Running Back Stable – How The Rams 3 Headed Attack Is Key Against The Eagles
Last Sunday, the Rams ran the ball 40 times. They hadn’t attempted that many rushes since the 2018 playoffs. Incidentally, that was also a win against the Dallas Cowboys. This fact is important to bring up for a few reasons. One, it shows the confidence the Rams have in the three backs that have been tasked with the job; Malcolm Brown, Cam Akers, and Darrell Henderson. There was a distinct lack of trust in the running game last season.
Two, predictability in football is bad. Last season the Rams passed the ball 61.99% of the time. Why is that bad? Last season, teams that threw the ball 62% or higher had an average record of 5-11. There are obvious outliers that contradict this idea. Kansas City’s and New Orleans’ passing percentages were both over 60%, but not everyone can have a Pat Mahomes or a Drew Brees on their team.
After one game, it’s evident that Sean McVay was eager to unleash this Cerberus on the league. (Although one of the three heads was hardly deployed, Henderson had three carries.) The passing percentage against the Cowboys was 44.4%, second-lowest in the league. McVay especially showed confidence in the running game in crunch time. He used the run on six of 10 third and short downs. Four of the six were converted. McVay also opted to run the ball to convert the teams one fourth-down attempt. Which was successful. They ran the ball seven of the 14 plays in the red zone and Malcolm Brown was called on to punch in the team’s two goal-line touchdowns.
The Philadelphia Eagles are off to a good start against the run. They allowed only 80 yards against the Washington Football Team. This trend continues what they did last season. In 2019, the Eagles defense ranked third against the run. Although the Eagles were able to hang on to the main pieces of their defense, they have seen their fair share of injuries so far. Defensive end Brandon Graham and nose tackle Javon Hargrave are both questionable for the game and DE Vinny Curry has been placed on IR. End Derek Barnett, missed week one with a hamstring injury, but is, so far, on track to play against the Rams.
The Rams RB trio will be used early to test the depth, and maintaining a balanced offense remains a key to the team’s success and of course a key against the Eagles. Exactly how the Rams will go about that is still in question.
Cam Akers was the official starter against the Cowboys, but Brown quickly proved he was the right skill set to run against the Cowboys. Brown was used on 44 snaps and rushed the ball 18 times for 4.4 yards per carry. While Akers played 24 snaps and rushed 14 times for only 2.8 per carry.
Despite Brown’s effectiveness, the presence of Fletcher Cox in the middle of the line may cause McVay to opt for Akers over Brown situationally. Brown ran between the tackles half of his carries, while Akers was used to attack the perimeter, rushing up the middle only five times. Using the speedier Akers will also challenge the Eagles weakest defensive group, their linebackers. PFF plopped the Eagles linebackers at 27th in the league in their preseason ranking. That said, Brown will still see a good amount of playing time. He is a superior blocker and for this reason, could be a more effective decoy and also remains pivotal in the passing game. Along with his rushing effort, he also caught 3 passes for 31 yards.
Heading into the season, McVay was adamant that he would be employing a running back by committee approach this season. He reiterated his desire to go with the right back for the right situation stating, “…as the game unfolds each week, can kind of present some new things in terms of what do we like, what kind of concepts in the run game do we want to be able to activate?”
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It’s safe to assume that Darrell Henderson’s low snap count was injury-related rather than an indication that Henderson isn’t ready for primetime. So far, Henderson hasn’t proven that he can be a viable threat in the NFL like he was coming out of Memphis (8.2 career yards per carry). On the other hand, he hasn’t been given much of a shot. He’s averaged just 3 carries in the 14 games that he’s played in. He had flashes of that home run ability last season. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry against the 49ers, which was fueled by the team’s second-longest play from scrimmage in that game, a 22-yard run, that was followed up by a 14 yard run on the next play. Henderson was only given the ball three times after that series.
Brown was just as mysterious heading into this season. He averaged 3.98 carries per game from 2015-2019. No one would have picked him to lead the team in rushing, but he proved he could deliver given the opportunity in the right situation. Henderson has the same potential. How McVay uses Henderson in this game will be a tell-tale sign for how much stock McVay puts in that potential. But, McVay’s commitment to the hot hand approach last week keeps the door open for Henderson to show out in this game.
Furthermore, right now, Henderson is an ace in the hole and the Rams can take advantage of how little the Eagles know about him. Perhaps, Doug Pederson and Jim Schwartz are scheming to stop the up-the-gut power running of Brown or the outside tackle-breaking running of Akers. If Henderson can tap into that BPE (Big Play Energy) from his college days it will render those schemes useless.
The Ram offense will have to play more effectively this week. Philadelphia simply has a better defense than the Cowboys and will field a proven fierce pass rush. An efficient and smart running attack with the right back in the right situations will help keep that at bay and will be a key against the Eagles. Expect to see all three backs early to test what will work and what won’t against the Eagles defense.