THOUSAND OAKS — The Rams said outside linebacker Leonard Floyd missed practice Friday after complaining of abdominal pain, was taken to the hospital for examination in “an abundance of caution,” but was expected to play Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals.
The possibility, however slight, that Floyd might miss the climatic game of the Rams’ regular season was a bigger deal than might have been imagined last off-season.
After the Rams signed Floyd to a one-year, $10 million contract in April, one popular football analytics website rated the free-agent acquisition as the team’s worst move of 2020. Not to single out one errant expert. A lot of people were wrong about Floyd.
As the Rams (9-6) prepare to face Arizona (8-7) at SoFi Stadium on Sunday in what might be a make-or-break game for their suddenly injury- and COVID-19-ravaged season, it’s no overstatement to say Floyd has been their best newcomer of the year.
“This guy is a Pro-Bowl-caliber player in every way,” said Rams defensive coordinator Brandon Staley, who coached Floyd with the Chicago Bears too. “He’s having as complete a season as any edge player in the NFL. That’s every edge player.”
Floyd’s 9-1/2 sacks are a high for his five-year career and second on the Rams to defensive tackle Aaron Donald’s 13-1/2, both ranking in the NFL’s top 10. But as with any good defensive player, numbers don’t tell the whole story.
The fact that Floyd’s sack totals in four seasons with the Bears had shrunk steadily from seven in his rookie year of 2016 to three in 2019 might have led many to give up on the 6-foot-5, 240-pound former No. 9 overall pick out of Georgia.
“People get way too caught up in the numbers,” said Jalen Ramsey, the Rams’ Pro Bowl cornerback. “That line that ‘stats don’t lie,’ that’s one of the biggest lies.”
Ramsey, who was drafted four slots before Floyd in 2016, said he didn’t know exactly what the Rams were getting when the linebacker arrived in training camp.
“I didn’t know his temperament, his attitude, his demeanor on the field,” Ramsey said. “That’s been a pleasant surprise to me, having a dawg out there with me, someone who plays super-fierce, who’s a real competitor.”
Floyd came to the Rams with big sack totals to fill in an off-season when the Rams’ defense lost outside linebacker Dante Fowler and inside linebacker Cory Littleton to free agency and safety Eric Weddle to retirement.
Fowler had taken advantage of a mid-season trade from Jacksonville to the Rams in 2018, and a one-year, $12 million “prove it” contract in 2019, to set a career high with 11-1/2 sacks last season.
Then he’d parlayed that performance into a three-year, $45 million contract with Atlanta. Fowler’s first season with the Falcons (4-11) hasn’t gone so well. He has two sacks, none since a November stay on the COVID-19 reserve list.
Meanwhile, Floyd is on the rise. Not coincidentally, so is the Rams’ defense, which has allowed the fewest yards and recorded the second-most sacks in the league.
He likes to talk about the team instead of himself.
“I just feel confident in this team and this defense. We’ve just been going out and executing at a high level,” he said in November after having three of the Rams’ six sacks of Russell Wilson in a 23-16 win over the Seattle Seahawks.
The team likes to talk about him.
Floyd wasn’t voted to the NFC Pro Bowl roster with Ramsey and Donald, but Donald said he’ll earn respect if he keeps doing what he’s doing.
“Right now, probably if you ask somebody who Flo is, they might not know,” Donald said. “I’m pretty sure that guys watching film on him, and studying and getting ready to play against him, know exactly who he is, and that’s all that matters.”
Staley put aside any insinuation that Floyd’s sacks are merely Donald’s leftovers.
“Leonard’s performance stands on its own,” Staley said. “He’s playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play. I think he’s become the best version of himself.”
Rams coach Sean McVay said the team “definitely” wants to re-sign Floyd. But as with Fowler, his chance to capitalize on a career year might come with a team less bound by the salary cap.
The chance of losing Floyd is something else that might mean more than anybody would have thought before this season.
Leonard Floyd and running back Cam Akers (ankle) were listed as questionable after the Rams practiced on New Year’s Day. Sean McVay said Akers’ availability Sunday would be a game-time decision. Linebacker Micah Kiser (knee) is out. … McVay said wide receiver Cooper Kupp and defensive end Michael Brockers (both on the COVID-19 reserve list) won’t play “unless something miraculous occurs in the next 10 minutes, maybe 15 minutes.” In other words, they’re definitely out. The Rams had no new COVID cases Friday. …
Jalen Ramsey on John Wolford, who’ll make his NFL debut replacing injured Jared Goff at quarterback: “We do have confidence in John. I’m excited to see him get his opportunity. We have seen how (well) he works (in practice) going against the first-team defense all year. I hope it continues on Sunday.” … To repeat: The Rams make the playoffs as a wild card if they beat or tie the Cardinals or the Bears lose or tie against the Packers. Both games start at 1:25 p.m. Sunday. … McVay said his new year’s resolution is “to be 1-0 in the first week of January.”