Rams relying heavily on Jared Goff, diminishing the load on Todd Gurley

Goff making strides in second season (2:06)

The First Take crew notices how Rams QB Jared Goff has flourished under head coach Sean McVay as opposed to how he looked under Jeff Fisher . (2:06)

THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Rams led by 10 points near the midway point of the fourth quarter, needing a sustained drive to put themselves in position for a win over the New Orleans Saints. It was a point in the game when most head coaches rely heavily on the run to shave time off the clock, but the Rams kept chucking it.

Jared Goff threw the ball seven times in the 13-play, 67-yard drive that absorbed five and a half minutes, led to a field goal and basically iced an eventual 26-20 victory.

It was the manifestation of a game plan that called for a heavy passing attack against an injury-riddled secondary, but it was also the continuation of a recent trend.

Goff has thrown 117 passes over the past three weeks, trailing only Ben Roethlisberger (121) for the NFL lead. A Rams player -- be it Todd Gurley II, Tavon Austin or Lance Dunbar -- has run the ball only 58 times during that stretch, less than half the time. It has given the Rams the NFL's second-heaviest pass ratio from Weeks 10 to 12, behind only a Miami Dolphins team that has suffered three consecutive lopsided defeats.

Sean McVay, the Rams' head coach and offensive playcaller, will tell you Sunday's approach had "a lot" to do with growing trust in Goff's abilities.

"We felt like going into the game as a staff, and really as a team, that we had to keep our foot on the gas the whole game and really play to win that game, not being afraid to lose it," McVay said. "And when you have the confidence and trust in your quarterback like we do, you feel like you can put it in his hands to be able to make good decisions in those situations."

Goff sports the NFL's fifth-best interception rate and went five weeks without one, until Sammy Watkins' desperation attempt on Sunday resulted in him tipping the ball to an opposing cornerback. Goff threw the ball 43 times in Week 10, even though the Rams routed the Houston Texans. He threw the ball 37 times in Week 11, in a game against the Minnesota Vikings that was tied 7-7 heading into the fourth quarter. And he threw the ball 37 times in Week 12, a Sunday when the Rams never trailed.

Gurley's carries in those three games: 11, 15 and 17.

The Rams' star running back is averaging 14.75 carries over the past four games after averaging 20.71 carries in the seven games that preceded that stretch.

"It is what it is," Gurley said after running for 74 yards and catching for 54 on Sunday. "We was winning, so it's all good."

Gurley trails only Le'Veon Bell in carries (204), touches (246) and scrimmage yards (1,344), while leading the NFL in touchdowns (11). But the Rams have lightened his workload on the ground of late, and McVay will tell you there was a distinct reason for it on Sunday.

The Rams were without both Dunbar and Malcolm Brown, which meant they didn't have anybody who could block -- or be a check-down option -- in third-down passing situations. McVay needed to keep Gurley fresh whenever possible on early downs, which is why Austin lined up as a singleback on back-to-back snaps to start one of the Rams' possessions.

"Todd almost played every single snap, and the toll that it takes on you when you carry the football, then we're asking him to stay in on the known passing situations and protect, all those different things -- we wanted to be smart, while also trying to get Tavon a little bit more involved," McVay explained, adding that Gurley "will always be featured" in the offense.

Gurley has played in 557 offensive snaps, second only to Bell (657) for the lead among NFL running backs. The Rams are conscious of preserving Gurley, who had a heavy workload early in the season. But McVay said Gurley has "demonstrated that he can handle it all," so that really isn't a problem.

McVay said Gurley's workload on the ground "depends on the flow of the game."

"We always do want to maintain a level of run-pass balance in an ideal situation," McVay said, "but I think what's most important is we want to do what's best to move the football."

That means not being afraid to throw it if opposing defenses are providing the right look -- no matter how young the quarterback, how good the running back or how unconventional the situation.

Goff -- with 18 touchdowns, five interceptions and 2,964 passing yards in his first 11 games -- is earning that right.

"When you throw it a little bit more than you're accustomed to seeing, I think that's a great representation of the confidence we have in Jared," McVay said.

"Everybody tries to stop Gurley, and now we have Jared doing it with his arm," Rams left guard Rodger Saffold added. "That puts a lot of confidence in us. Now it's like we have this two-headed monster. Who do you want to stop? That's going to open up the running game, and it's going to open up the passing game."