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The Rise And Fall Of Rams RB Todd Gurley

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As a rookie in 2015, Todd Gurley took the NFL by storm in his first four starts. However, there's been quite the drought since. Here’s why...

NFL: Atlanta Falcons at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Rams Running Back Todd Gurley was pegged by former Rams Head Coach Jeff Fisher, as the next big thing. No one can forget Fisher’s excitement about landing Gurley at number 10 overall in the 2015 NFL draft. Watching him sit at the press conference and gush over him with every word when he opened his mouth to talk about him.

In the beginning, it looked like Fisher may have been right about the young polarizing running back. Gurley began his career as a starter by rushing for over 125 yards in four straight weeks. But over his next 25 games, he would only eclipse 100 rushing yards one time.

The question now is; Why?

In going back and watching all of the games from the 2015 season and watching the games from 2016, there are a lot of things that remain the same, and then there are things that are completely different. The issue is, those things that are the same, aren’t necessarily good things. However, let’s began with the things that are different.

It starts with coaching, which is the case in most situations. The Rams had former OC Frank Cignetti employed at the time of Todd Gurley’s rise to stardom. Cignetti installed a zone run scheme that allowed the Rams to attack in different ways, and covered up a lot of flaws in Gurley’s game initially, and the Rams run game took off averaging a staggering 170+ yards a game in Gurley’s first four starts. The Source, was the involvement of Rams WR Tavon Austin...

Over at Battle Red Blog, Brett Kollmann put together an excellent breakdown of what made the Rams offense click.

Austin’s ability to break loose forces defenses to account for him. But for some strange reason, the Rams got away from the successful zone scheme, and even worst the usage of Austin as a threat. Of course the firing of Cignetti — who by all accounts has been the only person to prove he understands how to use Tavon Austin (with the exception of going deep) — and hiring Rob Boras was a big issue. Boras chose to run more power, which is what Jeff Fisher preferred to run. As a result, Austin saw a vast drop in carries in 2016 (28) from 2015 (52), and Gurley suffered the most.

The Rams only used the Austin affect one time in 2016. Now what does it mean to use the Austin affect? It’s when you give the same look twice in a row, but run two different plays. This occurred about 6-10 times a game before Cignetti was fired. The one time the Rams used the Austin affect in 2016, was in the finale against the Cardinals.

Derrik Klassen
Derrik Klassen

It is clear to see here the result of using Austin to free up Gurley. First you have Austin getting the ball and getting around the edge for a few yards. Then directly to follow you have Austin appearing to get the ball again, only for Gurley to slip out for a catch in the flat and a huge gain. The play probably should have gone all the way, but he was tripped up down the field, which brings up the next point.

Another big difference between Todd Gurley of last year and Todd Gurley of this year; he gets tackled way to easy. Not that it was the smartest career move ever or anything, but I didn’t see a single hurdle at all in 2016. Last year, there were 5 of them. Also last year, Gurley didn’t go down from shoe lace tackles. He evaded them, and weaved his way around diving tacklers all season long. This year it was quite the opposite. Gurley often found himself stumbling and falling. The balance was not the same as last year. And that’s part of what drew him the hype and praise coming into this year. The little things are the differences between good players and great ones. Look at the top backs over the last five seasons. Adrian Peterson, Marshawn Lynch, Lesean McCoy, Jamaal Charles, etc... None of them was going down the way Gurley did in the example above. It was a half-ass, sliding, shoe lace tackle, effort from the defender and it worked.

Derrik Klassen

This is another example of Gurley going down easier this year than he did last year. Yes, he lost weight in the off-season, but it was only 10 lbs. Backs lose this much weight all the time in the off-season in an attempt to gain more speed and and quickness. Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell lost 24 lbs upon enter the NFL, and he’s still one of the hardest backs in the NFL to bring down. Let’s remember, Gurley did not lose 10 lbs and drop below 200. He is still a 220 lb back out there. The effort just isn’t the same.

The one other issue that is different between last year and this year, is the line did not open up as many holes as they did last year. Although in watching the games between the two years, the line didn’t really open up a massive amount of holes last year either. As mentioned before, a lot of the success for the run game was because of the Austin affect, which created designed cutback lanes, and wide open holes on the play side. And when teams decided they were going to stop Gurley, Austin had a field day running. Just watch the tape from 2015 on the Rams vs Bengals and the Rams vs Ravens, and you will see how if you focused on one, the other would go crazy. However, overall on a snap to snap basis, the lines play did take a step back.

So what’s the same about Gurley? Well as mentioned before, there’s nothing good in the things that remained the same.

