ARLINGTON, Texas -- Everybody wondered whether Todd Gurley could round back into the form of his rookie season, but nobody considered the possibility of him being even better.
Gurley, his nightmare 2016 season now only a distant memory, is dominating both on the ground and through the air.
On Sunday, in the Los Angeles Rams' eye-opening 35-30 road win over the Dallas Cowboys, Gurley gained 215 yards from scrimmage, the most by a Rams player since Steven Jackson in 2006. He gained 121 yards on 23 carries and had a career-high 94 receiving yards on a career-high seven catches. He scored his seventh touchdown, one more than he scored all of last year and, according to Elias Sports Bureau, tied with Elroy "Crazy Legs" Hirsch in 1951 for the most in Rams history through the first four games.
"Todd's a special player," said Rams coach Sean McVay, who has given Gurley an NFL-leading 106 touches this season. "Just because last year, from a numbers standpoint, maybe it wasn't what we would have liked, that doesn't take away from some of the things he did on tape when you really study it. These are things that we expect from Todd, and I know he expects of himself."
Gurley began to show last season what he could do as a receiver, but he has taken that to another level this year. He has hauled in 20 of his 22 targets -- including all seven on Sunday -- and has gone three straight games with a receiving touchdown, after not having any receiving touchdowns in 30 previous games. His last one came on a 53-yard wheel route that gave the Rams their first lead in the third quarter and represented Gurley's longest career reception.
Gurley gained 67 of his receiving yards after the catch.
"Any time you give him the ball in space, you get to see what he can do," Rams quarterback Jared Goff said. "I try to remind myself every week to continue to look for him and to continue to try to get him the ball in any situation possible."
The most encouraging signs, though, have come on the ground.
Gurley picked up only 885 rushing yards last season, the fewest in history for someone with more than 275 carries. He went 20 consecutive games without reaching triple-digit yards on the ground but has 234 rushing yards in back-to-back weeks. Gurley gained 5.3 yards per carry Sunday and totaled 95 yards on 17 carries on first down. Sixteen of his 23 rushing attempts came with six or fewer defenders in the box, according to ESPN Stats & Information -- a sign that defenses are finally respecting Goff's ability to beat them down the field.
In the second half, Gurley averaged 3.0 yards per rush after contact (he averaged 1.6 yards after contact last year).
"It's a plethora of things," Rams left guard Rodger Saffold said of why the Rams are running the ball more effectively. "... We've just got that effort. We're giving 1,000 percent every play because we want him to go out and score, we want him to be able to run the ball and he's doing it constantly. And it's because of all the work that he put in that nobody saw in the offseason."
After the game, a reporter asked Gurley a question about being the team's leading receiver and assumed it didn't mean much to him. "Oh, it means a lot to me," Gurley said playfully. He chuckled at how he's acting so much like a receiver and Tavon Austin -- six carries for 48 yards -- is looking like "a mini running back." Gurley laughed at that comment, too.
He's smiling a lot more these days.
"I am," Gurley said. "I’m telling you, man, when you're winning, it makes everything so much better."