Questions remain about Todd Gurley's playoff performance, and his future

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- It's a question that could linger throughout the Los Angeles Rams' offseason, because no explanation seems to suffice.

What really happened to cause running back Todd Gurley to fade into obscurity during the NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl LIII? And how could Gurley's situation affect the running back corps going into the 2019 season?

After an initial prognosis that listed Gurley as day-to-day, the highest-paid running back in NFL history sat out the final two games of the regular season because of inflammation and soreness in his left knee, the same knee that was surgically repaired his junior season at Georgia in 2014.

Gurley appeared on the Rams' injury report for three weeks (the Rams did not release an injury report during a bye week before the playoffs), then played in a divisional-round game against the Dallas Cowboys. He appeared healthy and fresh, as he split carries with backup C.J. Anderson, who signed in mid-December. Anderson proved himself as a capable option when he rushed for a combined 299 yards in the final two regular-season games against the Arizona Cardinals and San Francisco 49ers.

Against the Cowboys, Gurley and Anderson combined to rush for 238 yards and three touchdowns.

Their performance inspired coach Sean McVay to go with a two-back rotation in the playoffs.

"They were both just in a really good rhythm," McVay said after the season. "I think the ideal scenario that we had gone into the playoffs with was what you saw in Dallas, where it was both of those guys getting involved."

But that is not how the Gurley-Anderson combination played out.

Gurley, then the reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year, stood on the sideline for 54 percent of the snaps in a conference championship win over the New Orleans Saints and gained 13 total yards, with a touchdown, on five touches.

Two weeks later, in a loss to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl, Gurley's stagnation continued. He played 66 percent of the snaps and rushed for only 34 yards on 10 carries.

After the season, McVay pointed to a lack of opportunities to get Gurley going against the Patriots.

"Todd gets into a little bit of a rhythm or it seems like when we'd have a good positive run then something would inevitably occur to set us back," McVay said. "And then when you're not efficient on third downs, we just didn't get a lot of attempts off."

Since the season ended, speculation has continued about Gurley's health, and whether an ailing knee was what kept him on the sideline and from performing to his standard level.

But two days before the Super Bowl, McVay said that Gurley was "100 percent," and immediately after the game, Gurley said that he "felt good."

"It's a team sport. There's 11 people on the field," Gurley said. "Everyone can't touch the ball. Still a great season by us. I'm blessed either way it goes."

Gurley, 24, declined to speak with reporters two days after the game as he cleaned out his locker for the offseason.

As the Rams attempt to put the Super Bowl loss behind them, and look ahead to the 2019 season, questions linger about the running back corps.

But this much we know: Last July, Gurley signed a four-year extension worth $60 million, with $45 million guaranteed, to become the highest-paid running back in NFL history. He proved his worth as he rushed for 1,251 yards on 256 carries, caught 59 passes for 580 yards and scored a league-best 21 touchdowns.

He is undoubtedly the franchise's marquee player on offense.

What remains uncertain is whether Gurley will experience a decrease in his workload going forward.

Gurley ranked fourth in the NFL last season -- despite sitting out the final two games of the regular season -- with 315 total touches, a pace that might be unlikely to continue after he experienced discomfort in his knee.

Anderson is a pending unrestricted free agent, and proved -- despite being released from three organizations over the past year -- that he remains a capable back after six seasons in the NFL. Anderson, 28, will test the market.

"Who knows how this business will go," Anderson said after the season. "If the cards allow it, I'll be here. If not, I'll go have fun somewhere else."

Malcolm Brown, Gurley's trusted backup the last three seasons, is a pending restricted free agent. Brown was placed on injured reserve after Week 13 because of a clavicle injury, but appeared on the mend when he was seen around the practice facility in the final weeks of the season.

Because of Brown's season-ending injury, coupled with a lack of significant playing time, it's unlikely that another organization will make an offer to the four-year backup. But Brown could figure more into the Rams' plan next season if the organization is looking to ease some of the load on Gurley. Brown has rushed for 514 yards and a touchdown on 128 carries and has caught 18 passes for 149 yards and a touchdown dating to the 2015 season.

Justin Davis, a second-year pro, and rookie John Kelly spent most of the season on the inactive list and have their work cut out over the offseason as they attempt to prove they can add value on special teams as well as on offense.