Injuries, exits force young WRs to step up for Packers, Rams

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — Monday night’s game between the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers could have showcased two Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks and some of the top wide receivers in the league.

Instead, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are on injured reserve for the Rams, Davante Adams is playing for the Las Vegas Raiders and Aaron Rodgers enters the game with some of the worst stats of his 15 seasons as the Packers starting quarterback.

And yet, amid all this, four young wide receivers — Green Bay’s Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs, and Los Angeles’ Ben Skowronek and Tutu Atwell — have stepped into their respective teams’ voids at the position with promise and production.

“Confidence is a powerful thing, and when it’s earned confidence, and when you’re able to make those plays, it can be compounding,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “To be able to do it in these types of games that count, real circumstances, is powerful, and there’s nothing that you can simulate or create in practice settings that can be as powerful as these things those guys are doing.”

Skowronek, a seventh-round pick a year ago who played four college seasons at Northwestern and a fifth at Notre Dame, set single-game career highs in receptions (seven) and yardage (89) in the Rams’ win over the Raiders last week. Among his receptions was a crucial 32-yard catch over a defender in front of the Rams bench on their winning TD drive.

Atwell caught five passes for 50 yards against the Raiders. Atwell hadn’t caught a single ball during an injury-filled 2021 season as a rookie second-round pick from Louisville.

Those opportunities have been created by the absences of Kupp and Allen Robinson. Kupp has been sidelined since mid-November with a high ankle sprain. Robinson suffered a season-ending foot injury last month.

Their injuries came after the Rams lost Odell Beckham Jr. to a knee injury in the Super Bowl and traded veteran Robert Woods during the offseason.

“It’s opportunity — big-time opportunity for those guys to step up, and they have,” Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen said.

“There’s things every week that we’re able to work on and coach off of. That’s the beauty of this. We have young guys who are playing, they’re growing, they’re learning, and they’re developing. And that’s only going to serve us better for the future.”

In Green Bay, the Packers hope that finally having Doubs and Watson on the field simultaneously will give the offense a chance to click, especially with the way Watson has tilted the field in their favor of late.

Watson, a rookie second-round pick from North Dakota State, missed three games and part of another with a hamstring injury, and parts of two other games while in concussion protocol.

Over his past four games, Watson has 15 receptions for 313 yards and seven touchdowns, plus a 46-yard touchdown run that lifted the Packers to a Dec. 4 victory at Chicago.

Now, the Packers are set to get Doubs back from a high ankle sprain that has sidelined him since he went down on his first reception against the Detroit Lions on Nov. 6. At the time of his injury, Doubs was leading the Packers in receptions (31) and was second in receiving yards (314) and touchdown catches (three).

In 13 games, Doubs and Watson have been active simultaneously for only four of them. Doubs and Watson have been on the field together for just 52 snaps all season.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur cautioned that he’ll be careful with Doubs’ playing time initially.

“I think you’ve got to be realistic about it. Here’s a guy that hasn’t played football in a long time,” LaFleur said. “I think he’s done a nice job out at practice, but you’ve just got to be realistic and not put too much on his plate.”

At the same time, Rodgers is clearly eager to see how far his two young wideouts have come and whether they can help the Packers win their final four games.

Rodgers has completed 64.3% of his passes for 2,864 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a passer rating of 92.4 — a number that would be the lowest of his career as a starter if the season ended. Rodgers has been hindered by the loss of Adams, a two-time All-Pro who was traded to Las Vegas in March.

The nine interceptions are the most Rodgers has thrown in one season since he threw 11 during the team’s Super Bowl-winning season of 2010. He has yet to throw for 300 yards in a game this season.

“It’s going to be nice to have everybody back. (We) really haven’t had those guys all healthy for a long time,” Rodgers said of the receivers. “We’ll try to get those guys in positions to be successful.

“The emergence of Christian and his dynamic ability’s been, obviously, a very welcome sight. We’ve got to find ways to get him the football. And then everybody else, let’s just do our roles and score points. If we can get ahead of teams at home — we have three out of four at home — we can put some things together, I think.”

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