Todd Gurley is the Rams’ centerpiece. Their entire offense and seasons have revolved him their last few, hugely successful years.
So why has he only recently gotten the ball this year?
“Me not being an idiot,” Los Angeles coach Sean McVay told reporters in southern California this week.
The Seahawks who have played Gurley the most don’t expect the Rams coach to be an idiot Sunday night in the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“We’re expecting the 100-percent Gurley,” said linebacker K.J. Wright, who has played the division-rival Rams more than anyone else as the longest-tenured Seahawk.
“When he gets rolling, that’s when that offense can get scary. ...They can be multi-dimensional. It’s going to have to start with him. And then we’ve got to make them start throwing to their receivers (instead).”
“The 100-percent Gurley” used to be a given for the Rams. The two-time All-Pro running back, 2015 NFL offensive rookie of the year and 2017 NFL offensive player of the year was THE reason the Seahawks lost three in a row and six of eight games against L.A. That was from Gurley’s debut season through November 2018.
The worst of those losses was 42-7 in Seattle in Dec. 2017. That was the day the Rams seized the NFC West title from the Seahawks and beat them over the head with it. In that game, Gurley had 144 yards rushing and three, decisive touchdowns. In the first half.
But after the Rams used him to plow through the NFC West again in the 2018 regular season, Gurley disappeared from McVay’s play calls. He was pretty much a spectator in the conference-title game last January at New Orleans. Gurley again was a non-factor in the most recent Super Bowl, when New England totally shut down the high-flying Rams in a 13-3 win.
Gurley has an arthritic knee. It’s a condition stemming from a torn anterior cruciate ligament when he was finishing at the University of Georgia in Nov. 2014. At times, it has seemed McVay has been preserving and protecting him instead of using him.
He needs using.
Los Angeles has won 19 of its last 20 games when Gurley gets 20 touches (rushes plus receptions). The Rams are 27-8 in Gurley’s career when he gets the ball 20 or more times, and not just running to close out leads. His catches and runs early and often have established those leads.
The Rams are 3-0 against Seattle when Gurley gets 20 runs and catches combined.
Jared Goff became a Super Bowl quarterback last season and a $134 million one in September largely because of Goff’s excellence on play-action passes set up by all of Gurley’s success.
But Gurley’s gotten 20 rushes and catches combined just two times in the Rams’ last 17 games.
He didn’t get there in any of L.A.’s three playoff games last season. Gurley got four touches in Los Angeles’ disputed overtime win at the Saints in the last NFC championship game. He got just three carries in the first half of the Super Bowl, when it was a 3-0 game. He finished with 11 touches, 10 rushes and a catch, in the Super Bowl loss to the Patriots. It’s not like the Rams were getting boat raced and had to pass, either. That was a one-score game for the first 58:42.
Plus, again, throwing to Gurley has worked so well for L.A. for years.
This season, he did not touch the ball 20 times in any of the Rams’ first nine games. And the Rams fell way behind the Seahawks and 49ers in the NFC West.
Lately, he’s gotten the ball more. And, wouldn’t you know it: the Rams are back in the playoff race.
Gurley’s had 20 touches in two of the last three games, which happen to be the last two wins for L.A.. Last month at home against Chicago he carried 25 times for a season-high-tying 97 yards and a touchdown, with three catches for 37 more yards. Last week he had 19 rushes for 95 yards with a catch, and the Rams smoked the Cardinals in Arizona 34-7.
In between, Gurley got just six carries and three passes while the Rams got run over at home by the rampaging Baltimore Ravens, 45-6. Some of that was cause and effect: Los Angeles fell behind immediately and had to throw. But, again, McVay wasn’t having Goff throw to Gurley.
The Rams (7-5) enter Sunday night one game behind Minnesota for the NFC’s final wild-card playoff spot. This is no time to preserve Gurley.
“He’s been looking good,” Wright said. “I’ve been watching him. He’s been running hard. They are throwing to him.”
In previous years he’s been one of their primary pass catchers in the early, middle, and end of games. In the previous two seasons before this one, Gurley had at least a half dozen targets from Goff in 14 games. Los Angeles went 11-3 in those games.
“He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s powerful. He can break it on any down, and he’s done that against us over the years,” said Seahawks defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. “We’ve seen him grow as a player. His explosiveness.
“He’s certainly a guy that is of our interest.”
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll sees Gurley as central to the Rams offense. The key to Sunday’s game.
“He’s just such a complete football player,” Carroll said. “The running, for sure. The special plays that he makes because of his style and his ability to break tackles and make you miss and all that. Then, given the whole passing game that he’s extremely involved with, as well, just gets him space and gets him up the screens and the perimeter stuff that they do.
“He’s an incredible factor. When he’s at his best like he has been, he carried the ball 19 times or 20 times two out of the last three weeks, I think, they’re on it. They’re really good when he’s going.”