The Los Angeles Rams are preparing for their first season after relocating back to SoCal. Rams RB Todd Gurley is on the cover of ESPN the Magazine’s NFL preview edition. He’s the reigning AP Offensive Rookie of the Year due to his four-game entrance into the league in which he averaged 141.5 yards per game, not so much so for the eight games thereafter in which he averaged just more than 66 yards per game. He’s gracing the cover behind the emblazoned title, “The Offense Strikes Back,” after taking part in one of the NFL’s two worst offenses, one that everyone deems “can’t possibly get any worse.”
In that cover story, ESPN’s Jason Reid lays the following on Gurley’s shoulders:
The problem isn’t Gurley’s potential. It’s that the Rams, after 21 seasons in St. Louis, are all about the LA life now. And they’re not returning home with a winning touch—they haven’t had that in a long time. So 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.
Legend time begins now.
That’s a hell of a lot of pressure to put on a second-year running back.
At the time, I saw that pressure cleaving off three clear outputs: validating whether or not Gurley could (or truly needed to) win games on his own, seeing whether or not he would develop into a true superstar aided by the bright lights of Hollywood and whether or not he’d be able to live up to that pressure.
Instead, the 2016 Rams were an abject failure.
Head Coach Jeff Fisher was unable to materialize any kind of offense as it developed into one of the worst of the last 30 years. The defense, long thought to be on the precipice of earning that “elite” moniker finished 23rd in points allowed after opening the season losing 0-28 to the lowly San Francisco 49ers on national television. Goff, hoped to become a savior at quarterback after the Rams traded up to take him with the first overall pick and sacrifice their 2017 NFL Draft first-round pick to do so, was horrible. And Gurley? He and everything around him crumbled under that pressure.
He didn’t win any of those games on his own. The lights never shone on his star. And on the basis of his 55 yards per game output, the pressure saw him crumple as that offense that “couldn’t possibly get any worse” did just that.
It should surprise you not at all that much of the media that tried to puff up the 2016 Rams and Gurley have no interest in pulling back.
Consider all the criticisms you hear of the 2016 Rams. Fisher’s bland offensive blueprint. His player-friendly approach. The lack of talent surrounding Gurley. Where were these criticisms a year ago? Where was a shred of concern that perhaps for all his individual talents, they were never going to be able to manifest unless the team could block, or pass, or call a creative game that softened up opposing run defenses?
Feel free to take your time Googling for any of it. You won’t find much of it outside here.
Today nearly a year ago to the day, Reid has a new profile on Gurley, one that yet again projects higher production. Off the chart talent. “Bigger and better things.” Because that’s all that’s ever going to get sold.
It plays on every Rams fans’ hopes by laying down buzzwords in place of any analysis of what actually stymied Gurley in 2016 because it’s more popular to exploit the hungry optimism of the unwitting.
There’s Reid calling Gurley one of the league’s most talented all-around backs, a hackneyed cliche that now carries the weight of Fisher dubbing Gurley “special” and “the best” and suggesting Gurley would be the best running back of the next ten years (many of the same people who are quick to dismiss such praise now in retrospect given Fisher’s failings with the Rams were more than happy to champion that praise over the last two years and call anyone who met that praise with caution “too negative.”). There’s Head Coach Sean McVay dubbing Gurley “ultraconscientious.” There’s former Rams RB Eric Dickerson softening Gurley’s 2016 season explaining after the fact that:
“It comes down to the guys they put in front of him. That was a big question mark last year. … Well, it really wasn’t a question mark. We knew how bad they were,” Dickerson said. “That has to be addressed first. If that doesn’t get rectified, it’s not even about him. You put anybody back there [with a bad line], you can’t be successful.”
Much of traditional NFL media works on the Peter King scale: everyone in the NFL is a varying level of great. All head coaches are great, some just moreso than others. Every player is great. Front offices? All great!
Every year, about a third of the teams provide their fans with something fans seem to think is not great. A team that goes 4-12. Or an offense that is unwatchable. Or a head coach who lies when he can get away with it and spins his way out of other questions when he can’t.
But don’t worry. This is the year. Things are different now. Everything has changed.
“It all ties in,” McVay said. “When you have the ability to marry the run game with all the play-actions and the movement, that makes it easier for everybody.”
With the Rams’ new offense, there’s much to see. Gurley will get a lot of attention. He also could wind up gaining a lot of yards again.
The show can’t begin again if it never ended.
Please take your seats.