The Rams rank third in the NFL in rushing, but they will not be at full strength in the backfield when they play the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Bills Stadium.
Rookie running back Cam Akers will not play because of a rib injury suffered during last Sunday’s victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Sean McVay said Friday.
“It doesn’t change anything,” McVay said of Akers’ absence during a videoconference with reporters.
Akers, a second-round draft pick, started in victories over the Dallas Cowboys and the Eagles. Akers, Brown and Henderson have helped the Rams average 172 yards rushing per game.
Brown suffered a broken left pinky against the Eagles but practiced with a splint this week and will play against the Bills. Henderson, who rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown in 12 carries and caught two passes for 40 yards against the Eagles, said this week he was nearly fully recovered from a hamstring injury that sidelined him for the final few weeks of training camp.
In their first games of the post-Todd Gurley era, the Rams have prospered without a dominant back. McVay and first-year running backs coach Thomas Brown thus far successfully have transitioned the offense to a running back-by-committee approach.
“Even though it’s different than what we had with Todd, I think we’ve got guys, especially when you look at Darrell and Malcolm, those guys can play on all three downs,” McVay said.
The mix of backs has enabled the Rams to succeed despite the loss of an exceptional player such as Gurley, veteran left tackle Andrew Whitworth said. Even a “really special player” can get fatigued when asked to carry the ball or perform other tasks six or seven plays into a long drive, he said.
“They’re kind of getting carries fresh,” Whitworth, 38, said of the committee approach. “They can get four, five carries, get the best out of them and then they can come off and allow a guy with another skill set to be in the game, and it’s kind of keeping fresh legs on the field.”
The Rams’ offensive line will start the game against the Bills with the same alignment it finished with against the Eagles. Left guard Joe Noteboom was placed on injured reserve Thursday, so second-year pro David Edwards will start alongside Whitworth on a line that includes center Austin Blythe, right guard Austin Corbett and right tackle Rob Havenstein.
The line has played well for an offense that is averaging 28.5 points a game. Quarterback Jared Goff has been sacked only two times.
“This group, as young as it is outside my old self, is going to just get better and better every week,” Whitworth said.
In McVay’s first two seasons as coach, the Rams enjoyed near injury-free continuity with a line that included Whitworth and Havenstein at tackle, John Sullivan at center, and Rodger Saffold and Blythe or Jamon Brown at guard.
Before the 2019 season, the Rams released Sullivan, and Saffold signed a lucrative free agent contract with the Tennessee Titans.
The Rams started their first six games with Whitworth and Havenstein at tackle, Noteboom and Blythe at guard and Brian Allen at center. In the sixth game against the San Francisco 49ers, however, Noteboom and Allen suffered season-ending knee injuries. Havenstein was sidelined for the final seven games because of a knee issue that eventually required surgery.
Blythe moved to center and then-rookie Edwards stepped in and started 10 games at guard. Corbett, acquired in an October trade with the Cleveland Browns, started seven games at guard. Then-rookie Bobby Evans started seven games in place of Havenstein.
The offense — with Gurley playing through a left knee issue — could not match the production of the previous two seasons, but McVay was optimistic experience gained by young players such as Corbett, Edwards and Evans would pay dividends this season.
After Noteboom suffered a left calf injury against the Eagles, Edwards stepped in and helped the Rams finish with 191 yards rushing.
“What we kind of talked about last year is coming to fruition,” Whitworth said. “A lot of these guys that we believed in, that were young, just had no experience and needed to get out there and play in in real games and kind of get a little bit of trial by fire.”
Cornerback Darious Williams (Achilles) is listed as questionable, but McVay said he expected Williams would play against the Bills. ... Tight end Dawson Knox (concussion), running back Zack Moss (toe) and linebacker Del’Shawn Phillips (quadriceps) are out for Sunday, per the Bills injury report. Linebackers Tremaine Edmunds (shoulder) and Matt Milano (hamstring) and cornerback Taron Johnson (groin) are listed as questionable.