LA Rams: Running the ball means Funky Xs and Os

Mandatory Credit: John McCoy-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: John McCoy-USA TODAY Sports /
LA Rams News Rams Training Camp Xavier Jones
Mandatory Credit: John McCoy-USA TODAY Sports /

How concerned are you about the LA Rams running attack in 2021? Is this a new unsettled feeling? Is it dread? Or do you have a sense of deja vu, like you’ve been here before? Well, whether you realize it or not, you have. This scenario played out just one short year ago.

In 2020, the LA Rams had just waived veteran star running back Todd Gurley. To help fill his place on the offense, the team had drafted Florida State rusher, Cam Akers. He would join veteran Malcolm Brown, and 2nd-year Darrell Henderson, to form a committee-like approach to rushing., While it may not have seemed awfully glamorous or sexy, it was a wise choice. After all, the Rams’ entire running back room had only 236 total NFL rushes amongst them and had only put up 916 total NFL yards. Total.

That included the five seasons from Malcolm Brown and one season from Darrell Henderson. A year ago, the storylines were about how that was Henderson’s moment. That is why the LA Rams brought him to the Rams. The Rams returning veterans only carried the ball 108 times for 402 yards and five touchdowns. And yet, everything turned out just fine for the LA Rams running in 2020.

Committee approach

The committee of barely recognizable names in 2020 was the 10th best rushing offense in the NFL last season. They carried the ball 473 times a year ago, almost four times as often as the previous season total for the group. A year ago, folks were nervous too. A year ago, some were confused at the team placing so much trust in so little experience or production.

A year ago, there were mixed reactions over Cam Akers. Darrell Henderson was fighting over hamstring issues, nobody expected much from Malcolm Brown, and the LA Rams offensive line was trying to re-group after an injury-riddled 2019 season. The Rams put up legitimately solid numbers with a cast of NFL unknowns in 2020.

Los Angeles Rams
Los Angeles Rams /

Los Angeles Rams

In 2020, the LA Rams rushed for over 2000 yards as an offense. Cam Akers rushed for 625 yards. Darrell Henderson rushed for 624 yards. Malcolm Brown rushed for 419 yards. And the rest of the offense, including Robert Woods, Jared Goff, John Wolford, Cooper Kupp, and more claimed the remainder.

It worked because the LA Rams did not try to replace running back Todd Gurley. Instead, the Rams focused on merely trying to run the ball effectively. That meant a different strategy in different games. Against physical defenses, it meant running Malcolm Brown. Against fast defenses that attacked the interior, it meant the edge attacking rushes of Darrell Henderson. Finally, against defenses that did everything well, it meant a bit of patient running from Cam Akers.

It’s deja vu all over again…

Okay, so here we are again. The LA Rams just lost their top running back. The remaining running backs are fairly inexperienced. The Rams returning veterans only carried the ball 138 times for 624 yards and five touchdowns a year ago. In fact, the entire running back room only has 177 carries for 771 yards and five touchdowns. Total.

Are you starting to see the similarities?

The goal is not to suddenly run Darrell Henderson so hard so early that he has nothing left by the season’s end. Instead, the Rams should do what they did a year ago. That means that the Rams should carry 4-5 running backs on the 53-man roster. The team should do a better job of sharing the workload among the running backs.

Xs and Os, and Funky too

For starters, let’s focus on two running backs who the Rams have shown little out of so far – Xavier Jones and Otis Anderson Jr. Both rushers are deceptively agile, both players make good use of their blockers, both rushers can gear down in heavy traffic, shifting side to side in a twitchy way while still churning the legs, and then kick in the overdrive at the first signs of daylight. They are similar in style, but Xavier Jones is the more durable, bigger-bodied back, similar to former New Orleans Saints rusher Mark Ingram, while Otis Anderson Jr. is more akin to Darren Sproles

Jake Funk is a rapid riser in the LA Rams training camp right now. While there are questions about his durability, his speed and enthusiasm are tangible. He is a blend of all other running backs on the roster, and that gives him the swiss-army knife utility in the backfield by opening up the playbook from cover to cover.

So how does this all break down? Assuming that the LA Rams can avoid injury to running backs in 2021, that leaves the offense to distribute the carries this way, adjusted for a 17 game schedule:

Player              Carries         Yards TDs
Henderson       140             700       6
Jones                  130             600       8
Funk                    100            420       4
Anderson             90             350       3

At season’s end, no single running back ends up being a hot name in Fantasy Football leagues. No single LA Rams rusher will get a Pro Bowl designation. But this group can put up over 2000 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground. That is enough to get the LA Rams into the playoffs and hopefully to compete in the Super Bowl.

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Come to think of it. Maybe the LA Rams rushing attack is different than that of 2020. This year could be better.