Steelers’ strategy holds Cooper Kupp to zero catches to help beat Rams

Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam and defensive tackle Aaron Donald bring down Steelers running back Tony Brooks-James in the fourth quarter.
Rams linebacker Samson Ebukam and defensive tackle Aaron Donald bring down Steelers running back Tony Brooks-James in the fourth quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Cooper Kupp went into Sunday’s game as the Rams’ leading receiver, a player who amassed 225 yards in his last game and ranked as the NFL’s top third-down target. He did not catch a pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“We doubled him a lot,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said, adding, “All our third-down discussions started there.

“Minimizing his ability to impact the game in that way and then working out from there.”

Kupp, who has a team-best 58 catches for 792 yards and five touchdowns, was targeted only four times.


“We all need to figure out how to be collectively better, and part of that is getting Cooper more involved,” coach Sean McVay said.

Kupp also was affected by the absence of receiver Brandin Cooks, who was sidelined because of concussions. Josh Reynolds started in Cooks’ place and had three catches for 49 yards. Tight end Gerald Everett had eight catches for 68 yards, receiver Robert Woods seven for 95.

Donald’s homecoming game

The homecoming had everything but a happy ending.

Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald, a Pittsburgh native who played in college at Pitt and is beloved and respected in his hometown, came up with a big play against the Steelers at Heinz Field. But the Rams lost 17-12.

Usually explosive Rams produce a field goal on offense, and squander a defensive effort that included a fumble return for a TD and a safety in loss to Steelers.

“To be back at the home field where I played four years in college,” Donald said, “to be back home with my family watching and friends, it was definitely a good feeling.”

Donald, the two-time NFL defensive player of the year, had five tackles, including two for losses, and three hits on Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph.

In the fourth quarter, he combined with linebacker Clay Matthews to sack Rudolph for a safety that pulled the Rams to within 14-12.

The Rams’ 17-12 loss to the Steelers dropped their record to 5-4, ruined a homecoming for star Aaron Donald and put the Rams season on verge of collapse.

But the Steelers used eight minutes during a field-goal drive and then stopped the Rams’ offense twice in the final two minutes.

Matthews returns

Matthews played for the first time since suffering a broken jaw on Oct. 3 against the Seattle Seahawks.

Matthews had three tackles, including 1½ sacks, increasing his season total to 7½.

“I was a little rusty at first, but getting banged around a few times, you just make sure your jaw’s still attached,” he joked. “For the most part it went all right.

“When you take four weeks off and try to come back, there’s going to be some bumps and bruises.”

Scoop and score

Sunday hops — when a ball bounces chest high right into a baseball infielder’s glove — aren’t limited to the baseball field.

Linebacker Dante Fowler got one on the third play, when Rudolph couldn’t handle a line-drive snap from Maurkice Pouncey.

The ball squirted through Rudolph’s hands, over his head and bounced straight into the air behind him. Fowler, rushing from the left edge, caught the ball in stride and raced 26 yards for his second career touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Rams switch out players left and right on the offensive line because of more injuries as the Steelers defense dominates in 17-12 victory by Pittsburgh.

“It was a perfect hop,” Fowler said. “You can’t ask for any better than that. We work on that every day in practice, and it actually happened, but I was very fortunate.

“The ball bounces funny sometimes, but that time? I got lucky. The football gods were with me.”


Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, the former Long Beach Poly and USC star, caught three passes for 44 yards and was mainly matched up against Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey. ... Malcolm Brown returned from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two games. Brown rushed for 10 yards in five carries. ... Punter Johnny Hekker had a pass intercepted for the first time in his career. He has completed 12 of 21 passes for 179 yards.

Rams’ 17-12 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers by the numbers