Coaches are fond of saying adversity builds character. Monday night, the L.A. Rams faced enough football adversity to build a small college campus.
Hours before Monday's vital division game against the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams sent another rash of players to the reserve/COVID-19 list, including star corner Jalen Ramsey.
Ramsey missing the game came after corners Robert Rochell went on IR and Donte' Deayon also landed on the COVID-19 list.
That left L.A. woefully short at corner, preparing to face DeAndre Hopkins, A.J. Green, Christian Kirk and the rest of Kyler Murray's weapons. It seemed like a recipe for disaster.
Amid panic blooms opportunity.
After opening the season as a starter, David Long Jr. struggled and was demoted. The third-year corner hadn't started since Week 4 when these same Cardinals tortured him. Long gave up five catches on five targets for 89 yards, a TD for a perfect 158.3 QB rating against, and a +34.8 percent catch rate over expected against versus Arizona, per Next Gen Stats.
The awful game led to Long reverting to a reserve role.
But the football gods are a funky bunch. They love a good random side storyline, wherein a discarded, forgotten player gets an opportunity to shine where he previously failed.
Ramsey's absence gave Long that chance. The 23-year-old shined in the Rams' 30-23 win.
Long was targeted eight times Monday as the nearest defender, giving up just two receptions for 11 yards, a 39.6 QB rating, and a team-best -35.6 percent catch rate over expected, per NGS. The Michigan product also was third on the team with six tackles and had a pass breakup.
Darious Williams helped slow DeAndre Hopkins (5/54), primarily sticking with the Pro Bowl receiver. That left Long and practice-squad call-up Kareem Orr tasked with covering Green, Kirk and Rondale Moore. While Orr got picked on a bit early, the secondary performed admirably given the circumstances.
These are the types of wins, with several key players missing, that galvanize a team for a January run. Rams defenders now have faith that in a bind, whether through injury or circumstance, the depth players can step in and fill a hole without the bridge collapsing.
For Long, his early-season struggles against Arizona led to his benching. But his team needed him to step up Monday night, and the former third-round pick delivered, and L.A. moved closer to the division lead.