Todd Gurley was a surprising signing for the Atlanta Falcons, one that made the bulk of the fanbase happy but brought with it plenty of questions about the 2019 season. The question is pretty simple: Is Gurley’s arthritis a limiting factor for him, and was it in 2019? If it’s not, and the Rams offense and usage of Gurley was the primary issue, the Falcons probably got a spectacular bargain. We just don’t know yet.
We do want to know, however, and there’s plenty of evidence both ways. A piece I thought was worth looking at comes in the form of NFL analyst Alex Rollins and his “The Rise and Fall of Todd Gurley” film breakdown.
The key piece here is that after taking a closer look at Gurley over the last two seasons, Rollins doesn’t believe he’s cooked. He cites a Rams offensive line that was terrific in 2018 and brutal in 2019, pointing out that Gurley faced 8 man boxes more often and was tackled behind the line of scrimmage more frequently last year. His argument, distilled, is that Bill Belichick showed how to beat Sean McVay’s offense in the Super Bowl, and NFL defense (including our own Falcons, who otherwise got beat up by McVay) obliged by copying that. With their line weakened by attrition and their successful play action tendencies largely solved, the Rams could not run the ball as effectively as they did before, became a more predictable offense featuring extra blockers, and due to a combination of a lack of effective blocking and concerns over Gurley’s injury, used him less.
Translated, then, Gurley hasn’t fallen off so much as McVay and the Rams offense has. Without the threat of play action and without crisp blocking up front, Jared Goff turned into a December pumpkin and the Rams offense became weaker and more predictable, which in turn impacted Gurley’s effectiveness. If that’s the case, the Falcons are getting a still-great back, just 25 years old, at a bargain basement price.
Of course, it’s not quite that simple, because the Falcons offense has its own issues. As Rollins notes in the video, the Falcons had their own struggles a year ago blocking effectively for Devonta Freeman, something that will be alleviated but not necessarily cured by trotting out a healthy Chris Lindstrom and potentially rookie Matt Hennessy at left guard. Gurley’s ability to contribute in play action is going to go to waste in Atlanta, where Dirk Koetter took this offense from 26% play action usage under Steve Sarkisian in 2018 to under 20% a year ago. Koetter’s famously unimaginative use of running backs is also inevitably going to work against Gurley.
For all that, though, Gurley appears to still have enough juice to contribute, and even moderately improved usage and blocking in front of him ought to mean a bounceback year of sorts with the Falcons.
Anyways, watch the whole video and come to your own conclusions. We’re still hoping for the pre-2018 Gurley here in Atlanta.