SANTA CLARA — More than a month after they acquired him in a trade, the Rams found Sammy Watkins.
The first two weeks of this season were tough for Watkins, who couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm, but Watkins showed his potential as a No. 1 receiver during Thursday night’s game at San Francisco, when he caught six passes for 106 yards and two touchdowns.
Watkins drew double coverage early in Thursday’s game but emerged in the second quarter during an end-of-half touchdown drive. Watkins caught an 8-yard pass for a first down early in the drive, then had a 22-yard reception that took the ball into San Francisco territory.
That was just a prelude. On the fourth play of the third quarter, Goff threw a beautiful deep ball. Watkins had to turn to locate the ball but made an over-the-shoulder 47-yard catch.
Watkins later pulled in a 13-yard touchdown that gave the Rams a 41-26 lead in the fourth quarter.
Watkins, a former 1,000-yard receiver in Buffalo, had been targeted only twice last Sunday against Washington and made two catches for 30 yards.
Rams coaches pointed to the fact that the team ran only 50 offensive plays, but rookie Cooper Kupp played 15 fewer snaps than Watkins and was targeted four more times. Clearly, opposing defenses will focus more on Watkins than Kupp (and others), and balance is a good thing, but so is getting Watkins going.
“It’s on us to try to roll those guys through,” offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur said before Thursday’s game. “We’ve got confidence in all six of those receivers, so we’ve got to get them involved, whether it’s rotating them every couple of plays or whatever. It’s on us to get them in the game and put them in position to make plays.”
Watkins arrived late in training camp, after a Rams trade with Buffalo, but McVay has said Watkins is now fully integrated into the offense, so it’s not a matter of knowing the playbook.
Even in Buffalo, Watkins wasn’t known as a high-volume receiver, but as one who used his speed to make big plays. The same could be said of Austin, who had been something of an afterthought in the Rams’ offense heading into Thursday’s game.
In the first two games, Austin was targeted only four times and made two catches (for 12 yards). Austin also had four carries for 14 yards.
“We’re still feeling it out,” McVay said of Austin’s usage, “Clearly he’s special with the ball in his hands and he’s doing some different things, with the jet sweeps, playing…