Darrell Henderson needs help to save LA Rams’ running game

Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports /

LA Rams running back Darrell Henderson Jr. can save his team’s ailing running game. The fourth-year pro did enough during Week 9’s 16-13 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to earn the lead-back role, but Henderson won’t fix the team’s biggest weakness by himself.

Henderson needs help from LA Rams head coach Sean McVay, via some subtle but significant tweaks to his familiar scheme. Being familiar with McVay’s offense means outside-stretch zone running. It’s where Henderson has excelled, but rinsing and repeating a staple play won’t boost the NFL’s next-to-last ranked rushing attack.

Angry Henderson needs numbers around him

McVay knows needs to trust one workhorse, and it sounds like he’s chosen Henderson, per Gilbert Manzano of The Orange County Register:

Henderson’s a good choice based on the angry way he ran the rock at Raymond James Stadium. He averaged 4.7 yards on 12 carries in a 56-yard effort that included runs of 23 and 11.

Rams fans hadn’t seen someone run with such force since Henderson did the same against the Buffalo Bills in Week 1:

A nasty attitude toting the rock sets a tone in the running game. It’s what makes a team physical, an edge the Rams have lost on both sides of the ball this season.

Regaining the edge takes more than an attitude adjustment though. It also requires a commitment to the run from within McVay’s playbook.

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Personnel groupings have to change

Henderson needs more carries, but McVay won’t call 25-30 rushes a game. He’s never likely to abandon his pass-heavy roots, but McVay can change how he packages run plays.

Specifically, the Rams need to use more heavy sets. That means multiple-tight end packages and extra offensive linemen.

The Rams used precious little of either in 2021, with Sharp Football Stats revealing they played 13 personnel, 1 running back and three tight ends, along with 22 personnel, two RBs, and two TEs, just once.

The Rams win on the ground with tighter formations, and Henderson’s two best runs in Tampa prove the point. Highlights of both plays show LA Rams’ tight end Tyler Higbee as an in-line TE with one of LA Rams’ wide receivers Ben Skowronek or Cooper Kupp, stacked on the other side of the front:

More bodies will help the Rams outnumber defenses in the box and overpower individual matchups at the point of attack. A woeful offensive line needs plenty of help to do those things.

LA Rams’ second tight end Bryce Hopkins needs to play more than the 14 snaps he got against the Bucs. Meanwhile, Rams backup tackle Ty Nsekhe would work as an extra lineman in overloaded sets.

Aside from helping create bigger running lanes, heavy formations also scream run to defenses. That would revive the play-action game for LA Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford and receiver Cooper Kupp.

Henderson can become the third most important name on this offense with the right planning.

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