Since Sean McVay took the Los Angeles Rams’ coaching job before the 2017 season, the offense has been based around the rushing and receiving of running back Todd Gurley.
Over the two previous seasons, Gurley has rushed for 2,556 yards and caught 123 passes for 1,368 yards, scoring a whopping 40 touchdowns. That Los Angeles has won consecutive NFC West titles and earned a controversial NFC title last season is no coincidence.
But Gurley, whether because the team is trying to manage a sore knee or because of other factors, hasn’t been a big difference-maker during this year’s 3-0 start. He’s rushed for 203 yards on 44 carries while managing only four catches for eight yards. And he has scored only once.
Asked about a lesser workload for Gurley prior to Sunday’s afternoon visit from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, McVay told reporters it’s a matter of getting more snaps from scrimmage.
“Being efficient on those early drives and being able to sustain drives,” McVay said. “The more plays we get, the better it is for everybody because the more opportunities and the more of a rhythm that we can get in where we’re able to do a handful of different things.”
Yet the Rams actually rank tied for ninth in plays run with 197, and may get a chance to match or eclipse their average of 65.7 snaps per game against a Tampa Bay defense that’s allowing nearly 26 points per game. Last week, the Buccaneers were carved up for 336 yards and two touchdown passes (and another two touchdowns rushing) by rookie quarterback Daniel Jones in a 32-31 loss to the New York Giants.
Yet Tampa Bay (1-2) probably should be packing a 2-1 record for its trip across three time zones. The Buccaneers used the last 1:16 after Jones’ go-ahead scoring run to position rookie kicker Matt Gay for a game-winning 34-yard field goal attempt from the field’s middle, but Gay pushed it wide right.
A few hours after Tampa Bay lost a game in which it led 28-10 at halftime, Los Angeles was grinding out a 20-13 win in Cleveland, thanks largely to its defense. The Rams came up with a goal-line stand in the last minute, stopping the Browns on four plays from the 4-yard line as their defensive line forced inaccurate back-foot throws from Baker Mayfield.
Los Angeles’ front four faces an interesting challenge this week. Under first-year coach Bruce Arians and offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich, the Buccaneers have established an identity of power runs on first down to set up play-action throws from Jameis Winston.
Tampa Bay ranks eighth in the league in rushing at 121.7 yards per game, just two yards behind the Rams, and has controlled the ball for more than 32 minutes per game.
“I just think it’s such a positive when you’re able to run the football, no matter if it’s first down or what,” said Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston. “The more effective we are and if we continue to be efficient, eventually it will open up some big play-action shots for us. As long as we keep running the ball effectively, I’m happy.”
—Field Level Media