LOS ANGELES -- Todd Gurley fell off as a second-year running back in a way few ever have, from 1,097 yards in 12 starts to 885 yards in 16 of them.
His new coach sees it more as a system-wide failure.
"The run game," Los Angeles Rams rookie head coach Sean McVay said from the owners meetings last week, "takes all 11 -- whether it’s getting it targeted up front the right way with your linemen, having receivers that are willing to come down and block safeties when they bring an eighth guy down in the box, if you’ve got some run-pass options with the quarterback where you want to run it versus a two-safety look and throw it versus single-high. I think it takes all 11. And the back has to do a great job pressing it or reading out his keys, because everybody is tied together."
Gurley went from being named Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2015 to amassing the fewest rushing yards ever for someone with at least 275 attempts in 2016. He averaged 3.18 yards per carry and 1.59 yards before first contact, both of which trailed only Doug Martin for the worst among qualified rushers.
Throughout the year, most of the blame was pinned to the circumstance, because the Rams' inability to scare teams with their passing attack allowed defenses to stack the box and cheat against the run. But at the end of the season, young guard Jamon Brown called for the running backs and offensive linemen to get on the same page. The Rams' running backs coach, Skip Peete, talked about how Gurley "pressed" when the initial results didn't come and often times went away from the play.
But at its core, it usually comes down to blocking -- and the Rams should be better equipped for that.
They signed one of the game's premier pass blockers, Andrew Whitworth, as their new left tackle. They added Robert Woods, widely regarded one of the game's best blocking receivers. And they brought in a new offensive line coach, Aaron Kromer, who spent the last two years with a Bills team that led the NFL in rushing yards per carry.
As the Redskins' playcaller and offensive coordinator these last two years, McVay relied heavily on quarterback play and was never able to attain the ideal run-pass balance he always seeks.
But he believes he can obtain that with Gurley.
"A lot of times you have a tendency to just look at the stats instead of the actual tape," McVay said, referencing Gurley. "I think you still see a natural runner who’s got a great body lean; he has a natural feel for how to work edges on people. And I think that showed up in spurts last year. Clearly, what he did in his rookie year, I think it sets the expectations where this guy is going to be a great back year-in and year-out. And that’s what we feel, too. I think Todd’s motivated, challenged in the right way to respond, and can have a bounce-back year. But it’s going to take everybody, and Todd is going to be a big part of it."