NFL

Why Todd Gurley Will Be the Key for the Rams Against the Ravens

Week 12 action is set to end with what could be yet another entertaining Monday night matchup with this go-around between the red-hot Baltimore Ravens heading on the road to play the Los Angeles Rams in the Los Angeles Coliseum. There is plenty on the line from both sides involving playoff implications, where the outcome of the game could impact the Rams’ hopes of reaching the postseason.

With the MVP frontrunner Lamar Jackson coming into town, it puts a great deal of importance on their game plan in the contest. All of that will center on star running back Todd Gurley needing to be the difference-maker on Monday night.

Todd Gurley’s effectiveness in running game

It hasn’t been anywhere the type of season that the Rams had hoped to have, especially from Gurley’s production. The writing had been on the wall that he would be playing in a reduced role, given the nagging health issues that he was having with his knee.

That has led to a significant drop off in production as he has tallied just 525 rushing yards on 129 attempts with seven touchdowns along with 18 catches for 117 receiving yards and a touchdown. However, the Rams’ recent struggles have shifted the importance of getting the most out of their star running back.

That was the case last week against the Chicago Bears defense, where he had a season-high 25 carries for 97 rushing yards and a touchdown along with three catches for 36 receiving yards. The Rams may have found something with their offensive line against the Bears, with Austin Blythe moving to center with Brian Allen out while Bobby Evans started at right tackle. Meanwhile, Austin Corbett got the start at left guard while David Edwards played opposite of him with Andrew Whitworth still at left tackle.

Los Angeles will need Gurley to shoulder a significant workload to set the tone offensively, which could be a tough task against the Ravens, who are seventh in the league allowing 94.3 rushing yards a game. However, Baltimore is giving up 4.4 yards per attempt, which shouldn’t deter the Rams from staying committed to the running game.

Jared Goff’s passing off play-action

One of the most frustrating aspects of the season has been the struggles that Pro Bowl quarterback Jared Goff has had throwing the ball. He is far off the production that he had a year ago as he has 11 touchdown passes to 10 interceptions through the first 10 games played.

There is plenty of blame on that end on Goff’s shoulders for his inconsistencies, but it doesn’t help that the team has struggled to provide reliable protection due to their struggles with stable play and injuries. What has also played a factor has been the lack of a real running game that has been significantly impacted by Gurley’s reduced role.

That has largely taken away the element of utilizing play-action, which Goff has found much success with over the last couple of years. Behind a concerted effort to run the ball, it should open up opportunities for them to push the ball down the field through the air.

According to Pro Football-Reference, the Rams have remained among the top teams using play-action this season, ranking second behind the Kansas City Chiefs with 102 plays called entering Week 12. The expected returns of wide receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods should also provide a big boost in that department.

Keeps the ball away from Lamar Jackson

The biggest reason for the Rams to stay firm with a heavy dosage of the running game is quite obviously to keep the ball out of Jackson’s hands.

That is a task much easier said than done, but the Ravens’ second-year quarterback has taken a significant leap forward in his play, proving to be one of the top players in the league. Jackson’s decision-making has been a critical element as he has been an absolute force in the running game, which is ranked first in the NFL by a wide margin with 203.1 yards per contest.

Los Angeles will need to limit the number of possessions that the Ravens receive, which makes for an increased importance on them sticking with running the ball behind Gurley. The Rams defense has improved as the season has worn on, but facing Jackson is an entirely different element that no team has solved this season.

If Los Angeles can work towards winning the time of possession with their rushing attack, that could go a long way in earning a much-needed win to keep their playoff hopes alive.