This season, Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley looks like he finally returned to his rookie form. He ran for 113 yards and two touchdowns in a 41-39 win over the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. He also corralled five passes for 36 yards and a touchdown.
Gurley hasn't rushed for 100 yards in a game since his rookie season, and he's still struggling to break off long runs this year — averaging 3.8 yards per carry. But he's dominating in two different areas this season: the passing game and in the red zone.
Get Gurley in space, and he will make you pay
So far this season, Gurley has caught 13 passes for 140 yards and two scores. Gurley failed to collect a receiving touchdown in his first two seasons under Jeff Fisher. Fisher’s run-first approach didn't allow Gurley to run routes out of the backfield. And when the Rams' rushing attack failed to generate yards, Fisher couldn't find ways to get the ball in Gurley's hands.
Well, that's not the case with Sean McVay, a pass-happy head coach who loves getting his running backs involved in the passing game.
Like last year, the Rams are struggling on the ground, but McVay is still using Gurley's blend of size, speed, and power in the passing game. He allows Gurley to run routes out of the backfield and line up as a receiver. The 23-year-old runner displayed his talents as a pass catcher against San Francisco.
The game before, in the Rams' Week 2 loss against Washington, Gurley registered 48 receiving yards and this incredible 18-yard touchdown pass.
After the Rams' victory over the 49ers, Gurley joined the Thursday Night Football set and said he bought in to McVay's system.
"When you can avoid one person instead of 11, I'll do that all day," Gurley said. He said he looked at how running backs like Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson terrorized defenses in the passing game. Gurley considers Bell and Johnson as some of the best running backs. Both players totaled more than 1,800 scrimmage yards in 2016.
"In order to be the best, you have to what the other bests are doing. And you have to step your game up. Last year, I wasn't able to run the ball as efficient, you know. I gotta open my wings up and do something else."
Gurley is a monster in the red zone
Gurley is a 227-pound man, so it would behoove any coach to use his strength and size in the red zone. Well, McVay is doing just that and then some. Gurley has received more touches than anyone in the red zone this season, and that was especially the case against the 49ers.
Last night Todd Gurley had 9 touches inside the 15 yd line. On the season, no other RB has more than 8 through 2 weeks.— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 22, 2017
In fact, Gurley, who has already matched his touchdown total from last season, has scored all six of his touchdowns this year from inside the red zone. McVay is doing a wonderful job of using Gurley's skill set when the team needs to cap off drives with points.
Defenses underestimate Gurley's athleticism and speed. As you can see here against the 49ers, Gurley looked like he was going to run up the gut for a score, but the hole closed quickly. Then, he bounced the run to the outside and turned the play to an all-out track meet to the pylon.
McVay knows that a running game only averaging 3.3 yards per carry so far has room to grow, but he's finding creative ways to get Gurley involved and it’s paying off. The Rams are off to a fast start this year, averaging a league-high 35.7 points per game. Also, the offensive line is playing better, and Jared Goff is growing in front of our eyes.
But Gurley is the straw that stirs Los Angeles' cup of success. When he's involved early, the Rams can open up their playbook. He looks like a different player from a year ago, and you have to thank McVay and his talented coaching staff for that.