BEHIND ENEMY LINES

Behind Enemy Lines: New Rams edge rusher Takk McKinley adds depth

Sep 23, 2022, 10:40 AM
Takkarist McKinley #55 of the Cleveland Browns rects after being injured in the third quarter of th...
Takkarist McKinley #55 of the Cleveland Browns rects after being injured in the third quarter of the game against the Las Vegas Raiders at FirstEnergy Stadium on December 20, 2021 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)
(Photo by Nick Cammett/Getty Images)

Behind Enemy Lines brings you the key storylines and latest news for the Arizona Cardinals’ opponents each week this season.

Edge rusher Takkarist McKinley gets fresh start with Rams DC Raheem Morris — Friday

By The Associated Press

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. (AP) — After finishing his first practice for the Los Angeles Rams, edge rusher Takkarist McKinley understood a chance like this doesn’t come around very often.

“I had to learn the hard way. Sometimes you got to go through things to learn, and I had to go through some things to learn,” McKinley said.

The Rams (1-1) signed McKinley on Tuesday after dealing with an injury scare involving pass rusher Leonard Floyd. He hurt his knee in practice last week but was able to play in the 31-27 win over the Atlanta Falcons, putting defensive coordinator Raheem Morris on the lookout for more depth.

McKinley had signed to Tennessee’s practice squad last week, showing he had made enough progress in his recovery after tearing his Achilles tendon while playing for Cleveland last December to become an option.

“Let’s see where he is health-wise, let’s see where he is at a practice standpoint. Let’s get him out there and get him playing,” Morris said.

Morris knows McKinley. He was an assistant coach with Atlanta when McKinley was drafted No. 26 overall in the 2017 NFL draft, saw him show promise by getting 13 sacks in his first two seasons, only to see McKinley waived when Morris was serving as interim coach in November 2020.

Morris admitted their professional relationship was “rocky,” but he and McKinley always got along. When there was a chance to give McKinley another opportunity, Morris was all for it.

“He’s a guy I know can help us in the pass rush, and he’s a guy I think deserves a second chance, and hopefully he’ll come in and do some really good things for us,” Morris said.

McKinley doesn’t know if he will be active against Arizona Sunday, noting that practice on Thursday was the first time he had worked out in a helmet and shoulder pads since the injury.

But whenever he does get on the field, McKinley is looking forward to playing alongside standout defensive tackle Aaron Donald, who has helped revive the career of Floyd and fellow edge rusher Dante Fowler Jr.

“It’s nice to look to the right and be like, ’Oh dang,’” McKinley said. “I’ll keep it real, it is a little surreal.”

McKinley wasn’t the only familiar face the Rams added this week, signing veteran running back Malcolm Brown to the practice squad Thursday.

Brown, 29, played his first six seasons for the franchise in St. Louis and Los Angeles. He rushed for 1,188 yards and 11 touchdowns in that span, with his most productive campaign coming in 2020 as he formed an effective trio with Cam Akers and Darrell Henderson Jr.

Offensive coordinator Liam Coen believes there is value in having an experienced player like Brown around.

“Malcolm is a pro’s pro. Just does everything the right way, both on and off the field,” Coen said. “He’s just a great example. And he can make plays, man. He’s had some of the best blitz pickups that we’ve ever had here. He’s had some great runs.”

Los Angeles also signed tight end Kendall Blanton from the Chiefs’ practice squad Thursday. It gave the Rams another option on the active roster after tight end Brycen Hopkins was suspended three games Wednesday for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy. Blanton originally signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2019 and started in their Super Bowl win in January before being waived during training camp in August.

Rams’ Wagner gets to show off familiarity with NFC West — Wednesday

By The Associated Press

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Sean McVay has seen plenty of Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray over the previous three seasons.

But Murray’s improbable escape act as part of the comeback win at Las Vegas, darting back and forth across the field for 20 seconds before scampering into the end zone, reminded the Los Angeles Rams coach just how special he can be.

“This guy, the play is never over with this guy,” McVay said Wednesday.

As the Rams (1-1) prepare for their NFC West opener at the Cardinals (1-1) on Sunday, they have a new option to try and wrangle Murray in inside linebacker Bobby Wagner, who has plenty of familiarity with Murray from his time in Seattle.

“Really, it’s just up to us as a front and coverage all working together to make sure he doesn’t scramble like that,” Wagner said.

Los Angeles is 5-1 against Murray in the regular season and overwhelmed him in a 34-11 wild-card round romp in January, with the overlapping trait being forcing him into back-breaking mistakes. He has thrown eight interceptions against five touchdowns in those six defeats, compared to the efficiency Murray showed in going 24 of 32 for 268 yards and two touchdown passes in the 37-20 win in Week 4 last season.

The Rams have also been largely effective in limiting Murray as a runner. He has 152 yards and one touchdown on 28 carries, bur Wagner cautioned Murray’s mobility can present itself in a number of ways.

“I think if you let him kind of run around and make crazy plays, come off your guys, not only does he do that well but the team ignites off plays like that, so we definitely have to limit those opportunities for him,” Wagner said.

