He is not noted as a receiver who simply blows past defenders on his way to the end zone.
But with the ball in his hands — this time on a jet sweep, not after catching a pass — Cooper Kupp seemingly found a new gear.
During last Sunday’s victory over the Arizona Cardinals, Kupp took a handoff from quarterback Matthew Stafford on a misdirection play and ran around the left end 20 yards for his first career rushing touchdown.
“I still don’t call myself a blazer or anything like that,” Kupp said Friday, “but I’m fast enough to get around the corner sometimes. I give myself enough credit to be able to do that.”
The Rams (2-1) will need Kupp at his best Monday night when they play the San Francisco 49ers (1-2) at Levi’s Stadium.
The Rams have not defeated the 49ers in Santa Clara since the 2018 season.
Last January, in the NFC championship game, Kupp caught 11 passes for 142 yards and two touchdowns in a 20-17 victory over the 49ers at SoFi Stadium. The win ended a six-game losing streak against the 49ers and sent the Rams to Super Bowl LVI, where they defeated the Cincinnati Bengals.
Kupp caught two touchdown passes — and converted a key fourth down on a jet sweep — in the 23-20 victory over the Bengals, and was voted Super Bowl most valuable player.
Kupp, the reigning NFL offensive player of the year, is on pace possibly to improve upon last season, when he achieved the so-called triple crown by leading the league with 145 catches for 1,947 yards receiving and 16 touchdown catches.
In three games this season, he has 28 catches for 280 yards and three touchdowns — and the rushing touchdown against the Cardinals. In the first three games of the 2021 season, Kupp had 25 catches for 367 yards and four touchdowns.
Kupp ranks second behind Miami’s Tyreek Hill, who has 31 catches, but Hill has played four games.
“I try not to think about last year so much [as] I just try to go out and do my job,” Kupp said when asked if felt like he picked up where he left off in 2021, adding, “I can always be better, without a doubt that stands true now.
“I’d like to think I’m a better football player than I was a year before but there’s so much stuff I can a do [a] better job of for this team and that’s my mindset.”
With Van Jefferson on injured reserve, the Rams’ receiving corps includes Kupp, new addition Allen Robinson, second-year pro Ben Skowronek, Brandon Powell and second-year pro Tutu Atwell.
But Kupp remains Stafford’s main target.
“It’s the Cooper Kupp show, like no matter how you try to slice it up, whether the guys are doubling, whatever it is, the guy finds a way,” 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans told Bay Area reporters Friday. “I think the connection and chemistry with him and Stafford is one of the best I’ve seen in the league in a long time.
“Those guys are always in sync.”
Rams defensive coordinator Raheem Morris is glad he does not have to scheme against Kupp.
“He is without a doubt at a different level than most,” Morris said. “The amount of work that he puts into it, the amount of work that he looks at your defense and knows what’s happening, the amount of work that he puts into it with Stafford.”
Kupp’s touchdown run against the Cardinals harked to past seasons, when Kupp and former Rams receiver Robert Woods ran jet sweeps.
Now, defensive coordinators must account for Kupp as a scoring threat in the run game.
“The way that play was executed was such a high level — it was so difficult for the defenders to see where the ball actually was,” Rams offensive coordinator Liam Coen said. “You put that on tape, now they have to honor it throughout the week.”
Kupp is comfortable running jet sweeps — and whatever else coach Sean McVay and his staff install.
“Anytime you get the ball in your hands, you love that,” Kupp said. “Any opportunity to make a play for this team, I’m on board for it.”
Cornerbacks David Long (groin) and Cobie Durant (hamstring) and offensive lineman David Edwards (illness) did not practice, and safety Jordan Fuller (hamstring) was limited, according to the Rams injury report. Cornerback Derion Kendrick (concussion) was a full participant.