The positive effects of Todd Gurley’s best performance of the season were evident in the minutes that immediately followed it and throughout the last week.
The Rams’ star running back smiled, joked and embraced questions from reporters after he carried the ball a season-high 25 times for 97 yards in a victory over the Chicago Bears. The next evening, he posed for countless photos, signed autographs and easily worked the crowd at Universal Studios during the Taste of the Rams charity event benefiting the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank.
And he appeared fit and nimble, with no signs of overuse, during drills as the Rams prepared for Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens at the Coliseum.
So will coach Sean McVay and the Rams once again put the ball in Gurley’s hands against the Ravens?
“We’ll see,” Gurley said. “We’ll see what happens.”
The Rams’ main focus against the Ravens will be trying to neutralize quarterback Lamar Jackson, a dual-threat star who has led his team to an 8-2 record and six consecutive victories.
Another focus for the Rams is to score, and a key to the potent offenses that were their hallmark in 2017 and 2018 was an attack that ran through and played off the threat of Gurley.
McVay, in an apparent attempt to manage Gurley’s much-scrutinized left knee, strayed from that formula in the first nine games this season. Two weeks ago in Pittsburgh, Gurley did not touch the ball in the fourth quarter of a 17-12 defeat that had the Rams teetering on falling out of playoff contention.
But against the Bears, with receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods absent and a mostly young and inexperienced offensive line patched together because of injuries, McVay turned to Gurley.
“You don’t want to make the same mistakes twice,” McVay said after his team improved its record to 6-4.
The question now is whether McVay will deploy Gurley in a similar fashion two games in a row and, perhaps, beyond.
The Rams’ offense, in disarray against the Bears, is mostly coming back together against the Ravens.
Cooks, a deep-ball threat, has returned after sitting out two games while recovering from his second concussion of the season. The versatile Woods also is expected to play after missing last week because of a family issue. Right tackle Rob Havenstein remains sidelined because of a knee injury, but the line gained experience and confidence after clearing the way for Gurley and effectively protecting quarterback Jared Goff against the Bears.
The Rams won that game, 17-7. They are expected to need more scoring against a Ravens team that comes into the game averaging 34.1 points a game.
“We need to be better than that,” Goff said of the 17 points scored against the Bears, “and it starts with me.”
Goff, who signed a massive contract extension before the season, has passed for 11 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. Against the Bears, he completed 11 of 18 passes for 173 yards, with an interception.
Asked to assess Goff’s performance this season, McVay says he focuses on whether his quarterback plays within the timing and rhythm of the play, makes good decisions and delivers the ball with anticipation and accuracy.
“There are a lot of times that you can check off all three of those and then there’s sometimes where we expect to be better,” McVay said, “and I know he expects to be better.”
The last time the Rams played on “Monday Night Football,” Goff completed 31 of 49 passes for 413 yards and four touchdowns, and also ran for a touchdown, in a 54-51 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.
The matchup against the Ravens has similar elements.
The Chiefs featured second-year quarterback Patrick Mahomes, who was on his way to an MVP season. Jackson, a second-year pro, is regarded as an MVP front-runner.
Goff’s main concern is winning a game that would keep alive the Rams’ chances of a third consecutive playoff appearance.
He reiterated this week that he did not care about the number of pass plays called. He pointed to the formula McVay employed against the Bears.
“We were using Todd a lot, and he was doing his thing,” Goff said. “Sure, I want to throw the ball a bunch.
“But, if I throw the ball once and we win, I’m happy with it.”