THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. – The Rams have multiple capable options at running back, but what will be the best plan of attack for utilizing them?
That's the challenge now facing Los Angeles head coach Sean McVay in his staff after the performances put on by all three in the first half of the season.
"It's a positive problem," McVay said.
Barring any unforeseen setbacks heading into the weekend, McVay said Sunday's game against the Steelers in Pittsburgh marks the first time this season that the Rams will have confidence in finding a way to use the full complement of running backs at their disposal.
Todd Gurley is still the starter, rushing 92 times for 355 yards and six touchdowns and adding 15 receptions for 81 yards and a score. He played in seven of Los Angeles' first eight games.
Gurley's backup according to the unofficial depth chart, Malcolm Brown, started in his place in the lone game he did miss, but has performed well even when Gurley has been healthy. He had 11 carries for 53 yards and two touchdowns in L.A.'s season opening win over the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte. On the season, he's carried the ball 37 times for 154 yards in addition to those two scores across six games.
Rookie Darrell Henderson Jr. played sparingly through the first five games, then got more involved when he was elevated to the No. 2 running back against the 49ers. His snap count increased against the Falcons and Bengals while Brown nursed an ankle injury. Between each of those three games, the former Memphis standout tallied 28 carries for 119 yards, an average of 4.3 yards per attempt, adding four receptions for 37 yards. McVay play has given the coaching staff the confidence to find a way to create a role for him, and in turn, use all three backs.
"I feel like we all do a good job of just being able to communicate with each other, providing each other with information that one another knows when we're on the field and might get tips and tales," Gurley said, when asked how they each complement one another. "We just all stay ready. Me, JK (John Kelly), Darrell and Malcolm. You never know what can happen. Anything can happen, any man can go down any snap, so be ready to go in and be able to do what coach tells you to do."
For McVay, it's up to the offense to get into enough of a rhythm which allows each running back to get involved.
It's not a new approach by any means. McVay cited gameflow as the reason for Brown's usage vs. Gurley's usage against the Panthers, and that will continue to be the case with all three of those running backs healthy. However, in order to maximize opportunities for each, McVay said the Rams have to be more efficient on their early downs.
"For us overall, it’s about maximizing our early down opportunities, not putting yourself in those negative situations where now you can truly present a legitimate run-pass balance that puts defenses in conflict," McVay said. "That’s one of the things that we have to do a better job of – making people pay with both phases. If you’re going to be a really good offense in this league, you have to be able to do both and those are things that we’re constantly striving to do better collectively."
And when it comes to what that plan of attack will actually look like...
"I think that would be something that I could probably be better equipped to answer after the game Sunday when you see what our gameplan is," McVay said, laughing.