play towards the end of last season became consistent and he made plays that helped Pittsburgh win tight contests down the stretch. Many were sad to see Witherspoon leave Pittsburgh as he was seemingly on the cusp of being a solid nickel contributor. Apparently he is, so Kenny Pickett and Matt Canada need to know where he is on the field.
As the season progresses the games become more vital to the team's chances of seeing the postseason. Both of these squads are in similar boats – they both need wins. Sharing a division with the 49ers, unless there is an implosion by Mike Shanahan’s team, the Rams' only chance to see football in January is as a wild card.
Pittsburgh is in the middle of contention for the division lead but is having to face the Ravens, Bengals, and Browns. No team has stepped forward completely and all are making their case which increases the urgency of a win from week to week.