Why does Rams coach Sean McVay keep abandoning the run game?

For the first time in a long time, the ailing Rams offensive seemed to have found some answers.

Last Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals, the Rams ran the ball eight times — with five different ball carriers — during a 14-game scoring drive at their inaugural ball.

It was something of a piece of news: defending Super Bowl champion Rams executed an effective rushing attack.

And then, as quickly as it appeared, it was gone.

The Rams ran just 12 more times in a loss that coach Sean McVay and his team sent to a third straight loss, bottom of the NFC West rankings and the brink of elimination from the playoffs.

“Did we get out of the running game early and stuff?” That’s what offensive coordinator Liam Coen said Thursday. “Maybe we have.”

The Rams (3-6) take on the New Orleans Saints (3-7) in multiple categories at or near the end of the NFL on Sunday.

The Rams, just a few years ago the envy of the league for McVay’s offense and play-calling, are averaging just 16.4 points per game, which ranks 29th out of 32 teams. They are second-to-last in yards per game (282.7) and dead-last in rushing yards per game (68.1).

“It’s definitely something we want to keep working on,” Coen said of the frantic attack. “But we’re also not going to bang our heads against the wall and run to zero.”

A big part of the Rams’ problems is the offensive line.

The Rams' Darrell Henderson Jr. runs for yardage against the Cardinals.

Darrell Henderson Jr. leads the Rams by just 274 yards in nine games. The Rams are last in the NFL at rushing, averaging 68.1 yards per game.

(Allen J. Cockroaches / Los Angeles Times)

Injuries plagued the group, which dropped seven sacks in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills. On Sunday, the Rams will start with a different iteration for the 10th time in as many games.

Is McVay optimistic the Rams can improve the game in progress?

“There’s a different narrative every week,” he said, adding, “There’s always a lot of levels and things that go into the ongoing game, but yeah, that’s me.”

Of course, the Rams can’t do any worse.

Quarterback Matthew Stafford is expected to return to the lineup on Sunday after being sidelined against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week with a concussion.

The Rams will be without top receiver Cooper Kupp, who will sit out at least four games after suffering an ankle injury against the Cardinals.

That will create opportunities for other receivers, but could also convince McVay to rely more on running backs Darrell Henderson Jr., Cam Akers and rookie Kyren Williams.

Henderson has rushed for 274 yards and three touchdowns in 68 carries. The fourth-year pro said the offense needs to be more efficient and physical, especially on the first down.

“We showed flashes of it,” he said. “We just have to be more consistent and that will give us more opportunities.”

Akers has played in two games since returning from a two-game exile and the team’s failed attempt to trade him.

Akers has rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown in 62 carries this season. He has rushed for 25 yards in 11 carries since his return.

A commitment to the running game is key to its improvement, he said.

“If you’re not running the ball enough,” Akers said, “it’s pretty difficult for all of us to get into a groove.”

Williams, a fifth-round draft pick from Notre Dame, was playing offense for the first time against the Cardinals but didn’t carry the ball. He could get his first chances against the Saints.

“I bring a spark,” Williams said. “I can run the ball, catch the ball from backcourt, so I feel like I can bring a lot of different dimensions to offense, and energy too.”

An effective rushing attack by the Rams could not only help offense — and passing — it could also take some of the pressure off the Rams’ defense.

Defensive coordinator Raheem Morris has coached both offense and defense throughout his NFL career. He knows the toll an effective rushing attack can take on an opponent.

“It’s miserable,” he said. “When your defense is playing and you can’t stop the run, it’s a tough, long day, a tough day to try to find a way to get a win and usually you don’t make it. … If you let the ball run in football and you have the ability to do it, it always makes everything a little bit easier.”

Etc.

Center Brian Allen (thumb), defenseman A’Shawn Robinson (illness) and linebacker Travin Howard (hip) were not training, and quarterback John Wolford (neck) was restricted, according to the Rams injury report. Defensive lineman Greg Gaines (elbows) was a full participant.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/rams/story/2022-11-17/ram-coach-sean-mcvay-offense-bad-run-game Why does Rams coach Sean McVay keep abandoning the run game?

Emma Bowman

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