Last May, on the day the NFL released its schedule, the game between the Rams and the Tennessee Titans looked like a classic matchup.
Could star defensive lineman Aaron Donald and the Rams’ front stop Titans running back Derrick Henry, the league’s rushing leader the last two seasons?
Henry appeared to be on his way to another rushing title this season before suffering a season-ending foot injury last Sunday against the Indianapolis Colts. The Titans signed 36-year-old Adrian Peterson this week to replace Henry, and the future Hall of Famer will play Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
But the sheen is off the matchup.
And the Titans are not the only team dealing with injuries.
The 7-1 Rams have not lost a star, but several key players, including quarterback Matthew Stafford, are nursing injuries that prevented them from fully participating in practices this past week.
Stafford had back stiffness. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey a sore knee. Receiver Robert Woods a foot issue.
All are expected to play Sunday, but the wear and tear of what will be the longest season in NFL history is beginning to affect a team regarded as a contender to play in Super Bowl LVI on its home field in February.
Coach Sean McVay noted this week that the Rams have not played a game on a natural grass surface this season. They won’t until next Monday night, when they play the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium in the Rams’ final game before an open date.
“This is hard on these players’ bodies,” McVay said of playing only on artificial surfaces.
The Rams on Friday put starting defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day on injured reserve because he will have surgery to repair a chest muscle injury suffered Oct. 24 against the Detroit Lions. Earlier in the week, McVay said kick returner Tutu Atwell was out for the season because of a shoulder injury.
Stafford, a 13th-year pro, has dealt with injuries throughout his career. He did not practice on Wednesday or Thursday and was limited on Friday.
But he has said he would be “fine” to play Sunday.
“I am not worried about it, just stiff,” he said.
McVay said he was not concerned about Stafford facing the 6-2 Titans with only one limited workout this week.
“I don’t just because of the dialogue we’ve had,” McVay said, adding, “He’s had some things like this that have kind of popped up in previous years and he doesn’t seem to be concerned about it. … When you’re a veteran player like him, you kind of let them dictate the terms.”
The Rams also spent the week assessing the condition of outside linebacker Von Miller, their latest star acquisition.
Miller arrived Tuesday after the Rams sent 2022 second- and third-round picks to the Denver Broncos for the three-time All-Pro and Super Bowl 50 most valuable player.
Miller, 32, is nursing an ankle injury suffered on Oct. 21 against the Cleveland Browns. The injury sidelined him for the Broncos’ game last Sunday against Washington and limited him during Rams practices this week.
McVay has said that Miller’s availability on Sunday could be a game-time decision.
Miller is looking forward to playing at SoFi Stadium. He missed an opportunity in 2020 when the Broncos played the Chargers because of an ankle injury that sidelined him the entire season.
“I’ve heard stories on how incredible it is and how state-of-the-art,” he said of the stadium. “The Super Bowl is going to be there this year, and hopefully that’ll be us playing there.”
The Rams, riding a four-game winning streak, can take another step toward that goal if they can defeat the Titans, who also have won four in a row.
Titans coach Mike Vrabel said his team had to “move on” from Henry’s situation.
“Hopefully, we can understand and be disappointed for Derrick, but we’ve never really felt sorry for ourselves,” Vrabel said, adding, “Nobody’s going to feel sorry for you around the NFL.”
Donald among them.
Asked if he was disappointed that Henry was sidelined, Donald answered quickly.
“No, I wasn’t disappointed,” he said. “I hope he’s fine though. I’m praying for him, but I wasn’t.”