Rams have plenty of unsung heroes who have contributed to surprising 5-2 start
The roster features high-profile players on offense such as quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley. The defense boasts three-time Pro Bowl lineman Aaron Donald and two-time Pro Bowl linebacker Robert Quinn.
All have made significant plays or contributions during the Rams’ run to a 5-2 start under first-year coach Sean McVay.
But the Rams forged early success with the help of numerous less-heralded role players who have provided key plays and mistake-free stretches as substitutes for headliners.
Their contributions were evident again Sunday during a 33-0 rout of the Arizona Cardinals in London, a victory that gave the Rams a half-game lead over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC West.
Linebacker Matt Longacre recorded another sack, increasing his team-leading total to four. Running back Malcolm Brown picked up two first downs during the Rams’ long fourth-quarter scoring drive.
Backup center Austin Blythe, defensive lineman Tyrunn Walker, linebacker Cory Littleton and special teams starter Marqui Christian are among others who have earned praise from teammates and coaches as the Rams solidified their standing as a legitimate playoff threat heading into this week’s open date.
“We’ve got a lot of good contributors that understand their importance and their role, and you try to just make a habit of pointing them out and letting them know by that communication that we talk about all the time,” McVay said. “That lets them feel appreciated, because it is recognized and that credit is well deserved.”
Longacre signed with the Rams in 2015 as an undrafted free agent from Division II Northwest Missouri State. He spent much of his rookie season on the practice squad and played in six games last season.
But the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Longacre has thrived backing up Quinn as a pass-rushing outside linebacker.
“When he needs a break, I want the coaches to be comfortable with putting me in and know there’s not going to be a drop,” Longacre said.
Several of Longacre’s sacks have come on “stunt” plays, where he has been able to take advantage of the attention that opponents must pay to the havoc-wreaking Donald.
“He just makes plays when he’s in there,” Donald said. “We knew what to expect when he was with us when he first came.
“He’s a good pass rusher, and now he’s getting more opportunities to go out there and show what he can do, and he’s out there and taking advantage of it.”
So is Brown.
The third-year pro played at Texas and signed with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2015.
Last season, he became a special teams mainstay and also gained 39 yards in relief of Gurley and Benny Cunningham, who signed with the Chicago Bears during the offseason.
With the Rams signing running back Lance Dunbar as a potential change-of-pace backup for Gurley, Brown did not appear in line for many carries.
Dunbar, however, has been sidelined since offseason workouts because of a knee injury. He is ready to come off the physically-unable-to-perform list, but might find it difficult to displace Brown, who rushed for 48 yards in 11 carries against the Cardinals.
The previous week against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brown scooped up a blocked punt by Littleton and returned it for a touchdown.
Continued contributions from role players could help the Rams make a run for their first playoff appearance since 2004.
The Rams resume their schedule Nov. 5 against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“Nobody on this team is afraid to give credit when it’s due,” Brown said. “That’s definitely important to somebody in the position I am and for other guys in the same position.
“It just builds your confidence a little bit and keeps you going.”
Follow Gary Klein on Twitter @latimesklein
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