The Rams quickly grew accustomed to receiver Robert Woods making dynamic plays after catching short, midrange and long passes.
For at least the next few games, coach Sean McVay and quarterback Jared Goff must find other options.
Woods, the team’s leading receiver, will be sidelined because of a shoulder injury suffered during the Rams’ loss to the Minnesota Vikings, McVay said Monday.
“It requires some guys to step up and fill the void left by Robert,” McVay said. “He’s done a lot of great things…. Hopefully, we’ll get him back sooner than later.”
Woods suffered a left shoulder sprain after catching a pass during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-7 defeat at U.S. Bank Stadium. The loss ended the Rams’ four-game winning streak, and left them with a 7-3 record heading into Sunday’s game against the 8-2 New Orleans Saints at the Coliseum.
Woods, who signed a five-year, $34-million free-agent contract before the season, caught eight passes for 81 yards against the Vikings. He was injured when safety Harrison Smith fell on him while making a tackle, McVay said.
Woods left the locker room after the game with his left arm in a sling. The Rams initially feared that the receiver might require season-ending surgery, McVay said, but doctors determined the injury was not as serious.
“The optimistic approach is, hopefully, a couple weeks,” McVay said.
Woods, an All-American at USC, was regarded as a possession receiver when he signed with the Rams in March after four seasons with the Buffalo Bills.
Through seven games with the Rams, his receptions came on short and intermediate routes. None resulted in touchdowns.
Woods broke out in a Week 9 victory over the New York Giants, turning a screen pass on a third-and-33 play into a 52-yard touchdown. He also scored on a short pass reception.
The next week against the Houston Texans, he caught a 50-yard pass and turned it into a 94-yard scoring play. He added another touchdown later in the game and finished with a career-best 171 yards.
“He’s faster than I gave him credit for, even when we were going through the scouting process,” offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said last week, adding, “He’s been pivotal in both the run and pass and I think a lot of it starts with just his mentality and how he prepares every day.
“He’s a pro’s pro.”
Woods has a team-best 47 receptions for 703 yards and four touchdowns.
“Clearly, from a production standpoint the last couple weeks, you’re losing a significant player,” McVay said. “But, I think what he represents week-in and week-out just by the way that he goes about his business as well.”
Tavon Austin, Mike Thomas, rookie Josh Reynolds and Pharoh Cooper could get more playing time in Woods’ absence, McVay said.
“It will really require a kind of by-committee approach,” he said.
Austin, who will earn nearly $15 million this season, has been used mainly as running back this season.
But he got in for only two plays against the Vikings.
“Tavon is too dynamic of a playmaker to not try to get him involved a little bit more,” McVay said. “You can sit here and make excuses that maybe we didn’t have enough snaps and things like that, but it’s on me, and I’ve got to do a better job for getting a feel for the flow of the game and finding a way to get him involved.
“Especially when that was part of our plan, and I kind of went away from that.”
Woods’ is not the only injury of concern to a Rams team that mostly avoided them through the first nine games.
Cornerback Kayvon Webster was put into concussion protocol and cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman suffered a thigh injury during Sunday’s defeat.
“We have been fortunate in that manner that we haven’t had a lot of guys miss games that have been in those starting roles,” McVay said, “but it looks like that is going to end up occurring.”
Cornerback Troy Hill, who was inactive Sunday because of a hamstring injury, will return this week, McVay said.
The Rams will face a Saints offense led by quarterback Drew Brees that is averaging 30.2 points and an NFL-best 415.7 yards per game.
“Definitely it’s a concern,” McVay said of cornerback depth.