Since becoming the Rams coach in 2017, Sean McVay never has shied from accountability. He protectively falls on the sword for every miscue or poor performance by players, saying it was his fault for not putting them in better positions.
But as the play-caller, his limited use of running back Todd Gurley during the first half of the season indisputably was McVay’s error — and his alone — to own.
He all but did so Wednesday when asked what precipitated Gurley’s increased usage of late.
“Me not being an idiot?” McVay said.
Three days earlier against the Arizona Cardinals, McVay’s offense finally resembled the balanced, big-play units that dominated opponents most of his first two seasons.
He put the ball in Gurley’s hands, giving quarterback Jared Goff time to pass for two touchdowns and massive amounts of yardage in a victory that improved the Rams’ record to 7-5 and kept alive their chances for a third consecutive playoff berth.
As the Rams prepare for Sunday’s game against the NFC West-leading Seattle Seahawks, all indications are that McVay will stick to a plan that worked against the Cardinals and mostly worked wonders during a run to the playoffs in 2017 and to the Super Bowl last season.
“You don’t want to make the same mistakes that you ended up making earlier on,” McVay said.
How McVay would manage the left-knee issue that sidelined and slowed Gurley late last season has hung over the organization since the Rams’ 13-3 Super Bowl defeat by the New England Patriots.
During the offseason, the Rams re-signed running back Malcolm Brown and drafted Darrell Henderson. Both have rotated into games with Gurley. But McVay said Gurley’s limited use early in the season was not an attempt at load management to keep him fresh for a potential playoff run.
“It has nothing to do with that,” he said.
Does McVay really think he was an idiot for not using Gurley more?
“There’s some instances where, certainly, you look back and it’s always hindsight in terms of, ‘What can you do?’” McVay said.
The low point — or perhaps the awakening — came Nov. 10 when Gurley did not touch the ball during the fourth quarter of a 17-12 defeat by the Pittsburgh Steelers. The loss dropped the Rams’ record to 5-4 and put them teetering on the verge of elimination from playoff contention.
“The Steelers game stands out in terms of where we were running the football well and you didn’t really give him a chance to get back going based on how that thing played out,” McVay said.
The next week, Gurley carried a season-high 25 times for 97 yards and a touchdown in a 17-7 victory over the Chicago Bears. The Baltimore Ravens and quarterback Lamar Jackson made Gurley and the Rams’ offense moot in a 45-6 rout before McVay returned to a winning formula against the Cardinals.
Gurley carried the ball 19 times for 95 yards and a touchdown. Goff, benefiting from play-action opportunities, passed for 424 yards as the Rams rolled up a season-best 549 yards against the Cardinals and their league-worst defense.
A successful rushing attack, especially on first down, sets up play-action and other opportunities, Goff said.
“You’ve seen in the past,” he said, “when we’re operating at a high level is when we’re doing that and we need to continue to do it.”
In a league that has progressively emphasized passing, the Ravens (10-2), Seahawks (10-2), and San Francisco 49ers (10-2) have made strong running games and strong defenses the cornerstones of their success.
The Ravens rank first, Seahawks second and 49ers third in rushing.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll is not surprised, and he has not been tempted to change.
“I’ve always felt like this is the way that gives you the best chance to stay on top and get on top,” Carroll said Wednesday during a teleconference. “I just think from the history of ball that this is the best formula and it’s the best way to have your quarterback play at a high level, which is so crucial.
“It’s the best way for your team to have a complementary effect on your defense.”
No argument from McVay.
“Those teams are also efficient when they decide to throw the football — I think it goes hand-in-hand,” he said. “They can control the clock, they have really good defenses that are opportunistic to take the ball away.”
The Rams will try to do the same on Sunday against the Seahawks.
Their playoff fate could depend on it.
Because of rain and wet conditions, the Rams held two walkthroughs. They are scheduled to practice Thursday…. Tight end Gerald Everett (knee), who did not play against the Cardinals, was listed as “did not participate” on the Rams estimated injury report. The Rams on Tuesday signed tight end Kendall Blanton to the roster from the practice squad. “He’s earned the right to be able to move up to the active roster and what he’s demonstrated week-in and week-out,” McVay said. Tyler Higbee and Johnny Mundt are other tight ends on the roster.