Two months after Cam Akers' NFL prospects looked pretty bleak, the running back has played his way back into a promising future with the Los Angeles Rams.
The Rams themselves are also rebounding solidly from a midseason slump that ruined their Super Bowl title defense, yet hasn't dimmed Sean McVay's optimism about their future.
Akers' 118-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance in the Rams' 51-14 thrashing of the Denver Broncos on Christmas was the the final step in the third-year ball carrier's redemption arc. His midseason dispute with the Rams' coaching staff led to a three-week banishment from their training complex while the team tried and failed to find anybody willing to make a reasonable trade offer.
Akers returned, the Rams (5-10) shuffled their coaching staff, and the second-round pick responded with his best play since his rookie year. He has 285 yards rushing and six touchdowns in December alone, breathing life into a terrible rushing offense that struggled all season behind a patchwork offensive line.
“The way he’s handled the whole situation is just a testament to how (Akers) is,” Rams right tackle Rob Havenstein said. “He’s wired great, and he takes coaching. When he’s out there and feeling the game, it seems like things are just going right for him. It’s a testament to how he’s handled a tough season for all of us, really.”
McVay confirmed Monday that the Rams no longer plan to trade Akers in the offseason. The coach sees him as a key part of 2023, when the Rams finally will be healthy again as they attempt to return to the playoffs.
“It would be silly based on what a great job he’s done to think of anything differently than him being a big part of what you want to do moving forward,” McVay said of Akers. “There’s totally a different trajectory in terms of what he’s done and the way that he’s handled himself and the way that he’s playing the way like we know he’s capable of.”
With Akers running the ball and Baker Mayfield excelling as LA's fourth starting quarterback of the season, the Rams have won two of three since the six-game losing streak that derailed their year. They're doing it with backups and stopgap veterans across their roster, underlining the coaching staff's persistence amid a tumultuous season.
McVay says the Rams will benefit from evaluation of players who normally wouldn't get an opportunity to prove themselves. The wins aren't vital, but they're important in maintaining a successful culture for a franchise enduring its first losing season since 2016.
“Those are the things that you take some pride in and want to continue to see that reflected,” McVay said. “‘Hey guys, let’s play to the best of our ability. Let’s go cut it loose. Let’s continue to pour into guys that are getting opportunities that maybe we didn’t expect or anticipate.’ Some of these guys are really doing a great job of establishing themselves as key figures for years to come, hopefully, and that’s the approach that we’ll take for these last 13 days.”
After creating just one turnover in eight games midway through the season, the Rams' defense has 12 takeaways in its last five games. The Rams' superior defense is finally creating easier opportunities for its struggling offense by taking the ball away.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
It's a nice problem to have, but Mayfield is probably playing his way out of LA. Looking comfortable in McVay's offense and delivering the ball with confidence and flair, the Heisman Trophy winner once again resembles the NFL-caliber starter he was in Cleveland. With two more solid games, Mayfield seems quite likely to have more substantial offers than a backup job behind Matthew Stafford in 2023, which means the Rams would need to go shopping.
Rookie cornerback Cobie Durant had two interceptions against Denver, including an 85-yard TD return. The fourth-round pick is getting his first consistent defensive playing time in December, and he's responding with solid work in coverage. After swinging and missing on several mid-round draft picks in the past three years — a significant factor in the Rams' struggles — Los Angeles is optimistic it has a keeper in Durant.
Guard Oday Aboushi appeared to be goaded into a postgame fight with Denver's Randy Gregory, but that won't be much consolation if Aboushi's one-game suspension is upheld and he must miss Sunday's game, weakening an offensive line that's had more than enough turmoil.
New DT Larrell Murchison incurred a stinger in the fourth quarter of his impressive Rams debut, but it isn't expected to sideline him this week, McVay said. Murchison had two sacks and four tackles in his first game with the team that signed him 13 days earlier.
52 — The total number of points scored by the Rams in their previous three games combined before hanging 51 on the Broncos, whose ineptitude played a clear role in LA's outburst. It's still another encouraging sign the Rams are still improving and McVay hasn't lost the room.
A road game at SoFi Stadium. The Rams organization would dearly love to knock off their tenants on New Year's Day, but the Chargers are playing for much more.
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