Gurley’s use in the NFC championship game makes little sense if he’s healthy. Gurley has established himself as one of the best players in football, an MVP candidate before a knee injury in Week 15. And on Sunday, he was mostly sitting behind C.J. Anderson, who was cut by the Panthers and Raiders during the regular season, as the Rams beat the New Orleans Saints.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Gurley was in for 32 plays, the fewest he has played in two seasons with Rams coach Sean McVay. Anderson had 35 plays. Anderson had 17 touches and Gurley had five. Gurley had 10 yards on just four carries, including a touchdown. Anderson averaged just 2.8 yards per carry.
Anderson had been on a nice roll after the Rams picked him up to replace Gurley while he was out, but it’s truly baffling how Anderson was playing more than him. The only thing that makes sense is that Gurley is hurt, but the Rams deny that.
Sean McVay says Todd Gurley’s lack of use a game flow issue
During the game, Fox said the Rams told the network there was “nothing physically wrong” with Gurley. Fox asked because everyone was stunned that Gurley was sitting. Gurley had two big drops early, one that led to a Saints interception, but he’s still one of the Rams’ best players.
McVay continued to say after the game that Anderson’s usage, and Gurley’s lack of snaps, was simply a coaching decision.
“It was a flow for the game,” McVay said.
That’s a weird answer considering there shouldn’t be any game flow in which Anderson is superior to Gurley, but that’s what he stuck with. McVay went out of his way to praise a 6-yard run by Gurley when the Rams were backed up at their 9-yard line. That was Gurley’s only carry after halftime.
“What personifies Todd is this is an MVP caliber player and he kept fighting, he kept supporting his teammates, he’s going to have an instrumental role in your game against whoever we play, whether it be the Patriots or the Chiefs,” McVay said. “Today, that was just a feel for the flow of the game we had, not anything against Todd. C.J. did a nice job. I thought they did a good job as a whole slowing down your run game and we had to grind some things out today. But Todd is a special player and couldn’t be more impressed with the way he handled himself. Then he ended up making a big-time play that ended up in us winning the football game.”
McVay saying Gurley will play a key role in Super Bowl LIII shouldn’t need to even be said, but after Sunday, it’s a legitimate question.
Gurley was hurt late in the season
Gurley sat out in Week 16 and 17 with a knee injury. He came back for the divisional round game and had more than 100 yards rushing, but still didn’t look quite right. He hadn’t played football in three weeks, so some rust was understandable.
There shouldn’t have been more rust on Sunday, and the Rams insist he’s not hurt, yet he barely played. Anderson is a good player and has been a pleasant surprise, but Gurley has 3,924 yards and 40 touchdowns from scrimmage the last two years. The Rams signed him to a four-year, $60 million extension with $45 million guaranteed. He shouldn’t all of a sudden be rooting on Anderson from the sideline in an NFC championship game.
Gurley took blame for his lack of playing time, saying “I was sorry,” according to NFL Network’s Steve Wyche. He expanded on that to ESPN’s Josina Anderson:
Todd Gurley to @JosinaAnderson: "I didn't play good. I didn't deserve to be in there. CJ was in there. He did his thing. Everybody held me down. We all held each other, and we just got it done. We just got it done. Thank you Lord. Thank you."
— Lindsey Thiry (@LindseyThiry) January 21, 2019
While Gurley had two drops and wasn’t great in blitz pickup, it’s still odd he only got one carry after halftime. It’s not like the Rams used a few plays in the first half to determine Gurley suddenly wasn’t good enough to play.
Maybe we’ll find out after the Super Bowl what was truly going on, perhaps how injured Gurley has been during the postseason. But the key point is the Rams got almost nothing out of their superstar back and still are going to the Super Bowl. Now we have two weeks to figure out what kind of role Gurley will have in the final game of the season.
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