Heading into the Rams' Week 16 contest against the Titans, no one expected the club to be without starting linebacker Mark Barron. Not even head coach Sean McVay.
"We were fully anticipating Mark to be able to go," he said postgame. "But it was kind of one of those deals where the weather creeps up and forces some things. I think it [caught] us off guard and surprised us."
It also surprised second-year linebacker Cory Littleton.
The Washington product was given his first official start of the season on Sunday, taking the field in place of the injured Barron — who sat out with an achilles issue.
"I didn't expect this before the game started," Littleton said. "[Coach] ended up telling me just before the game and basically he said I know you can fill this role and he believed in me."
The staff's faith in the linebacker was well-warranted.
Littleton made the most out of his opportunity, recording the first interception of his career and sacking
quarterback Marcus Mariota. Plus, he was one of just three defenders to play every snap — taking on a heavy workload throughout the contest.
"I thought he did a great job. You know a lot of situations where we're playing some man coverage principles [and] he's covering one of the best tight ends in the league in Delaney Walker," McVay said. "Comes away with a big turnover early on in the game that ended up being a huge play for us from a momentum standpoint."
"He played tremendous," middle linebacker Alec Ogletree added. "He's stepped in throughout the year and played really well. I didn't expect him to do anything different today."
On Tennessee's second play from scrimmage, Mariota dropped back and delivered a pass intended for wide receiver Rishard Matthews. Instead, Littleton stepped in front of the wideout and intercepted the floating toss, returning the pick to the L.A. 47.
"We're in the zone, quarterback's eyes led me," he said. "Anytime the ball is in the air it's yours, so go take it."
Just two drives later on 2nd-and-5, Littleton sacked Mariota at the Rams' five-yard line for a six-yard loss.
"They gave me a look earlier in the game that I had seen before," Littleton said. "There was an open hole. I took it and it ended up being there."
In all, Littleton finished the contest with seven tackles, one tackle for loss, two quarterback hits, and one pass deflection. He said that his ability to practice with the first-team defense throughout the week has helped him
Check out the best photos from the Los Angeles Rams win over the Tennessee Titans.
tremendously throughout the season.
"It's no different than any other starter," he said. "You have to practice those reps. I'm just thankful that I'm able to get some of those alongside Mark and it gets me ready for this game."
And although Littleton has been a consistent contributor on special teams — blocking two punts in 15 games — he could be called upon as a defensive starter once again in Week 17.
McVay said Tuesday that Barron will be "day-to-day" moving towards the team's matchup with the 49ers. And with the playoffs looming, McVay hinted that the staff could look to rest Barron and several of their starters on Sunday.
"When you look at this week with our overall approach — being locked in to that 3rd or 4th seed," McVay said, "it will provide an opportunity for us to potentially get some guys healthy, rest them, and give some other guys a chance to step up."