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Pete Carroll noticed “a plan” for Todd Gurley midway through 2018. His trainer said preserving him is the goal. Why won’t Sean McVay admit it?

Carroll: “It looks like they have a plan. It showed last year midway through the season that they had a plan for him.”

New Orleans Saints v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Meg Oliphant/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Rams were unable to hold off the visiting Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 4 shootout, and now many are questioning the logic behind some of Sean McVay’s decisions in the losing effort. Jared Goff was asked to throw the ball a career-high 68 times, while Rams’ RB Todd Gurley only rushed five times, a career-low, despite showing some burst.

McVay holds firm that the Rams needed to make adjustments from their original plan as a result of falling into an early 21-0 deficit.

When you go down 21-0, the flow of the game is totally predicated on, ‘All right, let’s find a way to get back in it.’

Still. Five carries?

Questions about the health of Gurley’s knee, and his usage, date back to the late stages of the 2018 regular season, where he sat out the final two games of the year and had a 52/48 (percent) carry split with C.J. Anderson in the Divisional and NFC Championship games.

Present day, the Rams now find themselves on a short week and heading north to take on the Seattle Seahawks in Week 5. On Tuesday, Seahawks’ HC Pete Carroll was asked about what he’s seen from Gurley thus far in 2019 and if he anticipates an uptick in his usage this Thursday.

There’s nothing that we would do differently because their offense is exactly the same. Malcolm (Brown) runs the heck out of the football doing what he’s doing. One guy’s averaging 4.5 (yards per carry) and the other’s averaging 4.4 (ypc). Really doesn’t change us.

Pete’s right for the most part. While I’d argue the offenses definitely are not “exactly the same,Malcolm Brown has played very well in Gurley’s stead. Perhaps more revealing, however, was that Carroll noted the Rams had a plan to monitor Gurley’s usage well before Week 16, and potentially prior to their second meeting (Week 10) last season.

I can only go, really, with what they’re doing. They can do whatever they want, of course, but it looks like they have a plan. It showed last year midway through the season that they had a plan for him.

Midway through the season, you say? Carroll may be onto something.

Assuming we use Week 9 as the midway point of 2018, the first eight weeks of Gurley’s season, at least in terms of workload, does look very different than the back “half” — which accounts for six games between Weeks 9-15.

In Weeks 1-8, Gurley carried the ball 169 times (21 carries per game), more than any running back in the NFL. In the final six games of the season (Week 12 bye + sitting out Week 16-17), he carried the ball 87 times (14.5 carries per game), ranking 24th among all RB’s. Simple math tells you his workload was reduced by about a third, on a carries per game basis, in the back half of the year.

Sean McVay contends, following Sunday’s loss, that there is no preservation plan for Gurley for this year.

No, there’s none of that. We’re doing what we can to try to find a way to win games. It’s not about conserving, we’ve got to win right now and that’s the most important thing. There’s nothing like that.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to believe McVay, despite his perceived sincerity, given the numbers. Through Gurley’s first four weeks of the last three seasons:

  • 2017: 86 rushes + 25 targets = 111
  • 2018: 79 rushes + 20 targets = 99
  • 2019: 49 rushes + 17 targets = 66

There’s no denying that Gurley is being utilized less in the run game, as his carries are down over 60% of what they were to start the last two seasons. His 49 carries currently ranks 23rd among all running backs. The burning question remains: if they’re truly not limiting his workload, then why such a drastic reduction in carries?

It was evident that Gurley needed a breather at the end of the 2018 season, and it wasn’t simply securing a first round postseason bye that earned him that respite. CBS Sports’ Dave Richard spoke with Gurley’s trainer - Travelle Gaines - in June, noting that Gurley had “an arthritic component to his knee” and that the heavy workload throughout the early stages of the season had taken its toll.

He got a little tired toward the end of last year because he was carrying the ball a lot.

That’s fair. On top of the 21 carries per game he was getting for the first half of the year, and in addition to all the targets he was receiving, it’s understandable how the Rams may have tried to squeeze too much too early. It was probably an afterthought to us all at the midway point of the season when Gurley and Chiefs’ QB Patrick Mahomes were in a dead heat for the MVP award.

Gaines’ sentiments may very well be the reason we’ve seen a reduced workload, both in the offseason and in the early stages of this regular season. But much like the media member who posed the question to Carroll on Tuesday, many are wondering when the Rams are going to unleash their star running back. At some point the safeguarding ends and the dominance begins, right?

In prime time on Thursday night, in a bounce back effort against a divisional opponent and in hopes of not falling into third place in the NFC West, sounds about as good a time as any. But if the Rams think they can escape with a victory and stay the course with Gurley’s (un)intentionally light workload, then maybe their (non-)preservation plan is one worth adhering to.

Gaines had a thought on the matter.

Todd is asked to do a lot in that offense, so to preserve him as much as possible is what the goal of the game is.

With that said — and in regards to whether or not the Rams are limiting/preserving Gurley — a new question becomes whether or not you believe his head coach or his trainer and Carroll.

Because actions, or lack thereof, are currently speaking louder than words.