Last season, the Los Angeles Rams made themselves must-watch TV. Their offense, led by quarterback Jared Goff and running back Todd Gurley, took on all comers and carried the team—with some help from the referees in New Orleans—to the Super Bowl. This season, however, things are looking a bit different in California.
After winning their opening three games, the Rams have dropped their last two. Things won’t get any easier this afternoon, as they’ll be facing the undefeated San Francisco 49ers without Gurley. Without the running back, who will carry the load on offense?
Todd Gurley’s NFL success
After three NCAA seasons with the Georgia Bulldogs, Gurley made the jump to the NFL. He was selected 10th overall by the Rams in the 2015 NFL draft and didn’t waste any time making an impact. He finished his first campaign with 1,106 rushing yards and ten touchdowns on 229 carries, making him a Pro Bowler and the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
2016 was a down year for the entire Rams team, Gurley included, but he rebounded for the 2017 campaign. Working under new head coach Sean McVay, the running back took his production to the next level, finishing the year with 1,305 rushing yards, 788 receiving yards, and the NFL offensive player of the year title.
That success would continue in 2018, as Gurley became the highest-paid running back in the league helped the Los Angeles Rams make a run to the Super Bowl. His production fell off in the big game, however, with a nagging knee injury holding him to only 10 carries.
Injury concerns continue
After his poor Super Bowl performance, reports emerged that Gurley suffered from arthritis in his left knee. Whether or not that’s true, something is definitely bothering the Rams running back.
While he looked solid towards the end of L.A.’s Week 1 game against the Carolina Panthers, Gurley has struggled this season. He’s rushed for 270 yards through the first five games, averaging 4.2 yards per carry; the only time he gained fewer yards per touch came in 2016. His receiving numbers have also plummeted, suggesting there’s a general mobility issue at play.
On Saturday, the Rams confirmed that Gurley would miss this weekend’s game against the 49ers with a quad injury. While it might not be a knee issue, it’s still less than ideal for the league’s most expensive running back.
Running the Rams offense without Gurley
While Gurley’s long-term health is obviously a concern, the Rams’ immediate focus has to be on this afternoon’s game. It’s never facing the 49ers defense, especially without a starting running back.
Malcolm Brown will presumably take over most of Gurley’s touches, but he probably won’t have a great deal of success on Sunday. While he seems perfectly capable of playing at the NFL level, the Rams’ offensive line will probably struggle against a stout San Francisco front. Brown will have a valuable role, maintaining offensive balance and keeping guys like Richard Sherman honest, but it’s unlikely he’ll explode and carry the team to a win.
That leaves most of the responsibility to Jared Goff and his receiving corps. Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods are both dangerous out of the slot, and Brandin Cooks looks set to play on Sunday. It will be their responsibility to keep the chains moving; San Francisco’s defense may be keying in on the pass, but it’s hard to keep three receivers covered for any significant period of time.
Todd Gurley’s injury may be grabbing the headlines, but it doesn’t change that much for the Los Angeles Rams offense. Their main challenge, no matter who’s in the backfield, is establishing a running game to keep the defense honest. That won’t be any different today with Malcolm getting most of the carries.