Rookie running back Cam Akers starting to emerge as Rams prepare for stretch run

Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers kept it moving Sunday in a 38-28 win over the Arizona Cardinals.

The rookie took a handoff in the second quarter from quarterback Jared Goff at the Arizona 9-yard line and his legs did not stop -- even as he carried a defender five yards on his back -- until he crossed the goal line.

"It's all a mindset thing," Akers said after the game. "If you don't got the mindset to be a dog, then the dog plays won't come to you."

The Rams are 8-4 and the victory, along with a Seattle Seahawks loss to the New York Giants, moved them into first place in the NFC West. They have the same record as the Seahawks, but hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.

In a running back committee with Darrell Henderson Jr. and Malcolm Brown, Akers is emerging as a powerful weapon in a crucial stretch that includes an upcoming Thursday night matchup against the New England Patriots (6-6).

"He just continues to take great leaps," quarterback Jared Goff said about the second-round pick from Florida State. "Early on in the year -- we have a lot of faith in everyone but Darrell and Malcolm were just a step ahead a little bit and understanding what we were trying to do on each play and at this point Cam is right there with them."

With his 9-yard score Sunday, Akers became the first Rams rookie since Todd Gurley II in 2015 to score a touchdown in three consecutive games.

Akers caught a 4-yard pass to score his first career touchdown in a Week 11 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He followed in Week 12 with a 1-yard touchdown run in a 23-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

"I have supreme confidence in myself to go out and perform," said Akers, who turned 21 this past June.

Rams coach Sean McVay described the run game against the Cardinals as "tough sledding" as they rushed for 119 yards and three touchdowns on 31 carries.

Akers, who came off the bench behind Henderson, led the way with 72 yards on a season-high 21 carries. He also caught a pass for 22 yards.

"He had some really tough, hard-earned yards," McVay said. "You're seeing a really physical player that's got explosion."

Henderson and Brown also contributed.

In the third quarter, on third-and-7, Brown caught a short pass and went 30 yards to help set up a 39-yard field goal. And in the fourth quarter, with the Rams clinging to a 24-21 lead, Henderson broke away for a 38-yard touchdown run.

"All three of those backs did a great job contributing," McVay said.

Henderson, who missed time during the game because of a knee injury that he eventually returned from, rushed for 49 yards on three carries. Brown was unable to get moving in the run game, as he had minus-3 yards on three carries but came through with the third-down reception.

Akers' 22 touches were the most from any Rams back this season. Brown had 21 touches in a season-opening win over the Dallas Cowboys and Henderson also had 21 in a Week 3 loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Akers said his increased touches helped him find a flow.

"More always helps, I'll say that much," Akers said. "If you get more carries, it's kind of easier to get in a rhythm."

Said Goff: "He can catch, he can run, he can do anything we want him to do and he had a great day."

The Rams' use of Akers has been inconsistent.

Out of training camp, he earned the starting job ahead of Henderson and Brown. But he suffered a rib injury early in Week 2 and was sidelined the following two games. He returned in Week 5, but came off the bench. And despite being available in Week 6 and 7, he did not record a touch.

Over the last five games, Akers has rushed for 244 yards and two touchdowns on 54 carries.

At the start of the second half of the schedule, McVay said he trusted that Akers would have a "really good" remainder of the season.

So far, so good.