Banned from the team in October, Rams running back Cam Akers is now making a pitch for prolonged if not permanent residency with the Rams.
On Sunday, the Rams lost to the Chargers, 31-10, at SoFi Stadium. But for the second game in a row, Akers showed the burst and flash that seemingly could make him a centerpiece in 2023 and beyond.
Akers rushed for 123 yards in 19 carries, giving him back-to-back 100-yard games for the first time in his career.
In the Rams’ 51-14 victory over the Denver Broncos last Sunday, Akers rushed for 118 yards and three touchdowns in 23 carries.
“Just taking advantage of my opportunities,” Akers said. “That’s what you see.”
It’s a long way from the start of the season, when coach Sean McVay called out Akers publicly for lacking urgency. As the November trade deadline approached, McVay exiled Akers for more than two weeks as general manager Les Snead unsuccessfully shopped the third-year pro.
Upon his return to the team, it took Akers four games to find his footing and a few more before McVay gave him 12 or more carries per game.
In the last two, Akers has been on a roll.
Is he having more fun than early in the season?
“Fair to say,” he said, “Absolutely.”
Akers’ resurgence is at least one positive for the Rams, who fell to 5-11 heading into the season finale against the Seattle Seahawks in Seattle.
Seattle is familiar territory for Akers.
As a rookie in 2020, he rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown in an NFC wild-card playoff victory over the Seahawks. Until the game against the Broncos, it was his last 100-yard performance.
Akers, 23, suffered a torn Achilles while working out before training camp in 2021. He made a remarkable return to play in the final regular-season game and the playoffs, but only recently has shown the form and promise of his rookie season.
Last week, McVay was asked if the Rams would still trade Akers.
“Oh, no,” McVay said, adding that “it’d be silly based on what a great job he’s done to think of it anything differently than him being a big part of what you want to be able to do moving forward.”
Akers heard the endorsement.
“I would love to be a Ram for life,” he said Sunday, “so it definitely made me feel good.”
After Akers’ performance against the Broncos, he said he felt vindicated for having maintained that the key to establishing an effective rushing attack was sticking with it and putting the ball in his hands.
“Proof in the pudding,” he said.
He continued to prove it Sunday against the Chargers.
“Commitment to the run game and being effective in the run game, you know, I think it speaks for itself,” he said.
Does the commitment to the running game start with the coaching staff?
“I don’t know,” he said, chuckling. “You tell me.”
Akers has benefited from assistant head coach Thomas Brown’s return to coaching running backs. McVay reinstalled Brown in that role in December after Ra’Shaad Samples, a first-year coach, left the staff for a job with Arizona State.
Akers is playing with confidence, McVay said.
“It’s the way that he’s creating when there isn’t anything there — the explosiveness,” McVay said. “I think you’re seeing a complete back.”
On Sunday, Akers got off to a good start, rushing for eight yards on each of the Rams’ first two plays.
On the third, quarterback Baker Mayfield went through his progressions before finding Akers running down the sideline in the left flat. A Chargers defender had slipped, leaving Akers wide open with no one between him and the end zone. But he dropped Mayfield’s pass.
“I should have reached with two hands out,” he said. “Missed opportunity.”
Akers broke off a 42-yard run on the next series to give the Rams a first down at the Chargers’ 22-yard line. But the Rams stalled at the five-yard line and settled for a field goal.
Akers continued to run effectively throughout the game and also caught a 10-yard pass.
“He’s making great reads,” left tackle Ty Nsehke said, “flowing to the holes, making the blocks easy because he’s setting up the blocks.”
Despite his performance, Akers was outshined by Chargers running back Austin Ekeler.
The NFL’s touchdown leader rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns in 10 carries, including a 72-yard scoring run.
Ekeler became the first player to rush for 100 yards or more against the Rams this season. Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders rushed for 99 yards and a touchdown in 27 carries yards in a Dec. 8 loss to the Rams.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert completed 21 of 28 passes for 212 yards and two touchdowns as the playoff-bound Chargers improved to 10-6.
The Rams need Akers to continue his surge when they play the Seahawks and attempt to finish their lost season on a winning note.
“Cam deserves a ton of credit for the way that he’s hitting his stride right now, the way that he’s playing,” McVay said, “and hopefully we finish off the regular season the right way and he can use this to be able to build some momentum into the offseason.”