INGLEWOOD (News4usonline) – It wasn’t special but Los Angeles Rams head coach Sean McVay will gladly take what he got from his running game. The effort is what matters. The Rams gained 70 yards on 29 attempts in the ground against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game.
That doesn’t sound like a whole lot. For McVay, though, it was the quality of how his team ran the football as opposed to how many yards they gained.
“We knew what a challenge it would be,” said McVay said in a postgame press conference. “The run game was very key and critical, even though it was tough, hard-earned yards to set other things up, no doubt about it.”
At the half of their eventual 20-17 win against the 49ers, the Rams rushed for 73 yards through the first two quarters. That means they took a couple of steps backward.
But in a tight game like the one the Rams and 49ers played, those 70 yards that the Rams ran for, helped open things up for quarterback Matthew Stafford in the second half. Stafford passed for 207 of his 337 yards after intermission.
“I thought (RB) Cam (Akers) ran hard and I thought (RB) Sony (Michel) had some tough runs that he leveled off,” McVay said during a postgame press conference. “I thought he was able to open up some big windows in the pass game. And I thought our guys did a great job being able to mix up the tempo, apply pressure to an outstanding defense where they’ve been really teeing off on guys. I’m so proud of our offensive line. I thought they held up really tough, battled really every single snap.”
When the 2021 NFL season began, the Rams had high hopes for a Super Bowl run. That’s because the team had a new quarterback lined up under center. During the offseason, the Rams went and traded the old (Jared Goff) and went for the new in Stafford as their starting quarterback.
All season long and throughout the postseason, all eyes have been on Stafford. The prediction by many was that the Rams would go as far as Stafford’s right arm would go. Stafford has been as good as advertised.
Missing Akers for most of the season because of an injury he suffered in the summer, the Rams have been heavily dependent on Stafford.
But in the NFC Championship Game against the San Francisco 49ers, a divisional opponent whom they lost to twice in the regular season, the Rams had to do something they had not been able to do against their longtime rival: put together a semblance of a running game.
In a NFL Wild Card playoff game against the Arizona Cardinals, things looked to be on the bright side for the Rams as Los Angeles rushed for 140 yards as a team in their 34-11 win at SoFi Stadium. Michel and Akers combined for 30 carries and 113 yards between them.
That production slacked off in the Rams’ 30-27 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with Akers going for only 24 yards on the ground and two fumbles.
In total, the Rams rushed for 73 yards in their road win. To beat the Niners, the Rams did just enough on the ground to keep San Francisco’s front seven at bay and not allow them to pin their ears back and get after Stafford with ungated vigor.
With the run game being vital, what do the Rams do to start off their first series in the championship game? They come out with three straight passes from Stafford and had to punt the football. That seemed almost like a repeat in the regular season.
In Week 10, the Rams rushed the ball for a grand total of 52 yards during a 31-10 loss. In Week 18, the Rams chopped it up a bit to make a little improvement to the tune of 64 yards in a 27-24 overtime defeat to San Francisco.
The Rams have been operating on a running back by committee thing with Michel and Darrell Henderson taking the bulk of the load all season while Akers nursed himself back to health.
When Akers made his season debut in Week 18 against the 49ers, the move was to help bolster the running attack. So the onus in this game for the Rams was to get the ball moving on the ground. Stafford credits his offensive line for creating space in the run game as being able to pass protect.
“It was good,” Stafford said of the play by the offensive line. “I thought we did a nice job. Our guys up front played great all night. We asked them to protect a bunch. We threw the ball quite a few times tonight, tried to get it out quick, tried taking some shots and getting it out quick. Those guys played unbelievable, that’s a great front.”
Featured Image Caption: Running back Cam Akers (23) doing his thing against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship Game. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline
Dennis is the editor and publisher of News4usonline. He covers sports, social and racial justice, politics, equal rights, and entertainment. Dennis has over two decades of journalism experience. He earned a degree in journalism from Howard University. “I write what I’m passionate about.”