Originally Published: November 27, 2017 10:40 p.m.
THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams will have to persevere through their difficult late-season schedule without one of their defensive leaders.
Linebacker Connor Barwin had surgery Monday to repair a broken left forearm, Rams coach Sean McVay said.
Barwin had a plate inserted into his arm to aid healing. He will be out “the next couple weeks,” according to McVay, likely sidelining him when the Philadelphia Eagles visit the Rams on Dec. 10.
Philadelphia released Barwin in March after four seasons with the team. He landed in Los Angeles as a free agent and quickly became a key contributor to the new defense run by Rams coordinator Wade Phillips, who had previously coached Barwin in Houston.
“He’s a tough guy,” McVay said at the Rams’ training complex. “He’ll be ready to go sooner than later. I would be willing to bet on Connor.”
Barwin’s injury was a sobering development for Los Angeles (8-3) after an otherwise outstanding victory over fellow NFC division leader New Orleans. The Rams’ 26-20 win put them in prime position for their first playoff spot since 2004.
Barwin has started all 11 games for the Rams this season, recording four sacks and 25 tackles. He also provided valuable leadership for his mostly younger teammates, who voted him a team captain in his first year with the club.
“You lose a lot,” McVay said. “You not only lose a very productive player, but what he’s demonstrated as one of those guys in the locker room. You look at a guy that’s been brought in here, his first year, being voted as a captain by his teammates. That says a lot about the type of person he is, the way he goes about his business.”
Rookie Samson Ebukam will start in Barwin’s place when the Rams visit the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. Ebukam, a fourth-round pick out of Eastern Washington, has made two sacks — including one against the Saints — and a fumble recovery while playing as a backup linebacker and on special teams for Los Angeles.
McVay described Barwin as “a huge influence” on Ebukam.
“(Ebukam) shows up on the film both in special teams and defense, and he’s a guy we feel like has a bright future for us,” McVay said.
Although Barwin is out, the Rams expect cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman to return on Sunday after missing last weekend’s game with a thigh injury.
Barwin’s injury slightly dampened another upbeat day for the Rams, who are surging toward the final quarter of the season after shutting down another elite team. McVay’s Rams still haven’t lost back-to-back games — no small feat for a franchise that lost 11 of 12 to end its dismal homecoming season in 2016.
The Rams responded impressively to the injury absence of top receiver Robert Woods. Rookie Cooper Kupp set career highs with eight catches for 116 yards, while starter Sammy Watkins and rookie Josh Reynolds caught touchdown passes.
The solid play of Jared Goff’s receiving corps allowed McVay to continue throwing the ball at the New Orleans defense, which was missing its starting cornerbacks. McVay also acknowledged that the Saints’ defense was loaded up to stop running back Todd Gurley, who still managed 74 yards rushing on 17 carries.
“With some of the defensive looks that they were presenting, it was really tough to run it,” McVay said.
Gurley has been one of the NFL’s most productive and versatile running backs this season, but the injury absence of his top two backups — Malcolm Brown and Lance Dunbar — has forced McVay to make adjustments.
The coach said he limited Gurley’s carries and receptions to keep him fresh for third-down blocking assignments, since the Rams’ only other active running back was seldom-used rookie Justin Davis.
“Todd will be one of the key focal points of our offense always,” McVay said. “But just knowing how important it was going to be in the absence of Lance and Malcolm, to be able to have him available for some of those protection downs was really a very important part of our game.”