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Analysis: With two weeks left in the NFL regular season, Cooper Kupp injury looms large

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is helped from the field during the second half in an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, in Los Angeles. Kupp is out for the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp is helped from the field during the second half in an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, in Los Angeles. Kupp is out for the season after tearing a ligament in his left knee. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)
By John Clayton For the Washington Post

A week ago, the Los Angeles Rams lost on the road and in the cold to the Chicago Bears. Nobody overreacted. Jared Goff has a brief history of struggling in weather below 32 degrees, and the rest of the team’s schedule and likely playoff path had them playing in Los Angeles or in domes.

But Sunday’s 30-23 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles raises some questions. All of a sudden, the unstoppable Rams are out of sync. Sure, at 11-3, the Rams are still in line to be the No. 2 seed in the NFC with a bye week and a home game in the divisional round. But while it isn’t time to panic, Rams Coach Sean McVay has to figure out what’s wrong, particularly on offense.

Is the Rams’ offense in trouble? Trouble? No, but there has to be some concern. It’s not that teams have figured out McVay’s offense, but defensive coordinators have finally come up with at least some answers.

The loss of wide receiver Cooper Kupp is starting to show. Against the Eagles, 25 of Goff’s 51 targets were to either Todd Gurley or Josh Reynolds, and it was clear Philadelphia was willing to give up underneath throws so long as they limited the big-play abilities of Robert Woods and Brandin Cooks, whose longest receptions were 20 yards. Cupp’s presence took that receiving corps to another level, both underneath and down the field.

The Rams are also overly reliant on Gurley, which became clear when he suffered a knee injury in the third quarter that sidelined him briefly. McVay admitted that the runner’s absence limited the offense on early downs. That put more in the hands of Goff, who struggled, with two interceptions, no TDs and a subpar QB rating of 66.8. Over the past three games, Goff has thrown just one touchdown to seven interceptions.

“There’s some things that we all got to be better. He’s got to make better decisions,” McVay said, specifically referring to Goff’s ill-advised decision to try to throw the ball away after he stumbled on a key third-quarter play, which resulted in a turnover that led to a touchdown that proved to be the final margin. “You know, sometimes the only play is to just eat it and take a sack.”

Many of these issues are fixable, including some recent struggles of the offensive line in pass protection. But the nearly unstoppable force of earlier this season has looked very different these last three weeks.

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