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Rams trying 'different things' to get Todd Gurley back on track

EARTH CITY, Mo. -- After the most prolific four-start beginning to a career by a running back in NFL history, the St. Louis Rams' Todd Gurley was bound to have at least a minor drop-off in production.

Logic dictated that Gurley would see more defenses keyed on stopping him and daring the Rams' anemic passing attack to beat them. And sure enough, Gurley's output over the past three games has paled in comparison to his first four starts.

Which has put the onus on Rams coach Jeff Fisher and his staff to find a way to get Gurley and, by extension, the Rams offense, going.

"We have to run the football better," Fisher said. "We’re working on that right now, as we speak. We have to do some different things in the run game. Todd’s longest carry [Sunday] was 7 yards and the longest last week was 9, so we have to do a better job up front."

In Gurley's first four starts, he had three touchdowns on 88 carries for 566 yards, an average of 6.43 yards per attempt. In the past three weeks, he has the same number of touchdowns on 61 carries for 200 yards, an average of just 3.28 yards per attempt.

When Fisher referred to doing a better job up front, he also mentioned the outbreak of injuries that have made Gurley's job more difficult. The offensive line has been plagued with injuries, losing starting guards Rodger Saffold and Jamon Brown for the season. Right tackle Rob Havenstein is dealing with a calf issue and has missed two of the past three games. And rookie tackles Andrew Donnal and Darrell Williams have missed chunks of time.

Even before all of those issues, the line wasn't consistently creating big holes for Gurley to run through. In Gurley's first four starts he had 15 runs of 10 yards or more and seven carries of 20-plus yards. In the past three games, Gurley has three runs of 10 yards or more and none of 20 or more.

When it comes to yards before contact, a good measure of how much space a line is creating in the run game, Gurley was getting 3.98 yards per carry in his first four starts. Since, he's averaging 1.8 yards before contact.

By Gurley's own admission, the line dancing in front of him has made things more difficult, a difference he sees when he watches the film.

"[I'm] still running hard, but like I said, it’s kind of a tough adjustment," Gurley said. "You’ve got four guys down. So, that’s always going to be a tough adjustment, new guys coming in. At the end of the day, we’ve still got to play hard and execute and make the calls and do everything else up front.”

Like a quarterback adjusting to new receivers, Gurley says there's a period of adjustment where a running back has to get used to the players blocking for him.

“Yeah, definitely, one lineman might react a lot different or his reaction time might not be as quick or as fast as the one before," Gurley said. "But like I said, everybody’s been doing a great job preparing and putting in the work throughout the week. We’ve just got to come to the game with that.”

Against Baltimore last week, Gurley had his worst outing since becoming a starter, rushing for 66 yards on 25 carries, an average of 2.64 yards per attempt. He also coughed up a fumble, though that came on a run like many others where he was hit almost as soon as he received the ball. With defenders on him so fast, Gurley's yards after contact has also dropped from 2.45 per rush in his first four starts to 1.48 over the past three.

For what it's worth, Gurley said Tuesday that his surgically repaired knee hasn't given him any problems, and that while he generally feels the aches and pains on Sunday, he begins feeling better by Monday. Eight games into his career, Gurley's dip in production doesn't seem to be a function of a rookie wall so much as a lack of help.

“Todd is a good runner," Fisher said. "This is not Todd’s issue right now. This is an offensive issue.”

There's little doubt the Rams have an offensive issue -- it's one that's existed for most of the year -- but there also doesn't seem to be any magic pill to fix that problem.

“Coaches have been doing a great job all year, but they implemented some new runs and we’ll try them out this week and see how they go,” Gurley said.

It remains to be seen what fixes to the run game the Rams are making (they're not offering details at the moment), but there's little doubt they have to do something, anything to get their best offensive player back on track.