Well, better late than never, right? This Todd Gurley article, appropriately named “The Todd Gurley Article,” has actually been in the works for weeks. Nothing would have pleased me more than to give our subscribers here at Season Pass a fresh batch of Gurley highlights to brighten your Monday. Unfortunately, our production was stalled for weeks (think of Brando on the set of Apocalypse Now) due to an unforeseen slump.
Gurley’s five-game drought, which, wouldn’t you know it, coincided with the Rams’ five-game losing streak, ended in heroic fashion Sunday against Detroit. The Rookie of the Year hopeful (edit: favorite) rumbled to 140 yards with two touchdowns as St. Louis jogged to a relatively painless 21-14 victory.
With Thomas Rawls (broken ankle) out for the year and T.J. Yeldon (sprained knee) possibly headed down the same path, it looks like Gurley will be the only rookie to reach 1,000 yards rushing this season. He’s 25 yards away with three games left on the schedule. If you recall, Jeremy Hill was the only rookie to break the 1,000-yard barrier last season. In today’s pass-centric NFL, the 1,000-yard plateau has become an increasingly elusive milestone. And Gurley is about to reach it just one year after tearing his ACL. This man eats resiliency for breakfast.
Futures don’t get much brighter than Gurley’s. But I have to admit, in the early going, it looked like Gurley was headed for another rough outing. Gurley and the Rams’ offense were stuck in neutral for most of the first half. All in all, Gurley managed just 13 yards on seven carries before halftime. He lost two yards on this sluggish-looking run in the second quarter.
The problem with Gurley in recent weeks is that the Rams haven’t been giving him enough work. Gurley averaged just nine carries per game in Weeks 12 and 13. Though that embarrassingly low amount is ultimately Jeff Fisher’s handiwork, the Rams needed a scapegoat so they pulled the plug on offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti. They replaced him with Rob Boras, who, to his credit, did a nice job of calling the plays on Sunday. Instead of putting the ball in the incapable hands of Case Keenum, Boras decided to go with a run-heavy approach featuring Gurley and receiver/running back/kick returner/football player Tavon Austin. Watch this nifty number the Rams rolled out in the first quarter.
As many of you observed last night in the Texans’ brutal loss to New England, teams with bad quarterbacks like to use the wildcat. Here, Gurley takes the direct snap and hands it off to Austin, who is basically a clone of Percy Harvin. Austin does the rest, breaking a few tackles on his way to a spinning, 20-yard gain. Austin and Gurley are clearly the Rams’ best playmakers and funneling the offense through them makes a heck of a lot of sense. Why it took the Rams 14 weeks to figure that out is beyond me. Cue the gratuitous Jeff Fisher GIF.
I just made this gif and everyone should use it when talking about anything. pic.twitter.com/qhFJP4u9PU
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) December 2, 2015
Anyway, after mostly being bottled up in the first half, Gurley went nuts in the third quarter with 85 yards on only four carries. 49 of those yards came on this run right here.
Gurley has always had a knack for big plays. This was his seventh run of 30-plus yards, which obviously leads the league (Adrian Peterson and Doug Martin both have five). The play develops nicely as Lance Kendricks seals the edge with a nice block on Darryl Tapp. It’s hard to tell which safety Gurley roasts on his way to the 6-yard-line, but man what a move. The only thing this play was missing was six points at the end of it. No matter. Gurley plowed his way into the end zone three snaps later on this five-yard work of art.
That’s what you call a full extension. A lot of running backs, especially the faster ones like Chris Johnson in his heyday, can hit the home run with big plays but they can’t finish the job around the goal line. That’s what makes Gurley so special. He’s fast enough to break off a huge run but also sturdy enough to punch in those short touchdowns. At 6’1 and 227 pounds, Gurley is not an easy man to stop when he’s on the goal line. Leaping over the pylon was a nice touch.
In the interest of full disclosure, it’s worth noting that Detroit hasn’t been a particularly hard team to run against. The Lions have allowed 115.9 rushing yards per game, tied for 11th most (ironically, they’re tied with St. Louis). But the more telling stat is the 18 touchdowns they’ve allowed. That number leads the league.
Gurley didn’t score on this play, but he did pick up 25 yards thanks to an egregious missed tackle by safety James Ihedigbo. It’s bad defense for sure but give Gurley credit for keeping his balance and turning on the accelerator for a nice gain.
Not to put Ihedigbo on blast, but this wasn’t one of his better games. Here the Lions stack the box with an eight-man front, which is exactly the type of defense you should be playing against an elite rusher like Gurley. Ihedigbo has a chance to bring him down for a short gain but Gurley squirms out of his reach and keeps going for a nine-yard pickup.
This next play is the ultimate heat check. Gurley finds an opening, puts his foot to the ground and bounces outside for another touchdown. Speed, vision, athleticism—this play checks off all the boxes. Well done, Mr. Gurley.
In the NBA, you’ll often see teams reach for centers early in the draft. Sometimes it works out (Dwight Howard, Yao Ming), other times it doesn’t (Greg Oden and Kwame Brown). Teams do this because dominant centers are so rare in today’s NBA. A good one can really be the cornerstone of your franchise. Quarterback is the NFL’s equivalent. It makes sense because if you luck out and grab a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning, you could be good for the next 15 years.
Running backs rarely go in the first round because their careers are so short and success can be so fleeting, but I don’t think that makes them any less valuable. The Vikings would be in the NFC basement if they didn’t have Adrian Peterson. Instead, they’re likely headed back to the postseason.
I think Gurley could have a similar effect on St. Louis (or Los Angeles) in a few years. A great running back is such a nice luxury because it takes pressure off the quarterback and it keeps the clock moving, which essentially turns the fourth quarter into a game of keep-away. It’s also nice because it sets up the play-action. Of course, you need a competent quarterback and good receivers to pull that off, which the Rams don’t have. But the clock manipulation is certainly an advantage and you’ll see it play out right here. Watch Gurley rip ahead for 21 yards with 1:36 remaining, essentially putting the game on ice.
What makes this play especially brilliant is that Gurley has the presence of mind to keep his body inbounds. Runners and receivers are so programmed to get to the sidelines, but when you’re trying to run the other team off the field, you have to keep the clock rolling. That’s exactly what Gurley does by giving himself up at the 32-yard line.
There will be growing pains—we saw them in Weeks 9-13—but Gurley is obviously a huge talent with a massive fantasy ceiling. If St. Louis can add some pieces this offseason (a quarterback would be nice), this offense could actually do some damage. Until then, expect the Rams to keep riding the Gurley Express. All aboard.