By Eric D. Williams
FOX Sports NFC West Writer
The Los Angeles Rams may have rediscovered a weapon who can add a new dimension to their offense.
Running back Cam Akers finally showed a glimpse of the productive runner he developed into during his rookie season. Akers played sparingly the first two games of the regular season, with Rams coach Sean McVay saying he needed to see more urgency from the third-year pro out of Florida State.
And that did not go unnoticed by McVay.
“Getting him into the rhythm, you saw the explosiveness,” McVay said. “You saw the ability to be able to run through contact. I thought he was pressing it the right way, being able to set up his blockers. And then the strength to be able to finish on the touchdown run was big time.”
Mark Sanchez, Kevin Kugler discuss Cam Akers’ performance
Mark Sanchez and Kevin Kugler discuss Cam Akers’ performance in the Rams’ win over the Cardinals. Akers had 61 yards rushing and a touchdown.
The Rams moved to 2-1 with the win. The defending Super Bowl champs now find themselves atop the NFC West — just like most NFL observers thought they would be at this point in the regular season.
However, L.A. has not been the dominant team most expected at the start of the year. After getting blown out in the season opener against the Buffalo Bills and surviving a late-game comeback at home against the meh Atlanta Falcons, the Rams were on the ropes again in the desert.
Leading 13-9 with just over five minutes left in the third quarter and Arizona gaining steam offensively, Matthew Stafford guided the Rams on a tone-setting drive that essentially allowed them to wrestle control of this game from the Cardinals.
McVay called it the play of the game. Stafford and Kupp just missed connecting on a deep shot on the previous play.
“We had to have that,” McVay said.
Stafford then found tight end Tyler Higbee for a 26-yard pass play on a screen pass. Stafford finished 18-of-25 for 249 passing yards, and he had no interceptions for the first time this season.
Akers took over from there, gaining 39 rushing yards on four straight plays, capping the drive by bulling his way to the end zone on a 14-yard run for a score.
On the big run, Ben Skowronek cleared Aker’s path to paydirt by lowering the boom on Collins, who suffered a shoulder injury on the play. Skowronek picked Akers up and celebrated with his teammates afterward.
Stafford hustled down to offer a few words of encouragement to Akers.
The Rams have effectively used wide receiver Skowronek as a fullback the past two games, and his confidence has grown with the expanded role. The Notre Dame product finished with four receptions for a team-high 66 receiving yards.
Per Next Gen Stats, Skowronek lined up in the backfield for seven snaps against the Cardinals and 18 the previous week against the Falcons.
“This guy’s a maniac,” McVay said about Skowronek. “You love what he does for our football team.”
While Akers flashed, he also had a critical fumble. While trying to extend the ball across the goal line for his second score, Arizona safety Budda Baker knocked the ball out of Akers’ hands and teammate safety Jalen Thompson recovered.
McVay said he talked with Akers about the play on the sideline.
“I told [him] I’m coming right back to you, and I have all the confidence in the world,” McVay said. “Let’s learn from it. You’ve done too many good things throughout this game.”
McVay went on to say that if the Rams got into their four-minute offense to salt away the game, Akers would have been in there.
The Rams needed to get the run game going, adding balance to the offense for this team to get back on track. And after some struggles in the first two games, Akers provided that spark for the Rams on Sunday.
The running game set up some play-action passes, and the Rams took advantage of it. Per Next Gen Stats, Stafford finished 10-of-11 for 168 yards on play-action passes.
“When we can get going like that, that’s when you can really be able to have the terms in your favor when you’re able to dictate the terms offensively,” McVay said. “And that’s going to be a big point of emphasis for us.”
The Rams made the big plays in this one. L.A. gained momentum early with a blocked punt by defensive lineman Michael Hoecht recovered by Jake Gervase that led to L.A.’s first score, a Matt Gay 22-yard field goal.
Defensive lineman Aaron Donald reached 100 sacks in his career by chasing down Kyler Murray. Donald accomplished the feat in 130 games, faster than any other defensive tackle in NFL history. The Rams held the elusive Murray to just eight rushing yards.
“It’s a blessing,” Donald said about the accomplishment. “Any time you put in the body of work and things come to fruition and you accomplish great things, you can be proud of it.”
Aaron Donald on reaching 100 career sacks
Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald speaks with FOX Sports’ Laura Okmin on reaching 100 career sacks in 130 games.
Kupp had a 20-yard touchdown run and 44 receiving yards. He also dropped a potential TD pass on a corner route. His 44 receiving yards were the fewest he has had in any game since Stafford signed with the Rams.
With the victory, McVay moved to 11-1 against the Cardinals. But in this game, Arizona did not go away quietly. Marquise “Hollywood” Brown had his best game in an Arizona uniform, finishing with a game-high 14 catches for 140 receiving yards. Murray threw a career-high 58 passes for a career-high 37 completions, but no touchdown passes.
Arizona’s offense once again struggled early. The Cardinals have not scored in the first quarter this season and have allowed a league-worst 131 points through three games.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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