The question shouldn’t be about whether Todd Gurley is injured, but, rather, to what degree.
As much as Gurley has claimed otherwise over the last couple of weeks, it’s obvious something is wrong.
And the Rams will have to do in the Super Bowl what they did in New Orleans two weeks earlier: somehow find a way to win with their single-most potent offensive weapon physically limited.
Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe the Rams really are considerably more talented and maybe they will overwhelm the New England Patriots regardless of how little their $60-million running back touches the ball.
Or maybe the dimension the Rams will lose without Gurley catching the ball out of the backfield will make their high-scoring offense manageable for Bill Belichick and the Patriots, who had two weeks to prepare for this game.
Gurley said this week his left knee is “good.” For what it’s worth, he hasn’t been listed on the team’s injury report this week, which indicates he is at least healthy enough to play. However, being healthy enough to play isn’t the same as being healthy enough to perform like the best running back in the league.
Here’s what is known: Two weeks ago against the New Orleans Saints in the NFC championship game, Gurley touched the ball only five times.
Think about that. With a place in the Super Bowl at stake, in a game close enough to require overtime, the Rams gave their best offensive player the ball only five times.
The Rams’ insistence that Gurley is healthy — “100%,” coach Sean McVay said this week — is understandable, as the team gains nothing by revealing its hand to Belichick. But their explanations didn’t make any sense.
Gurley blamed his “sorry as hell” performance for his limited participation against the Saints, as if McVay would dare give up on him after only four carries if he was healthy. Would the Lakers stop giving the ball to LeBron James if he missed his first four shots?
Here’s what is also known: The left knee that has bothered Gurley is the same knee he had surgically reconstructed in college after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament.
Gurley was said to have experienced inflammation at various points this season, but who knows what that means. Inflammation is a symptom, not a cause. If a person breaks a leg, he or she will have inflammation. If a person is stung by a bee, he or she will have inflammation. Inflammation is football speak for “no comment.”
But considering how little he touched the ball against the Saints, it’s safe to assume the source of Gurley’s discomfort remains despite the great efforts the Rams took to protect him late in the season.
Against the Saints, he had four carries for 10 yards and one catch for three yards. The 32 snaps he played were his fewest in a game since his rookie year.
At this point, the best the Rams could reasonably hope for is a performance similar to the one he produced in their postseason-opening victory over the Dallas Cowboys: He rushed for 115 yards and a touchdown.
The game was Gurley’s first in four weeks. He will enter the Super Bowl on two weeks’ rest, as there was an open week on the schedule after the conference championship.
While the Cowboys game has been cited as evidence that Gurley might not be injured, the reality is that he carried the ball only 16 times. In fact, he had 16 or fewer rushing attempts in seven of his last eight games. The exception was when he rushed for 132 yards and two touchdowns in 23 carries in a victory at Detroit on Dec. 2.
In other words, don’t expect Gurley to carry the ball 30 times Sunday.
So even if he maximizes his touches and makes a couple of game-altering plays, Gurley will have to be carried by others if he is to become a Super Bowl champion. C.J. Anderson will have to wear down the Patriots defense. Jared Goff will have to make big-time passes. Aaron Donald will have to reach Tom Brady.
The Rams can win, only their chances of doing so are worse with their offensive centerpiece diminished.