Making an appearance on the Helliepod podcast with Dan Hellie this summer, Rams head coach Sean McVay was asked by the sports broadcaster about how he planned to approach the running back position.
With Todd Gurley no longer on the roster, did McVay need a dominant, No. 1 guy like Gurley handling the carries, or would the workload would be divvied up between two or three backs?
McVay believed the rotation would "naturally work itself out," then brought up the 49ers success' utilizing a committee approach last season under head coach Kyle Shanahan, in a way hinting he would be adopting a similar strategy.
Five games into the 2020 season, Shanahan has seen the Rams successfully employ the approach.
"I mean, just anytime you have a good running scheme, you block well, and whether you have one good running back or three good running backs, it's going to lead to running the ball well, and they do a very good job schematically," Shanahan said on a conference call with Rams beat writers Wednesday afternoon. "They have three guys who all are running hard, hitting the right holes and not messing around."
The Rams' run game this season looks different compared to when the two teams met for the first time and at the exact same point last season.
Through the first five weeks of the 2019 campaign, Gurley had handled 64 of the team's 91 running back carries (70.3 percent). Brown had the second-most with 26, while Henderson had received only one. In contrast, the distribution through the first five weeks of 2020 looks like this: 58 of the 137 rushing attempts belong to Henderson, 53 to Brown and 26 to rookie Cam Akers.
Whereas Gurley led the way with 270 rushing yards and Brown added 114 through Week 5 of 2019, in 2020 Henderson (260) and Brown (213) are much closer. Henderson did not have any rushing yards at this same juncture last season as a rookie; Akers is at 113 after rushing for 61 in his return from injury last week, giving Los Angeles three running backs with more than 100 rushing yards entering Week 6 this year after just two entering Week 6 last year.
Collectively, the three-man rotation of Akers, Brown and Henderson – in conjunction with a confident offensive line – has helped the Rams own the No. 7 rushing offense in the NFL ahead of Sunday night's game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara. L.A.'s 139.6 rushing yards per game this year is 43.4 more than they were averaging at the same stage last year.
"I think they're all similar to me," Shanahan said. "I mean, they all could do things in the pass game and they're all good runners. So, it's not like they're doing different things when they come in, they've got three choices and that's similar to how we do it, too. We feel we have three good running backs, or even more than three, but that's how it always works out."
Last season, Shanahan utilized three different running backs to power San Francisco to the No. 2 rushing offense in the NFL.
Knowing the effectiveness of that strategy first-hand, it's not far-fetched to think he'll be equally preparing for Henderson, Brown and Akers.
"It really doesn't matter which one's in there, because they're all very good runners and they know what they're doing from a schematic standpoint, and the O-line is doing a good job of keeping everybody in the line of scrimmage," Shanahan said.