Can the LA Rams offense sustain momentum from Week 16?
By Bret Stuter
No single point makes a trend. The LA Rams know that, which is why their performance against the LA Chargers in Week 17 is vital to the future of this team. The LA Rams (5-10) caught a lethargic Denver Broncos (4-11) team napping in Week 16, burying the Broncos by a score of 51-14. That was not just a bad Broncos team, that was one of the best NFL defenses, still ranked among the NFL’s Top-5 defenses in the 2022 NFL season.
But this LA Rams offense is working hard to trend in the right direction as the disappointing 2022 NFL season draws to a close. In the past three games, the Rams put up 22 rushes for 71 yards against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 14. The team then went against conventional wisdom on the frozen Lambeau Field to rush just 17 times for 72 yards against the Green Bay Packers.
Finally, the team showed a commitment to the running game, perhaps for the first time all season, to devastating effect. The Rams rushed 36 times for 158 yards and three touchdowns. LA Rams running back Cam Akers was the first running back to put up over 100+ yards in one game, running 23 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns.
That feat is even more impressive in that it is the first time that Akers rushed for over 100 yards since his Achilles Tendon injury, and it occured behind a makeshift offensive line that has been ripped apart and sewn back together throughout the 2022 NFL season.
Still, it’s just one data point. No trend yet. Still, there are reasons to believe that more good news is coming.
McVay made a mistake, but he will correct it
We are human, so we all make mistakes. I’m not here for a ‘gotcha’ moment, simply to point out that when LA Rams head coach Sean McVay admitted to feeling as though running plays were ‘worthless,’ that was a mistake. Not only does it publicly humiliate everyone on the Rams roster who was trying to gain positive yards on running plays (which I don’t think was ever his intent), but it pretty much announces to 31 NFL defensive coordinators that the LA Rams offense will bail from running the football at the first sign of difficulty.
And if you examine how the LA Rams’ play-calling veered almost invariably to passing only if the Rams fell behind in a game, you can see that it had become easy to predict the Rams’ offensive tendencies.
Of course, the Rams did not fall behind against the Denver Broncos. By the end of the first quarter, the LA Rams were ahead on the scoreboard by two touchdowns. That is the way this team was built: Get a lead and then mix it up on offense to keep defenses guessing. The Rams had to squelch a disgruntled veteran RB Cam Akers, and thankfully that seems to be water under the bridge now.
Akers is beating the odds
We listed three goals that remain within reach by the LA Rams RB Cam Akers through the season’s end. Unfortunately, the feedback on that article was a bit negative, as fans are not impressed by any LA Rams rusher who fails to gain 1000 yards in the season. The problem with that type of perspective ignores three critical points:
I – Cam Akers is playing in his first full season since returning from his Achilles Tendon injury. The track record of NFL running backs returning to their former self after such an injury is not a promising outcome. But Akers seems to be capable of beating the odds.
II – Akers is doing this late-season surge of rushing production behind an offensive line that has three starters who were not even on the LA Rams roster at the start of the NFL season. So perhaps putting up 100+ yards is a really big deal?
III – With just three games remaining, Cam Akers had rushed 125 times for just 441 yards. That was his production for 12 games. That averaged out to just over 10 carries per game for just under 37 yards per game. Now, Akers has appeared in just 13 games (he sat out two during his dispute with the team) and he has improved those averages to just over 11 carries per game for just over 43 yards per game.
This is as close as Akers has been to his former self since his injury. While so many want the Rams to supplant Akers with another running back, he remains the team’s feature back. Previous to his outright release, many called for the team to feature oft-injured RB Darrell Henderson Jr. After Henderson’s release the call is to give untested rookie RB Kyren Williams the lion’s share of the carries.
Not every season results in Pro Bowl or All-Pro honors. Sometimes, it’s merely enough to improve steadily from the last performance. Right now, that is a possibility for the LA Rams offense, and for RB Cam Akers. For the alternatives as to how this season has gone so far? That will have to do.