By Sam McPherson
The Los Angeles Rams fired former coach Jeff Fisher earlier this week, and John Fassel is the interim coach for the remainder of the 2016 regular season. Fassel takes the team to Seattle for Thursday Night Football this week, but he will be making the trip without one of the team’s best “glue” guys: Backup running back and primary kick returner Benny Cunningham. In addition, a handful of other Los Angeles players may not go against the Seahawks in front of a national television audience due to their injuries, but overall, Fassel has roughly the same roster as Fisher did at his disposal for the marquee NFC West Division match-up.
The team’s official injury report during this very short week of preparation includes two players, including Cunningham, designated as out, while two other players are doubtful. A fifth player is questionable; otherwise, the Rams are a healthy bunch as they try to win a fifth game this season. Currently, Los Angeles’ 4-9 record has the team in third place among NFC West teams, trailing the 8-4-1 Seahawks by 4.5 games in the standings despite a three-game winning streak in the rivalry, including a 9-3 victory for the Rams in Week 2 this season.
Cunningham’s Absence Is Huge
For a backup, Cunningham still plays a very large role in the Los Angeles game plan. This was clear from the start last week when his special teams replacement, Mike Thomas, fumbled the opening kickoff and gave the opponent an easy touchdown opportunity just seconds into the game. The Atlanta Falcons took advantage and never looked back on the way to a blowout win over the Rams. Cunningham’s offensive backup, Malcolm Brown, managed just 14 yards rushing on four carries and also fumbled the ball away once. Clearly, Cunningham’s absence was really an issue for Los Angeles last week.
He missed practice again this week on all three days of the short turnaround before the Seattle game, and Cunningham has been ruled out for the contest. Brown should once again get some touches as the backup RB, but look for the Rams to give starter Todd Gurley more work instead. It will be hard to trust Brown this week against a tough Seahawks defense in front of its home crowd. Also, expect wide receiver Tavon Austin to handle both the punt and kickoff returns this Thursday night to make sure L.A. doesn’t get burned on special teams again.
Four Injured Players On Defense
In addition to Cunningham, safety Maurice Alexander has been ruled out for the Seahawks game due to a concussion suffered against the Falcons last week. He made four tackles in the contest before being removed from the game, and Alexander was unable to practice on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday. Cody Davis should be the new starter in his place against Seattle.
Defensive end Matt Longacre has an injured heel that kept him from working out on Monday, but he ramped up his participation from partial on Tuesday to full workouts on Wednesday. He is listed as questionable as a depth player on the defensive line.
Two other starters on the defense, cornerback E.J. Gaines and defensive end Robert Quinn, are doubtful for Thursday Night Football; both players were unable to practice this week due to their respective injuries. Gaines missed last week’s game against Atlanta with a quadricep injury, but he has 46 tackles this season and a fumble recovery. Quinn hasn’t played since suffering a concussion in Week 12 against the New Orleans Saints, and his whole season has been a disappointment for the L.A. organization due to multiple injuries that have affected his play when he has been on the field.
Seahawks Healthier Than Rams Right Now
Excluding players already placed on the injured reserve, the Seattle roster looks fairly healthy despite the short week of preparation for a Thursday night game. The Seahawks won’t be missing any players they haven’t gotten used to missing over the last few games, as only linebacker Brock Coyle (foot) and defensive end Damontre Moore (foot) are on the injury report. Coyle has missed three games in a row now, while Moore missed last week’s game in Green Bay. Neither player is really expected to go against Los Angeles. Of course, Seattle is really missing Pro Bowl safety Earl Thomas, who was lost for the regular season two weeks ago with a leg injury and won’t be back until next season.
Matt Longacre, defensive end (heel)
E.J. Gaines, cornerback (quad)
Robert Quinn, defensive end (concussion)
Bennie Cunningham, running back (neck)
Maurice Alexander, safety (concussion)