During the NFC Championship game against the New Orleans Saints, running back Todd Gurley was limited to only five touches all game and not the main focal point of the LA Rams offense, which led to speculation about the health of his knee.
Todd Gurley missed the final two games of the regular season in order to rest his knees. In the NFC title game, Gurley only rushed four times for 10 yards, but he managed to score a goal-line touchdown. After the game, Gurley admitted his knee was fine, but he was “playing sorry” and as a result, CJ Anderson handled the majority of the workload.
The question on everyone’s mind is: is Gurley covering up an injury, or was he legitimately benched?
“Y’all can call me hurt,” said Gurley. “Y’all can call me whatever, but we’re going to the Super Bowl. It’s not about me. This sport has never been about me. It’s never been about one player.”
Gurley led the NFL with 17 rushing touchdowns and could have scored more if he didn’t want to mess with fantasy football enthusiasts and gamblers. Gurley pulled up short of a touchdown on more than one occasion, which drew the ire of gamblers and fantasy nerds alike.
Rise of CJ
Three NFL teams cut CJ Anderson over the last year before the Rams picked him up. Now he’s headed to the Super Bowl.
Anderson, originally drafted by the Denver Broncos, played in the Super Bowl as a rookie. He began the season with the Carolina Panthers. He rushed only 24 times for 104 yards for a decent 4.3 yards per carry. His final appearance with the Panthers occurred in early November when he rushed for -1 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Raiders picked him up but never played a snap for them before he was cut.
The Rams picked up Anderson shortly before Christmas. At that point, he had been out of shape for several weeks and added on 12 pounds. He jokingly referred to himself as the “fat back.” He made up for the extra weight with his keen observational skills. Anderson is a film rat and spent a significant amount of time studying game film to get up to speed.
Anderson’s sole purpose at the time was to give Gurley a spell for two games while their starter rested up for the postseason. The hefty Anderson turned heads when he rumbled for 167 yards on only 20 carries. He scored a touchdown and ripped off a 46-yard run against the last-place Arizona Cardinals.
Anderson proved his performance in Week 16 was no fluke. In the final game of the season, he rushed for 23 times and 132 yards. He scored another touchdown. In two game, he finished with 299 yards and 2 scores. He also averaged 6.9 yards per carry. Anderson achieved more than Sean McVay expected. As a result, he incorporated Anderson into the postseason playbook.
Anderson, 5-foot-8 and 225 pounds (very liberal estimate), running back is built like a tank versus the sleeker and faster Gurley.
“Our job is the same: As many first downs as we can get,” Anderson said. “Whoever gets the most first downs, that’s how it goes. But at the end of the day, if Todd plays 98 percent of the snaps, that’s what he’s going to do. We gonna be OK with that. This is Todd’s team.”
The Dallas Cowboys might have been tipping their defensive stunts, but the Rams still ran down their throats. Anderson ran up the gut for 123 yards and two touchdowns. Against the Saints in the NFC title game, Anderson rushed for 16 times for only 44 yards. The Saints held him to only 2.8 yards per carry.
During the regular season, Gurley rushed for 1,251 yards or 4.9 yards per rush. He added 580 receiving yards for 1,831 combined yards from scrimmage. He caught four touchdown passes and rushed for a league-leading 17 touchdowns.
Gurley was responsible for 21 touchdowns in the regular season. He scored three times in two playoff games. Against the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Divisional Round, Gurley scored two touchdowns and rushed for 115 yards on in 16 attempts. He averaged 7.2 yards per carry. The Cowboys could not stop Gurley and Anderson. Both of them rushed for over 100 yards each.
In the NFC Championship, Gurley was held to just five touches and 13 total yards. In the Week 9 shootout against the Saints, the Saints held Gurley to 68 yards on 13 rushes.
“I’m fine bro. We’ve been winning,” Gurley said during media say at the Super Bowl.
In his last two games of the season, Gurley rushed 23 times for 76 yards, or only 3.3 yards per carry. The Bears suffocating defense held him to 35 combined yards.
In a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Gurley rushed for 48 yards and caught 10 passes for 76 yards. He scored two rushing touchdowns and finished the day with 124 combined yards. That would be his final regular season game.
Bunk Knee or Benched?
Only the team doctors know for sure about the status of Gurley’s knee. If he did injury himself late in the season, he looked fantastic against the Cowboys. Then again, the way the Rams were blocking and the manner in which the Cowboys were tipping their defensive stunts, would have allowed an average running back to snap off 100-plus yards against them.
Gurley missed a key pass early in the first quarter of NFC Championship. Jared Goff’s pass slipped through his fingers and the Saints intercepted it. The Rams D kept the Saints out of the end zone and the Saints settled on a field goal. The Gurley was lucky that his misplay only cost them three points instead of seven.
Gurley could have legit gone on tilt after that play. McVay could have lost faith in his star RB. Luckily, he had Anderson, who was both fresh and playing peak football.
Occam’s razor suggests that McVay went with the hot hand. Anderson got most of the touches in the second half, while Gurley lurked on the sidelines feeling sorry for himself.
Super Bowl Plan
McVay suggested that Gurley will be the main component of the Rams offense in the Super Bowl.
“Any time that you have a player like Todd Gurley on your team, I’ve got to do a better job of getting him involved and getting him into the flow of the game. That’s something I have to be accountable for,” said head coach Sean McVay.
If anyone can figure out how to stop Anderson and Gurley, it’s Bill Belichick. However, this season, the New England Patriots did not fare well stopping the run game. The Pats were ranked #11 in rushing yards allowed with 112.7 yards per game. However, they were tied for third-worst worst in the NFL allowing 4.9 yards per attempt.