Gurley has never shown me three key things to being a great back. All of the great backs has had these things, but Gurley has never demonstrated any of them consistently. Those three traits are;

  1. Vision
  2. Patience
  3. Elusiveness

Gurley’s vision and patience are two things I have harped on all year. I’ve taken a lot kickback from people who have not agreed with my stern, but honest, analysis of Gurley’s running. Even the great Hall of Famer and former Los Angeles Rams RB Eric Dickerson himself disagreed with me when I asked him personally if he saw Gurley missing holes and running with less patience.

The question about Gurley’s vision and patience takes place at the 13 min mark.

My critique of Gurley hit an all time high after week four this season. During a weekly recap of the game I previously had pointed out Gurley’s issues and was asked for proof. Here’s what I had to say..

“Rams RB Todd Gurley is becoming his own worst enemy. You can see him in every post-game interview pouting and looking all sad -- whether the team wins or loses -- because he is not getting the big time gains he wants. However, I mentioned in last weeks recap he was not seeing the holes, and he is running without patience to set up the blocks. This was the case again against the Cardinals. By my count he missed four gaping holes that had he seen and hit surely at the very least all would have gotten him 10-20 yard gains. There is one play that stood out more then the others to me. It's because the Cardinals ran the exact same play, to the exact same side, with the exact same looks, and had different results.

I received a message from one TST reader that asked me to show what I meant about his lack of vision and patience, so here you go...

Derrik Klassen

As you can see in the footage above, the Rams run a stretch to the right of the formation against another stacked box with eight defenders. The play is blocked unbelievably well. The offensive line moves the entire front side of the defensive line 3-4 yards off the ball. On the backside, C Tim Barnes and LG Rodger Saffold chop down the defenders. As you can see it creates a hole that is about five yards wide. If Gurley slows down (patience) and looks about a yard to his left (vision), there is a good chance he's still running today. Instead he just barrels into the back of his linemen for no reason whatsoever.

Derrick Klassen

Here we see the Cardinals run the exact same play and get the exact same hole, but the result is much different. RB Chris Johnson slows down as he presses the hole, looks to his left about a yard, sees the opening hits it and falls into the end zone. It is literally the exact same. And the Cardinals ran it again two drives later with David Johnson. The result was a 31-yard gain, his longest of the day.

I get it. Gurley is a helluva talent and a damn good back, but without patience and vision you're only average at best. Add a stacked box, and you're mediocre. Rams fans, try not to forget that for nine seasons straight, no running back in the NFL saw more stacked boxes than RB Steven Jackson. But due to his vision and patience -- coupled with his superstar talents -- he ran for over 1,000 yards in each of those seasons regardless.”

Here we have another example of Gurley simply running into the backs of his linemen, when in fact they are doing their jobs, and have opened a massive crease, but Gurley missed it from lack of vision and patience.

Derrik Klassen

(My apologies, the sideline view — unavailable at the time — shows a more clear shot of the hole and open field, here you can see only the hole)

Here Gurley takes the ball up the gut and picks up two yards. But he fails to see the OLB cheating in and crashing inside. This opens up a massive cutback lane to the outside. There is no one in the vicinity and it’s highly likely if he sees it and bounces to the left of the center, he hits his head on the goal post.

This season there has been a lot of running with his head down, not even attempting to see what is taking place in front of him.

Interim HC John Fassel is on record saying the following about Gurley in his post game press conference after week 17.

Rams Guard Jamon Brown went on to say this,

Alden Gonzalez, ESPN Staff Writer

One thing is for sure, I was alone in my criticism of Gurley in the beginning but as time has gone on, the rumblings of running without patience, vision, and less authority started to be talked about more and more. I even began hearing commentators talk about it during games over the final four weeks.

We can all sit here and point the finger at the line and play-callers all day. And they are without question at fault in some instances. But Gurley’s biggest issues lie within himself. They are all correctable, but he has to stop moping around and realize, that as an NFL running back, you are going to be tasked with creating your own lanes more times than not (unless you play for the Cowboys). All of the best to ever do it, have been good at creating space and getting yards. They can set up blocks, as well as read the ones that lie before them.

I mentioned before that Rams fans have forgotten about former Rams RB Steven Jackson already. For so many years during his 10 year career with the team, he had no pass game, and a horrible offensive line. Teams stacked the box weekly, and he didn’t have a Tavon Austin to distract anyone. He had guys like Laurant Robinson, Danny Amendola, Mike Sims-Walker, etc.. But he still found a way to eclipse 1000 yards every year, using great patience, vision, a sick jump cut, and effort.

It’s time to hold Todd Gurley accountable...