McVay agreed with that assessment, pointing to Murray’s ability to find receivers down the field while moving.

“He’s a very, very special player and somebody that we have to account for,” McVay said. “It’s definitely something that our guys are excited about, but it’s a great challenge, without a doubt.”

For Wagner, the test Murray presents will allow him to carry over his past experience. He was his typical productive self in four games against Murray with the Seahawks, totaling 43 tackles with three tackles for loss and one sack while splitting the results on the scoreboard.

When his 10-year career in Seattle came to an end this offseason, Wagner’s priority was staying on the West Coast to remain close to family. Staying in the division was a “bonus” that came with the five-year contract to sign with the Rams, he said.

“But it is nice to know teams that you’ve played throughout your whole career. They haven’t really changed much, and get to play against them in a different defense so it’ll be new to them,” Wagner said.

The initial returns have been positive, as Wagner has seven tackles with one sack in each of his first two games for Los Angeles.

“I think he’s integrated super well,” defensive tackle Greg Gaines said. “He’s got obviously a lot of experience, which gives him a commanding presence, and he’s our play caller in the huddle so I think he just fits in really well.”

The expectation is both Wagner and the defense will get better as they get more comfortable with each other, particularly building off division games such as Arizona where there is already a high degree of familiarity to build off.

Gaines is already able to play the run game differently because of the early rapport he is building with Wagner.

“It’s awesome having him back there ’cause instead of having to be more two-gap-ish, I can just take one side and know he’s gonna be there to fit the other side, and that helps a lot,” Gaines said.

NOTES: Reserve TE Brycen Hopkins was suspended three games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy on Wednesday. … RG Alaric Jackson is likely to start this week after Tremayne Anchrum Jr. sustained a season-ending ankle injury against Atlanta on Sunday. … CB Cobie Durant (hamstring) did not practice and is day to day. … WR Van Jefferson will not practice this week as he continues to recover from knee surgery.

Champion Los Angeles Rams must remember how to finish after rocky win — Monday

By The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — For the first 48 minutes against Atlanta, the Los Angeles Rams looked like proper defending Super Bowl champions while they rolled toward their first victory of the new season.

The final 12 minutes demonstrated they’ve still got plenty of work to do if they intend to contend for a second straight title.

The Rams came alarmingly close to blowing a 25-point lead in the second half of their 31-27 victory over the Falcons on Sunday. After leading 28-3 late in the third quarter and 31-10 with about nine minutes to play, they needed an interception in the end zone by Jalen Ramsey with 1:07 left just to hang on.

Those late struggles — caused partly by a massive special teams mistake, and partly by a fumble from star receiver Cooper Kupp — didn’t erase the positives of the first three quarters, which included an impressive display from the passing game led by Matthew Stafford.

But they did show that these Rams need more work to become as smooth as they were during the best stretches in their first half-decade under Sean McVay.

“First of all, really proud of this team finding a way to be able to get it done,” McVay said. “Man, are there so many things that we can clean up. But I’ll tell you what, (I) haven’t been doing this that long, but I’ve been doing it long enough to know you never take a win for granted in this league. It’s too difficult to come by.”

Kupp had yet another monster game as a receiver, but the offensive player of the year also contributed to the Rams’ late struggles by fumbling with 3:22 to play. Atlanta then got to the Rams 24 before Ramsey’s game-saving interception.

The Rams’ execution was mostly solid before the final minutes, but McVay will have plenty to use for instruction as his team prepares for its first road trip of the season, to Arizona on Sunday.

WHAT’S WORKING

The Rams’ offense took significant steps forward on the ground and through the air. Los Angeles got 47 yards rushing from Darrell Henderson and 44 more from Cam Akers, while Kupp had 11 catches for 108 yards and two TDs alongside newcomer Allen Robinson’s four catches for 53 yards and a score. Kupp had at least 90 yards receiving for the 21st time in 23 games playing with Stafford.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

A special teams mistake was the main reason Atlanta was in position to come all the way back. The Falcons blocked a punt by newcomer Riley Dixon and returned it for a touchdown with 4:57 to play, and the 2-point conversion cut the Rams’ lead to 31-25. Long snapper Matt Orzech, who is fighting through a leg injury, appeared to miss the block that led to the blocked kick. Other than reliable kicker Matt Gay, Los Angeles’ special teamers have yet to make a positive impact this season.

STOCK UP

Defensive back Cobie Durant stepped in when veteran Troy Hill went out with an injury in the second quarter, and the rookie immediately made an impact with his first career interception and a 52-yard return on a ball that was bobbled by Cordarrelle Patterson. In the second half, Durant made his first career sack. The fourth-round draft pick is making a case to play regularly, although McVay said he could miss some playing time with a hamstring injury that occurred before his interception.

“Cobie, he’s been in his playbook,” safety Nick Scott said. “It’s pretty obvious. We’re not worried about him.”

STOCK DOWN

After leading the NFL with 17 interceptions last season, Stafford has thrown eight more picks in his last four games, including the playoffs. The Rams are 3-1 in those games, but Stafford knows he’s taking risks when he sometimes shouldn’t, and he has vowed to clean it up.

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