John Wolford shaky under pressure: Five takeaways from Rams' loss to Texans

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Rams quarterback John Wolford scrambles to pick up a first-quarter first down against the Texans on Aug. 18, 2022.
Rams quarterback John Wolford scrambles against the Houston Texans in a preseason game Friday night at SoFi Stadium. Wolford completed 14 of 22 passes for 142 yards — and was sacked five times — in the Rams' 24-20 loss. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The defending Super Bowl champion Rams played the Houston Texans in their second preseason game on Friday night at SoFi Stadium.

Here are observations from the Rams’ 24-20 loss:

Quarterback John Wolford was under pressure

Rams quarterback John Wolford eludes Texans defensive lineman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo on Friday.
Rams quarterback John Wolford eludes Texans defensive lineman Ogbonnia Okoronkwo on Friday. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Coach Sean McVay’s decision to play Wolford in the first half and Bryce Perkins in the second introduced a dose of quarterback intrigue.

Was it a chance for Wolford — Jared Goff’s and Matthew Stafford’s backup the last two seasons — to simply get some game reps? Or was it a move to give Perkins a shot at a fair comparison for the role as Stafford’s backup?

“It’s definitely something that we’re continuing to evaluate,” McVay said after the game.

Wolford completed 14 of 22 passes for 142 yards. He was sacked five times.

It marked Wolford’s first extended playing time since 2020, when he started the season finale against the Arizona Cardinals, and then started and played most of the first quarter in a wild-card playoff game against the Seattle Seahawks.

McVay said this week that he wanted to see Wolford command the offense, sustain drives and score points.

Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins leaps over Texans' Terrance Brooks, left, and Derek Rivers in the third quarter.
Rams quarterback Bryce Perkins leaps over the Texans' Terrence Brooks (8) and Derek Rivers (95). (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Rams managed two field goals.

“Overall, I felt like he had good command, made good decisions, saw the coverages the right way,” McVay said. “And then there were some instances where we could help him out a little bit more. But I thought both he and Bryce did a nice job.”

Perkins was coming off a solid performance against the Chargers, positioning him for a run at an opening-game roster spot for the second year in a row.

He started slowly, his first two passes falling incomplete.

But on the first play of his second possession, he slipped a tackle in the backfield and completed a 14-yard pass to tight end Roger Carter Jr.

Perkins finished 11 of 13 for 123 yards.

After the drive stalled, the Rams’ Duron Lowe forced a fumble on a punt return, and Carter scooped the ball and ran into the end zone for a touchdown.

Receiver Lance McCutcheon continued his push for a roster spot

Rams receiver Lance McCutcheon makes a catch in front of Texans defensive back Jonathan Owens for a first down Aug. 18, 2022.
Rams wide receiver Lance McCutcheon makes a catch in front of Texans defensive back Jonathan Owens in the first quarter. (Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times)

McCutcheon, an undrafted free agent from Montana State, built on his two-touchdown performance against the Chargers.

He had a 29-yard catch in the first quarter, a 22-yard reception in the second and finished with five catches for 96 yards.

McCutcheon also played on special teams, and remains a viable candidate to make the 53-man roster.

Second-year pro Jacob Harris also contributed with four catches for 22 yards. The 6-foot-6 Harris, who was drafted as a tight end but was moved to receiver, could give the receiving corps an intriguing option if he can master the offense.

Tight end Brycen Hopkins is getting comfortable at SoFi Stadium

Hopkins, who had a clutch performance in Super Bowl LVI against the Cincinnati Bengals, caught six passes for 41 yards against the Texans in the first half.

The third-year pro from Purdue appears on track for a role in rotation with veteran Tyler Higbee and Kendall Blanton.

Decobie Durant and Derion Kendrick made plays

Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick runs after recovering a fumble during the first half against the Texans.
Rams cornerback Derion Kendrick runs after recovering a fumble during the first half against the Texans. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Durant and Kendrick were standouts during training camp, and both seemed to gain confidence after playing against the Chargers.

In the first quarter, Durant sacked Texans quarterback Davis Mills. He got help from rookie outside linebacker Daniel Hardy.

Durant also broke up a pass in the second quarter.

Late in the second quarter, linebacker Jake Gervase forced running back Rex Burkhead to fumble, and Kendrick recovered the ball. The play set up a field goal.

In the final seconds of the first half, Kendrick draped Texans receiver Nico Collins in the end zone and battled for the ball, but officials ruled that Collins came down with the contested catch.

Defensive lineman Jonah Williams had a sack and forced a fumble. Second-year pro Robert Rochell, a starter for five games last season before suffering a chest injury, broke up a pass.

Matt Gay appears in midseason form

Gay made the Pro Bowl last season after making 32 of 34 field-goal attempts.

On Friday, he kicked a 43-yard field goal in the first quarter to give the Rams a 3-0 lead. His 36-yard field goal with 40 seconds left in the second quarter increased the lead to 6-0.

Gay did not put his first kickoff through the end zone, ostensibly so players on the kickoff coverage unit could be evaluated by coaches. His second kickoff resulted in a touchback.

Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp and owner Stan Kroenke share a laugh before a game against the Texans on Aug. 18, 2022.
Rams wide receiver Cooper Kupp and team owner Stan Kroenke share a laugh before Friday's game. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Riley Dixon got a feel for his new workplace

Dixon doesn’t have an easy task — he’s replacing four-time All-Pro Johnny Hekker, who played for the Rams for 10 seasons.

Dixon, a seventh-year pro, played for the Denver Broncos in 2016, when Rams special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis worked for the Broncos.

Dixon’s first punt Friday was nullified because of a penalty against the Texans. His next two kicks traveled 52 and 54 yards.

Dixon averaged 46.7 yards for six punts. He had one touchback and placed two inside the 20-yard line.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.