Rams plan to give running backs Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel equal billing again

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Los Angeles Rams running back Darrell Henderson (27) carries past Arizona Cardinals.
Rams running back Darrell Henderson, left, sprints past Arizona Cardinals cornerback Robert Alford during a game on Oct. 3. Henderson played an important role in the Rams' win over Seattle. (Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

The Rams’ offense features one of the NFL’s most savvy and strong-armed quarterbacks, a talented, deep and diverse receiver corps, and an offensive line that has given up the fewest sacks in the league.

Now the question is whether the Rams can elevate the offense by consistently running the ball.

Darrell Henderson and Sony Michel will attempt to show they can do it at least two games in a row when the Rams (4-1) play the New York Giants (1-4) at MetLife Stadium on Sunday.

In a 26-17 victory over the Seattle Seahawks, Henderson and Michel each carried the ball at least 11 times and scored a touchdown. They combined for 119 yards rushing.

It marked the first time coach Sean McVay and running backs coach Thomas Brown deployed the two backs in semi-equal measure.

Henderson said it would be difficult to stop either back when they are fresh.

“We showed everybody what we’re capable of doing,” he said, “Now we just got to be consistent and be able to bring it every week.”

Henderson started the first two games but sat out against the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers because of a rib injury sustained against the Indianapolis Colts. He has started the last two games, and appears intent on proving that durability questions are unfounded.

“Just taking it a day at a time, playing through it, so it will eventually get there,” he said. “But right now, I’m just going to keep fighting through it.”

Michel, acquired from New England in a late preseason trade, played well in Henderson’s place against the Colts and Buccaneers, but he fumbled in a defeat to the unbeaten Arizona Cardinals. He played without error against the Seahawks.

The two backs are “great complements of each other,” McVay said.

“Now that Sony's accumulated enough experience with us… you feel like everything is open,” McVay said. “There's not anything that you're saying, ‘All right, he's getting caught up to speed on.’”

Rams running back Sony Michel carries the ball during a win over the Indianapolis Colts last month.
Rams running back Sony Michel carries the ball during a win over the Indianapolis Colts last month. (Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

The emergence of the backs could continue during a stretch of schedule that is not exactly imposing. Sunday’s game is the first of three against opponents currently with one or zero wins.

But Henderson said the Rams don’t consider opponents’ records. Not in a league full of elite talent.

“They got the 1% on their team just like everybody else,” Henderson said.

The struggling Giants, however, will be at less than 100% against the Rams.

Star running back Saquon Barkley and receiver Kenny Golladay will not play because of injuries. Quarterback Daniel Jones was in concussion protocol this week. He practiced Friday and is apparently on track to play.

The Rams won’t look past the Giants, according to star defensive lineman Aaron Donald.

“Every week, anything can happen,” he said, adding, “You can't go in there saying, ‘We got a better record,’ or this and that.

“That's how you tend not to play good games and end up losing.”

The Rams rebounded from their Oct. 3 loss to the Cardinals by defeating the Seahawks on Oct. 7 in Seattle.

McVay said his team benefited from a “mini-bye” last Sunday.

“As you’re kind of wrapping up some of our game preparation you're thinking, ‘Man it seems like it was a month ago that we played, not just a week ago,'” he said.

This is the second consecutive season the Rams are playing the Giants.

In 2020, the Rams won 17-9 in a tougher-than-expected game at empty SoFi Stadium. Victory was not ensured until cornerback Darious Williams intercepted a pass at the Rams’ five-yard line with less than a minute left.

On Sunday, the Rams will be without Williams, who is on injured reserve because of an ankle injury.

Star cornerback Jalen Ramsey said he was confident that David Long, Terrell Burgess and rookie Robert Rochell will step up.

Rochell started against the Seahawks. Burgess, a second-year pro, could see his first extensive playing time on defense since suffering a season-ending ankle injury last season.

“This week is definitely a week that guys are going to be thrown in a game, thrown in the fire, and given those opportunities to show what they can do and who they are,” Ramsey said.

The Rams offense in the last two games has lacked the big plays that keyed a season-opening victory over the Chicago Bears and a win over the Buccaneers.

But Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford is capable of making a game-changing play at any time, Giants coach Joe Judge said.

“There’s really not a throw he can’t make,” Judge said. “In those tight windows, he can always squeeze it in.

“You’ve got to be alert that this guy loves the 50-50 balls down the field. And a guy with arm strength like that, he’s got a lot of confidence to zip it there and take a chance on completing it.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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