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Darrell Henderson is killing it off tackle

Also good news for the Rams tackles

Los Angeles Rams v Buffalo Bills Photo by Timothy T Ludwig/Getty Images

Todd Gurley probably had his best game of the season on Sunday and yet the results of the week and the year may only emphasize why the LA Rams had to made the difficult decision to release him in March. The most obvious and pertinent reason to the Rams though was not what Gurley’s been able to do or not do, but the 32 carries for 195 yards and two touchdowns that replacement Darrell Henderson has put up over LA’s last two games.

It may simply be that Sean McVay’s system and planning wasn’t so much defeated in 2019 as it was a personnel issue.

In 15 opportunities last season, Gurley had 20 or more rushing attempts three times. All three of those contests were wins simply because that would be the most logical conclusion to draw: when the Rams were in good position to win already, Gurley had more attempts. A 17-7 win over the Chicago Bears included six Gurley attempts in the final eight minutes, three in the final two minutes. Gurley had 13 first half attempts against the Seattle Seahawks, but LA had also built a 21-3 first half lead.

Against the Arizona Cardinals, Gurley did get five runs on the first drive of the game but they resulted in -1 yard. He finished with 20 carries for 68 attempts in the 31-24 win.

In Sunday’s 35-32 loss to the Buffalo Bills, the Rams fell behind 28-3 but Henderson managed 20 rushing attempts in the effort. On the first drive, Henderson had four carries for 18 yards. Those plays felt like reasonable opportunities to gain an advantage, rather than trying to force a square Gurley into a round hole in the offensive line.

On his next six carries, Henderson added 50 yards to his total, including back to back 14-yard runs, one of which came off right tackle Rob Havenstein. In the third quarter, Henderson added another 12 yards off right tackle on the first drive of the half with LA down 21-3. Then a handful of minutes later, down 28-3, Henderson opened the drive with 14 more yards off the right side.

Two plays later he gained seven yards up the middle.

Following Aaron Donald’s forced fumble and recovery off of Josh Allen, the Rams quickly got to the Bills 8. Four Henderson runs later, he put it in the end zone to give LA a 32-28 lead after they had trailed by 25 points. Even in a game when the LA Rams were facing one of their worst blowouts of the Sean McVay era, the coach trusted his running back to carry it 20 times.

That happened for Gurley three times in 2019 and in all six contests where Gurley had more than 15 attempts, the Rams were the winners. But Gurley being thought of as a reason for those wins had all but disappeared.

Henderson was one of the reasons that LA scored 32 points and nearly beat the Bills after facing such a deficit.

And according to Sports Info Solutions, Henderson’s 8.1 yards per attempt off tackle is the second-best mark in the NFL this season after Sony Michel of the New England Patriots; Michel is averaging 9.6 yards per carry on 15 attempts, as opposed to 18 attempts for Henderson. Michel’s numbers were boosted when he gained 38 yards off a run to the right and 48 yards off a run to the left in the third quarter against the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.

Gurley is averaging 4.3 yards per carry off tackle on 22 attempts in Atlanta.

Ezekiel Elliott, by the way, is averaging 4.2 yards per carry on 29 attempts for the Dallas Cowboys, a team that entered the season with two elite tackles and that has quickly changed — with rushing results to show for it. Derrick Henry has already had 50 attempts off tackle, 10 more than any other player and twice as many as seventh place Kareem Hunt, gaining 3.7 yards per play on those runs.

Where Henderson and the run game has struggled so far is running between the tackles. Henderson is averaging 3.9 yards per carry on 13 attempts, ranking outside the top 20 in that category. Malcolm Brown is averaging 2.9 yards per carry on nine attempts up the middle and 4.3 yards per carry on 22 runs off tackle.

Brown’s 1.4 yards per carry after contact is the third-worst in the league for any back with more than 15 carries, ahead of only Jordan Howard of the Dolphins and Peyton Barber of the Football Team. Henderson’s 2.6 YPC after contact is behind 18 other players but it’s early in the season for all of these players with sample sizes that crave extra data points.

However, noting that Henderson is having extreme success off tackle to open the season would suggest no less than a positive outlook for McVay’s run game, offensive line and running backs over the rest of the season. I hope Todd Gurley finds a way to tap back into what made him great for so many games with the Rams over five seasons, but his 21 carries for 61 yards in Week 2 was all too familiar and the fact that the Falcons have blown huge fourth quarter leads in back to back weeks further emphasizes how much better LA’s chances seem to be — with virtually the same offensive line and supporting cast — moving forward this year.