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Rams

Why didn’t the Rams’ Todd Gurley touch the ball in fourth quarter against Steelers?

Rams running back Todd Gurley breaks free from the Steelers’ defense for a gain in the third quarter.
Rams running back Todd Gurley breaks free from the Steelers’ defense for a gain in the third quarter. The running back did not touch the ball in the fourth quarter.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The answer was delivered without anger or frustration. It arrived in a matter-of-fact tone.

After the Rams’ 17-12 defeat to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday, a game in which Todd Gurley inexplicably did not touch the ball in the fourth quarter, the star running back was asked if he wished he would see the ball more in the second half or get more carries.

“Not really,” he said. “I mean, kind of used to it.”

With the Rams having won two games in a row and returning from a week off, the stage appeared set for coach Sean McVay to finally turn loose one of the NFL’s most dynamic and well-compensated playmakers.

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It did not happen.

Backup Malcolm Brown got fourth-quarter carries. Gurley did not.

As the Rams prepare for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears at the Coliseum, McVay has given no indication that he plans to stray from how he has deployed Gurley, a player who before the 2018 season received an extension that includes $45 million in guarantees.

McVay has insisted that there is no “pitch count” or workload management plan for Gurley and his much-scrutinized left knee. But the Steelers game was the latest example that told another story.

Usually explosive Rams produce a field goal on offense, and squander a defensive effort that included a fumble return for a TD and a safety in loss to Steelers.

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In the first half, Gurley carried the ball six times for 35 yards, averaging 5.8 yards per carry. By the end of the third quarter, he had 12 carries for 73 yards, an average of 6.1 yards per carry. He had broken free for a 22-yard gain, and then a five-yard gain that helped set up a pass to Robert Woods on the next play.

Gurley, to the delight of Rams fans, looked much like the back who won the 2017 NFL offensive player of the year award, and the Rams offense finally resembled the unit that mostly dominated in 2017 and 2018.

Brown replaced Gurley and carried the ball twice before Gurley returned for the final two carries of a drive that ended with a field goal.

And then, suddenly, Gurley was gone.

Brown, who sat out the previous two games because of ankle injury, played the first two series of the fourth quarter. The Steelers then masterfully took eight minutes off the clock during a drive that ended with a field goal.

“Not to take anything away from Malcolm — but if you knew that that was going to be the last possession you get until 2 1/2 [minutes] left, you probably would say, ‘I would’ve preferred to have Todd get into more of a rhythm and maybe get some touches there,’ ” McVay said Monday. “There’s nobody to blame there but me.”

The Rams got the ball twice with a chance to win the game. Gurley never touched it.

“Like anything else, when you want to be reflective as a coach, you say, ‘Could there have been some things that you wish you had done to maybe keep him in that rhythm?’ ’’ McVay said. “I wouldn’t argue with that. I would say, ‘You probably should have done that.’ ”

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McVay has yet to use Gurley similar to the way he utilized Brown against the San Francisco 49ers on Oct. 13. Gurley sat out that game because of a thigh bruise. On the Rams’ first series, McVay made a statement, calling four consecutive running plays for Brown, and five total, during a seven-play drive that also included two runs by receiver Woods, including one for a touchdown.

Can’t he do the same with Gurley?

“You’d like to say, ‘Yes.’ But, I can’t always tell you exactly how a game is going to unfold,” McVay said. “You don’t always exactly anticipate, ‘Man, we’re going to have this many efficient plays in a row, so we can really continue to do that.’

“A lot of it is predicated on what the defense is presenting, and what do we feel like the best thing is to attack that?”

Maximizing Gurley’s talents has not been part of that equation. In 2018, Gurley had at least 18 carries seven times, including six games in which he carried the ball 20 times or more. Gurley has not carried the ball more than 18 times in a game this season.

McVay alternated Brown with Gurley early in the season. Rookie Darrell Henderson got more opportunities as the season progressed. But neither puts the fear into the hearts of defensive coordinators like Gurley.

It won’t get any easier moving forward. The Rams’ offensive line, shaky and inexperienced at a few positions during first half of the season, is now in full crisis mode.

The Rams will have to further shuffle their offensive line with Brian Allen being ruled out for the season and right tackle Rob Havenstein out at least a week.

Center Brian Allen suffered a season-ending knee injury against the Steelers and veteran right tackle Rob Havenstein suffered a knee injury that will sideline him against the Bears and possibly longer.
That could put the onus again on the Rams’ defense, which played well against the Steelers.

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“Defense played a hell of a game,” Gurley said. “Just weren’t able to help those guys out, honestly. Great game, but just gotta finish.”

Giving the ball to Gurley down the stretch might help.

Etc.

The Rams placed Allen and linebacker Bryce Hager (neck) on injured reserve. ... The Rams will play the 49ers at Levi’s Stadium on Saturday, Dec. 21, at 5:15 p.m., the league announced. ... The Rams were off Tuesday. They resume practice Wednesday.


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