Pony backfield can fix LA Rams’ offense
By James Dudko
LA Rams’ running backs Darrell Henderson Jr. and Cam Akers don’t need to fight over scraps to try and save their team’s beleaguered offense. Instead, both runners should be allowed to share the backfield together more often in ‘Pony’ packages.
Here’s an explanation of the personnel grouping:
"Pony personnel is not the normal two-back personnel we’re used to seeing in San Francisco with Kyle Jusczyk (although Kyle Shanahan uses him uniquely compared to most fullbacks). Pony personnel is a two-back set with two running backs. They don’t have to both be in the backfield, as it’s not a formation, but the players are on the field – as per Pro Football Network’s Dalton Miller"
‘Pony’ is being used effectively by more than one NFL team this season. Among those featured in the package are Dallas Cowboys running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Their one-two punch is replicated in the NFC North thanks to Green Bay Packers running backs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon.
These double acts make defenses play guessing games about who will attack them. Those attacks are unleashed in different ways, with backfield tandems usually offering a thunder-and-lightning mix of power and speed, depending on who carries the ball.
2 RBs would give the Rams a missing edge on the ground
An anemic ground game averaging just 3.2 yards per rush, the second-fewest in the league, needs an edge. These Rams won’t find that edge in personnel. Not with the offensive line struggling to win one-on-one matchups while tight ends Tyler Higbee and Bryce Hopkins aren’t punishing blockers.
The problems with personnel extend to the running back depth chart. Henderson has workhorse potential, and Akers enjoyed some nice moments as a rookie in 2020, but neither is an elite RB1.
Those issues are why Akers is among those suffering the most negative runs in the league, per NFL on CBS:
Having another viable ball carrier next to him would let Akers catch defenses by surprise more often. It might also encourage LA Rams’ head coach Sean McVay to call a few more running plays.
McVay is never likely to go run-heavy, but he’d find advantages using two tailbacks to create openings for a passing game that’s also struggling.
‘Pony’ has advantages for the passing game
Two running backs in the same set can be used to change the look of an offense and drag covering defenders out of position. The Cowboys showed how easily those things can be done against the New York Giants in Week 3.
This play, highlighted by Sharp Football’s Dan Pizzuta, featured Pollard (20) going in motion from a flexed alignment. He forced New York Giants’ cornerback Darnay Holmes (30) into coverage underneath, allowing Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb to attack the void in the zone before Giants linebacker Tae Crowder (48) could get across:
Simply by moving RBs around, the Cowboys schemed the classic mismatch of a linebacker chasing a wideout.
A play from the Packers against the Minnesota Vikings, highlighted by The Jet Sweep founder Jake Brentnall, shows how backs can become more involved as receivers. Jones faked a handoff one way, leaving Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers to turn and flip a quick throw to Dillon, who had motioned in the other direction:
These were easy yards, something the Rams have struggled to come by this season. Using Akers and Henderson together in the same ways would refresh McVay’s suddenly stale offense.