For all the drama surrounding Los Angeles Rams RB Todd Gurley’s knee going back to the end of the regular season last year, he looked relatively like his usual self against the Carolina Panthers in the Rams’ 30-27 Week 1 win.
Nonetheless, it was a pretty radical departure from past versions of the Rams’ rushing attack since Gurley began his NFL career in 2015 and even from the last two seasons under Head Coach Sean McVay.
In the 17 games that weren’t blowouts or irregular playing patterns (i.e. the Week 17 game in 2017 when the Rams rested all of their starters ahead of the playoffs), RB Malcolm Brown had an average of 1.76 carries per game.
Yesterday against the Panthers, he had 11 while Gurley had 14. At halftime, they both had five carries.
And it wasn’t just comfortable running situations either. After the Panthers scored a touchdown early in the third to make it a six-point game, the Rams were in a situation where they needed a statement drive. And they made one. A 13-play drive with three third down conversions capped off with Brown plowing it into the endzone from the 1-yard line. That statement drive gave the Rams some breathing room that they ultimately needed with an interception and blocked punt coming on the next two drives before Gurley’s two big drives ensured the win.
While we saw a jobshare for Gurley in the playoffs last year with RB C.J. Anderson, that was a pretty unique situation with Gurley coming off of two games that he sat out of at the end of the regular season to allow his knee to heal up and with Brown out injured after breaking his clavicle. We’ve never seen a “healthy” Gurley limited in his work rate anything like what we saw yesterday.
But it wasn’t a surprise. The Rams have hinted at a reduction all offseason and re-signed Brown in addition to taking RB Darrell Henderson Jr. in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft. He was sparsely used yesterday, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Hendo get more work over time.
The good thing is that Gurley was fantastic in the final two drives creating yards and breaking tackles independent of the blocking he was getting which wasn’t the case on that 25-yard run early in the 3rd quarter where he wasn’t even touched because the blocking was so good. We got to see Todd Gurley just looking like Just Todd.
The real concern moving forward is that this will be a week-to-week preparation that won’t have much to do with previous weeks. As FOX Sports’ Jay Glazer put it, the Rams are going in “blind” every week:
On Fox, @JayGlazer says of the #LARams dealing with RB Todd Gurley:— TurfShowTimes (@TurfShowTimes) September 8, 2019
"The Rams are kinda going into this blind. They have no idea how the knee's going to respond today or any week this season."
So be it. It’s the reality the Rams are dealing with. As the Athletic’s Vinny Bonsignore put it in a pretty confusing article, “the Rams have enacted a load management program to preserve Gurley for the long haul.” We’ll have to see what that program looks like next week against the New Orleans Saints in Week 2 in a HUGE contest this early in the season, but we know that the 2017 and 2018 seasons don’t offer any kind of blueprint for what we’ll see moving forward.
This is new territory for the Rams and Gurley. Prepare to head into the unknown.