In response to a question about his physical condition, Todd Gurley responded not with words, but with a look.
Gurley didn’t say anything. He just stared at me.
He eventually glanced over at a more familiar reporter in feigned indignation, as if he couldn’t understand why he would be asked about his health after carrying the football only five times in a 55-40 defeat to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The explanation offered for the Rams’ limited use of Gurley has never made any sense. Gurley and the team would like the world to believe that Sean McVay suddenly forgot how to coach, that McVay thinks that keeping the ball out of Gurley’s hands somehow makes a victory more likely.
This is a player who was the league’s offensive player of the year in 2017, a player in whom the Rams invested a guaranteed $45 million last year.
Something is clearly wrong with Gurley and that something is almost certainly the surgically repaired left knee that slowed him down last year.
If Gurley doesn’t want to publicly acknowledge he’s physically diminished, that’s fine, and if the Rams want to play along with him, that’s fine too.
But this charade has to have boundaries.
It’s one thing to say Gurley is healthy. It’s another to have him on the field for the majority of snaps when they rarely have plans to hand him the ball.
If Gurley can’t shoulder the workload of a feature back, replace him with someone who can. Start Malcolm Brown. Do something.
Because this isn’t working.
Gurley didn’t have a carry the entire first quarter and finished the game with 16 yards on the ground. The Rams had a total of 28 rushing yards in 11 attempts, including one by receiver Cooper Kupp for a loss of two yards.
And Gurley wasn’t a particularly effective decoy.
The Buccaneers knew the Rams weren’t running the ball and keyed on Jared Goff, subjecting him to the kind of physical beating he used to absorb as a rookie under then-coach Jeff Fisher.
Goff attempted 68 passes, the most in his career. He threw for a career-high 517 yards, but had three passes intercepted and lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown.
McVay might be an offensive mastermind, but even he needs a ground game, or at least a threat of one.
“It’s hard to win in this league, usually, when you’re doing that,” left tackle Andrew Whitworth said.
Gurley still can be used in certain situations.
Based on how McVay has used him, it appears certain elements of his game remain intact.
On both of his touchdown runs, the offensive line was moving one way and Gurley cut back in the opposite direction.
He was also targeted 11 times by Goff, which indicates the Rams are comfortable with him receiving the ball. Gurley caught seven passes for 54 yards.
What Gurley hasn’t demonstrated is that he can still maneuver through narrow gaps on the offensive line and explode.
McVay continued to insist that strategy was why he kept the ball out of his best player’s hands.
“We’re doing what we can to try to find a way to win games,” he said.
Asked if opposing defenses were doing something that dissuaded him from running the ball more, McVay replied, “There’s a lot of different things. Ultimately, it’s our job to figure out what we think is the best way to move the football and score points and that was what we decided on, that was what I decided on today.”
Gurley claimed he was comfortable with that.
“I control what I control, man, you know?” he said. “At the end of the day, we didn’t get the win, whether I had 20 carries or two carries. We didn’t get the win. That’s the main thing.”
But wouldn’t the Rams’ chances of winning have increased if he carried the ball more?
“I mean, everybody got an opinion, but that’s why y’all in the stands, y’all reporters and not coaches and players,” Gurley said. “McVay knows what he’s doing, Goff knows what he’s doing.”
Gurley was asked the same question as McVay, whether defenses were doing anything in particular to make the Rams less inclined to run the ball.
“I don’t call the play calls, bro,” he said.
OK, but what is he seeing on the field?
“I don’t call the play calls,” he repeated.
He’s right. McVay does. And time has come for the coach to make a move. The Rams didn’t fool anyone in the Super Bowl last year and they’re not fooling anyone now.