Coach Carter was in theaters and Let Me Love You by Mario was the No. 1 song in the U.S. the last time an NFL player won the receiving triple crown, but that can all change on Sunday.
Rams receiver Cooper Kupp has a chance to earn the prestigious honor and become the first player to do so since Steve Smith Sr. accomplished the feat with the Panthers in 2005. The fifth-year pro, who leads the NFL in receiving yards (1,829), receptions (138) and touchdown receptions (15) this season, could also break Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson’s single-season receiving yards record (1,964) and capture Saints WR Michael Thomas’ single-season reception record (149) with a strong showing on Sunday.
Kupp, however, said earlier this week he’s more focused on helping the Rams clinch the NFC West with a win over the San Francisco 49ers than he is on the award.
Standing in his and the Rams’ way this weekend is a 49ers defense that’s allowed the fifth-fewest points per game (15.8) over the last four weeks. Niners defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans understands the challenge in front of his group, recognizing the unique chemistry between Kupp and quarterback Matthew Stafford. If the 49ers are to advance to the playoffs, Ryans’ unit will have to find a way to keep the duo contained — as much as anyone can.
“I think those guys started to mesh really well together, started to gel and they have a really good connection,” Ryans told reporters on Thursday. “That’s why you’ve seen the success that they have. Two smart players working together there, I have the utmost respect for Kupp, not only him in the passing game, but you see how he blocks in the run game. That’s where it really makes me tip my cap to the guy. He’s not afraid to get in there and block, whether there’s a defensive end, whether it’s a nickel, whether there’s a linebacker he will get in there and block. And I definitely respect him for that.”
Although the 49ers comfortably won their last meeting with the Rams, a 31-10 affair in Week 10, Kupp still hauled in 11 receptions for 122 yards.
“The biggest thing with Kupp, he’s a very smart player,” Ryans said. “Talented, can run all the routes they need him to run. A very smart player. Very efficient route runner and yeah, his quarterback over there in Stafford can find him wherever he is on the field.”
Although his sights are set on doing “whatever it takes” to win Sunday’s game, Kupp acknowledged earlier this week that setting the individual records would be special. He did make sure to recognize the 17th game this season as a factor in him potentially reaching those milestones.
“It would be a pretty incredible thing,” Kupp said. “There are a lot of good football players in this league, a lot of really good receivers who I’ve got a ton of respect for, so it would be very cool.”
“What those guys did in 16 games, it wouldn’t seem right to, I don’t know, for those to be broken in 17 games,” Kupp said. “It wouldn’t hold the same weight to me as it does for guys that have done that in a 16-game season and the accomplishments those guys had, and the seasons they put together. Those are incredible things, incredible accomplishments. You kind of have to separate the two.”
Kupp’s humble attitude and desire to continue learning as a student of the game has earned him the respect from his coaches and teammates. He’s no longer just the kid from Eastern Washington University who the Rams took a chance on in the third round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
“It’s a great reflection of the team, but of his accomplishments within the team,” Rams head coach Sean McVay said this week. He’s been such a special player, not only this year, but really since we drafted him five years ago. [I] love Cooper Kupp. It’d be outstanding.”
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