This is why Rams' Todd Gurley is mentioned in MVP talk

Terez PaylorSenior NFL writer
Todd Gurley is currently the NFL’s leading rusher and a big reason for L.A.’s strong offense. (Getty Images)
Todd Gurley is currently the NFL’s leading rusher and a big reason for L.A.’s strong offense. (Getty Images)

The biggest game of the NFL season is coming up Monday night, when two 9-1 teams — the Kansas City Chiefs and the Los Angeles Rams — square off at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

So it’s fitting to kickstart my weekly “Things I Enjoyed” column with some inside football items I noticed while watching both teams in their latest wins on Sunday. 

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1. Todd Gurley and the Rams’ multiple, beautiful run game

The Rams call many running plays that take advantage of running back Todd Gurley’s rare anticipation and one-cut explosion upfield.

For starters, he is a terrific zone runner, someone who will punish gap-poor teams by anticipating daylight and gashing them repeatedly. It’s a thing of beauty, allowing Gurley to get chunk yardage multiple times per game:

And then, as defenses sit on the cutback, the Rams will call a toss and Gurley can beat them to the edge with his speed:

And when Rams coach Sean McVay wants to get really nasty, he’ll run a jet action one way and call a toss to Gurley going the other:

McVay is also a huge fan of “wham” blocks — which call for a tight end or receiver to run behind the line of scrimmage to block an interior player — in his inside zone package, as much as any coach I’ve seen:

But Gurley, who leads the league in rushing yards (with 988) and touchdowns (13) isn’t doing all that on his own. His offensive line deserves a ton of credit for bringing an aggressive, downhill element to their zone running plays.

For instance, watch left guard Rodger Saffold (No. 76) and center John Sullivan (75) double Jarran Reed to the ground here:

The Rams’ second-ranked rush offense will be a test for the Chiefs’ 23rd-ranked rush defense, though it must be noted Kansas City’s unit has significantly improved the past seven weeks. Should be fun to watch.

2. Dee Ford’s #ContractSZN

It’s very difficult to play defense these days — borderline impossible — unless a team has a killer pass rusher, preferably two.

And don’t look now, but the Chiefs have just that in 2018 with Justin Houston and Dee Ford.

Ford, in particularly, has been outstanding. He had a productive season in 2016, leading the Chiefs in hurries (17) and sacks (10), but after an injury-plagued 2017, some questioned the Chiefs’ decision to pick up his $8.7 million fifth-year option.

No one is doubting that choice now. Ford, who is set to be a free agent in the spring, is fifth in the NFL in sacks (nine) and tied for second in quarterback hurries (20). And a big reason he’s doing that is his burst off the snap, which is arguably the best in the NFL in 2018.

Check out how fast Ford (No. 55) is off the ball on the following snaps:

The Chiefs will have an interesting decision to make with Ford in the spring. They can franchise him, which will be messy, or they can re-sign or trade him. The choice will come down to this reality: If the Chiefs believe Ford’s health won’t be a problem in future years, they will extend him quickly and for a whole lot of money. If they don’t, they’ll franchise or trade him. It’s that simple.

But in the meantime, “Five-Five” — Ford’s jersey number and nickname to the locals — is a helluva lot of fun to watch.

3. How Brandon Marshall can help the Saints

Last week, I wrote about how Dez Bryant would help one of the league’s most entertaining offenses. Since Bryant is now out for the year before logging a single snap — which led the Saints to sign 34-year-old wideout Brandon Marshall — it’s only fitting to check in again on how I think the 6-foot-5, 323-pound veteran will fit.

Check out the video below to get the lowdown. Hope you enjoy.

4. Leighton Vander Esch, big-play specialist

Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys’ rookie weakside linebacker, is quietly having a strong campaign. He’d better be, since the Cowboys picked him instead of former Alabama receiver Calvin Ridley, who is ripping it up for Atlanta and would have filled a major need for the Cowboys.

Regardless, Vander Esch is filling a major need, too, especially with Sean Lee’s inability to stay healthy for long periods of time. Vander Esch has racked up 76 tackles, third-most among all rookies (behind Darius Leonard of Indianapolis and Fred Warner of San Francisco) and he has also excelled in pass coverage — a boon in today’s NFL.

Check out the comfort he showed on the play below, when he picked off the Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz in zone coverage for the first interception of his career:

Vander Esch, who leads rookie linebackers in pass deflections with four, also made the play of the game late in the contest, when he sniffed out a third-and-2 screen pass to Corey Clement with a little over two minutes left that led to a 5-yard loss and an eventual turnover on downs.

The Cowboys are a disappointing 4-5 this season, but Vander Esch figures to be a key cog for years to come.

5. Quenton Nelson, run blocking

Unless you’ve been under a rock for the past week, you probably saw what Indianapolis’ rookie left guard Quenton Nelson (56) did on this play:

But you probably didn’t see Nelson break out some syrup when doubling Malik Jackson:

And you probably didn’t see Telvin Smith get in Nelson’s face after this play, realize who he is and quickly de-escalate:

Bottom line: Nelson, the No. 6 overall pick in this year’s draft, is already a badass who has proven himself to be the rare guard worthy of being taken so high. But the scariest thing about him is Nelson is just 22 years old. Wait until this guy reaches his prime, which should be from ages 26 to 28. This guy’s gonna be an All-Pro.

THINGS I ENJOYED ARCHIVE
WEEK 9: Here’s how Dez Bryant can make Saints scarier
WEEK 8: How Golden Tate, 3 others dealt at NFL trade deadline can impact their teams
WEEK 7: These Amari Cooper plays can help Dak Prescott, Cowboys soar
WEEK 6: Flying to the football, Steelers’ nasty blocking & Matt Nagy channeling Andy Reid
WEEK 5: A Tale of two Cams (Newton and Erving)
WEEK 4: The juice of Patriots RB Sony Michel and lineman who slowed down Von Miller
WEEK 3: Mahomes magic and Lane Johnson’s acting chops
WEEK 2: Dallas’ deep ball, and the ridiculousness of Mahomes and Saquon
WEEK 1: Andy Reid’s goal-line circus and more

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