The most recent episode of MMQB’s 10 Things podcast with Andy Benoit and Gary Gramling made a rare reference: the Los Angeles Rams.
In the episode starting after the 26-minute mark, the two discuss Rams RB Todd Gurley and his struggles to produce since Week 9 of his rookie season in 2015 (Apple News reader link to the podcast):
The first topic re: Gurley centers on the synthesis of his troubles and how things snowballed. While they’re referring largely to the 2016 season, Gurley’s (and the Rams’ rushing offense’s and the Rams’ entire offense’s struggles pre-date Week 1 2016) offensive struggles:
A lot of people anytime a running back, especially a dynamic young one, takes a step back, we assume the offensive line wasn’t very good, and with the Los Angeles Rams, it was exactly true. That offensive line, they could not run basic inside zone or duo blocks. Meaning, it’s...the most basic run in football. Two double teams inside. Someone works off the double teams and up to the linebacker, and the running back just runs behind those bulldozers. The Rams could not do that. They couldn’t win with two guys against one guy up front. And if you can’t do that, you can’t play. ‘Cause that means you’re certainly not athletic enough to run outside zone. You’re not gonna be athletic enough to do pull blockers or moving pieces. And so that was the Rams’ issue, and Gurley struggled behind that.
But then as the season went on, the Rams were...there were times they weren’t awful every single snap. There were also a lot of cases, and it got worse as the season progressed, there were a lot of cases where Gurley was leaving yards on the field. He wasn’t hitting the holes that were there...
And I don’t know what gets into, nobody knows this, what gets into a running back’s mind when that happens. And I could see if you’re Gurley and you’re getting hit again and again and the holes aren’t forming, something shifts within you and it changes your approach to the game. It changes your confidence, whatever it is.
But by the end of the year, it was a 50/50 blame to go around. The line was bad, but Gurley was not nearly as good.
It should perhaps be concerning that so much of that offensive line remains. Such is the challenge for new Rams Head Coach Sean McVay across the entire roster, not solely on the line.
It’s nonetheless an interesting take from a national media member only because there was such universal praise for Gurley in between the 2015 and 2016 seasons despite the final eight-game stretch in his rookie season in which he averaged just more than 66 yards per game. Just seven months ago, the word “legend” was being tossed his way as he graced magazine covers proclaiming “The Offense Strikes Back” while featuring on the NFL’s worst offense. Now, he and the Rams have reached a point where “it was a 50/50 blame to go around” for anchoring the worst offense in the NFL yet again that was somehow worse than before.
In that piece in September, I called out one passage from Jason Reid’s piece that included this quote:
Gurley doesn’t have time to try to get there. After last year’s 7–9 season, the Rams need him to carry the offense, at least until rookie QB Jared Goff gets his stance under him.
Put simply, he didn’t carry the offense. And with Goff having struggled mightily (and I’m probably being nice there) while going 0-7 to start his career, he might not be any closer to getting “his stance under him” than he was when he was drafted #1 overall in the 2016 NFL Draft.
The next portion of my piece in September runs into the next segment in the MMQB podcast: the effect of LA on Gurley.
I was simply pointing out the sheer scope of the market and how powerful it can be in elevating a sports star into superstardom that can carry well beyond the general limitations of team or league. To hear Benoit address the relationship a year later, it certainly sounds as if LA may have gotten the better of Gurley:
The other thing you wonder about, and some people you hear whispers about this around the league a little bit, is Gurley was in St. Louis as a rookie, and he was in Los Angeles as a sophomore. He was almost superstar when he...went to Los Angeles. And did that factor in? What kind of, did the Hollywood lifestyle appear on to the equation?
There’s not much detail there especially with the eyebrow-raising comment that there are “whispers” around the league regarding this, but I do wonder what’s being referred to here. Gurley didn’t take part in the Rams-related show on E!, Hollywood and Football, save for an appearance in the first episode when he showed up at a party at OL Rodger Saffold’s house. While his appearance in a Carl’s Jr. advertisement certainly gave him some off-field attention to help his bank account, there wasn’t much celebrity being stacked up once the football was being played for obvious reasons. I just wonder what’s being referred to here.
Benoit and Gamling talk about personnel, coaching and scheme changes on the offensive line for a bit. It’s interesting, but probably a bit wonky for some.
A discussion of the WR and TE depth charts follows. It’s not encouraging.
There’s a spot on the Rams not pursuing Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR DeSean Jackson in free agency to reunite him with his former offensive coordinator in McVay.
The two close with the passing mention that newly-signed LT Andrew Whitworth is the only player on the roster older than the head coach.
The Gurley discussion is the meat for Rams fans.
In mid-September, I asked if Rams fans should be “worried” about Gurley. The collective answer was a resounding no. By mid-October when I asked again, the answer was much less resounding. By December, the tone of the responses was markedly different.
Now with a little more than a week to the 2017 NFL Draft ahead of Gurley’s third professional season, there are legitimate concerns about his viability moving forward. How central will Gurley be in McVay’s offense? Part of what buttressed Gurley’s value was the run-heavy allusions of Fisherball. With that gone and perhaps a countervailing emphasis on the passing game coming, is Gurley much less of a centerpiece of the Rams’ offense than he has been in the last two years?
Combined with his 2016 season and the “whispers” of off-field issues to whatever degree you choose to buy into them, Gurley is inarguably at the point of lowest value in his young NFL career. Either that offers him a chance to recapture the promise of years past, or it marks the beginning of an unenjoyable pathway to unexceptionalism.
The 2017 season will be absolutely crucial for Gurley’s prospects as an NFL running back. Here’s hoping it goes differently than his, and the Rams’, 2016 season.