The Los Angeles Rams turned around the 2021 season in large part due to help from unexpected reinforcements. LA acquired Von Miller through a trade with the Denver Broncos, and he has helped the pass rush reach an elite level of production. The Rams signed Odell Beckham, Jr. — who is coming off of his best game with the team yet. Los Angeles coerced Eric Weddle out of retirement and the safety led the defense in total tackles during the NFC championship game.
Running back Cam Akers is another one of those important reinforcements — making an impressive comeback just months after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
The second-year back was a difference maker in the NFC wildcard round versus the Arizona Cardinals, catching a 40-yard pass from OBJ and having multiple big runs called back due to penalties. The Rams faced two of the most stout run defenses in the NFL in the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the San Francisco 49ers. Akers ran the ball adequately in those games, toting the rock 24 times in Tampa Bay and then 13 times against San Francisco. For as tough as the Bucs and 49ers defenses are, just having the consistent threat of a run game is sufficient — it’s tough to earn chunk yardage against those teams.
Cam Akers tore his Achilles in July…— Roto Street Journal (RSJ) (@RotoStJournal) January 18, 2022
18 touches & 95 total yds against the Cardinals
Wildcard round - vs. Arizona Cardinals
17 carries for 55 yards (3.2 average)
1 reception for 40 yards
Division round - at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
24 carries for 48 yards (2.0 average)
3 receptions for 20 yards (6.7 average); 2 fumbles lost
Conference championship - vs. San Francisco 49ers
13 carries for 48 yards (3.7 average)
1 reception for 2 yards
Yes, Akers lost the two fumbles in the divisional round that gave Tampa Bay momentum in their comeback attempt, however, it seems the team has attributed the turnovers to rust and a lack of playing time due to his significant injury. While he split carries with Sony Michel in the NFC championship game, this was probably more of a matchup-driven decision — needing a more physical presence against a formidable front seven — rather than a performance-driven move.
This is the literal definition of "getting skinny in the hole" by Cam Akers. Sheesh.— Sosa Kremenjas (@QBsMVP) February 3, 2022
Also a great sift block by Ben Skowronek. pic.twitter.com/7hzveQCXNY
Fortunately for the young running back, the Cincinnati Bengals provide a much more favorable matchup on the ground. Through their three playoff games, Cincinnati is giving up almost 6 yards per attempt.
Wildcard round - vs. Las Vegas Raiders
14 carries for 103 yards (7.4 average)**
**Derek Carr had a single run for 20 yards. If removed, the average would drop to 6.4 yards per attempt.
Division round - at Tennessee Titans
27 carries for 140 yards (5.2 average)
Conference championship - at Kansas City Chiefs
24 carries for 139 yards (5.8 average)
In total, the Bengals have given up 382 yards on 65 carries (5.9 average) through three contests — which is a promising sign for Akers’ outlook in the Super Bowl. Establishing the ground game will create opportunities for Matthew Stafford to push the ball down the field of play action, and it will take some weight off of the quarterback during the biggest game of career. There are times this year that Stafford was asked to do too much, and the result was a mess of turnovers and a three game losing streak mid-season. Los Angeles should seek balance on offense against the Bengals.
The Chiefs lost the AFC championship game because they were unwilling to commit to running the football — the Bengals were consistently dropping 8 defenders into coverage and essentially dared KC to hand it off. Instead, the Chiefs were unable to adjust and scored only three points in the second half.
The #Bengals almost doubled their usage of dropping 8+ defenders in coverage in the second half and overtime, and held the Chiefs to only 3 points during that span:— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 30, 2022
First Half: 24% of pass plays
Second Half/OT: 45% of pass plays#CINvsKC | #RuleTheJungle
It wouldn’t be surprising to see Cincinnati deploy a similar approach against the Rams in an attempt to slow the downfield passing attack by Stafford and company. If that is the case, Akers should have a field day — potentially seeing a lot of open space on the ground and serving as an underneath option in the passing game. There’s a good chance that LA will be forced to stay patient and put together 10+ play drives. In order for them to accomplish that, Akers will need to be a key contributor on offense.
Stafford is 1st (by a ton) in success rate versus blitzes and 24th versus 3 or fewer pass rushers. Expecting a very soft coverage game plan from Cincy again, similar to last week. https://t.co/EPC4uFMPYa— Hayden Winks (@HaydenWinks) February 7, 2022
A super performance in the big game could complete the fit for Hollywood story of Akers’ return from injury and continue the theme of reinforcements lifting up this Rams team at just the right time.