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Practice Report 11/11: Attacking a Strong Run Defense; Britt's Homecoming

Posted Nov 11, 2016

RB Todd Gurley has had a tough time getting in a rhythm this year, which is why a breakout game against the Jets' No. 4 run defense would mean that much more.

As a team, Los Angeles ranks No. 29 in rushing through nine weeks of the 2016 season. To say that’s unexpected would be an understatement, particularly given how the club finished No. 7 in the same category last year and features a healthy Todd Gurley in his second NFL season.

That’s why getting Gurley going is an important factor for the Rams’ second half of the season.

“We’re looking [for] overall improvement. We want to see the arrow go up with respect to the whole football team — and that includes Todd, and that includes his touches, and that includes his production,” head coach Jeff Fisher said. “But that’s an offensive team-oriented challenge that we have to face and we have to meet.”

“Just make sure I’m doing the things to help me out as far as helping out [blockers] as well,” Gurley said of his objectives heading into the final eight games.

The 2015 offensive rookie of the year currently has 451 yards rushing with three touchdowns. But over the Rams’ last three games, Gurley has averaged just 14 carries while the Rams have averaged about 44 passing attempts. Last week against Carolina, Gurley had just two carries in the game’s second half.

That’s not the ideal distribution for Los Angeles’ offense, and Fisher said this week Gurley’s reduction in carries has been in part because the club has been behind and faced so many passing situations. But it’s an issue L.A. has been working hard to correct this week.

“He’s feeling good,” Fisher said. “The are down for a lot of different reasons, but we’d like to see the numbers increase — out of the backfield as well as the carries.”

“Part of it is, we’ve got to do better on first and second down, and stay on the field, and sustain some drives,” offensive coordinator Rob Boras said this week. “I know what the numbers are. At the end of the first half last week on first and second down, we had nine runs and 10 passes, and we had seven third downs, and then four plays in two-minute. Then when we got behind two scores in the second half, we had 20 plays of two-minute there at the end.”

And that doesn’t help a running back in terms of trying to get into a rhythm — be it Gurley or Los Angeles’ usual third-down back, Benny Cunningham.

“For any runner, and especially a guy like Todd and/or Benny, it’s the more carries they’re going to get, that the more that they’re going to settle in,” Boras said. “Not only as a runner, but as the blockers — the O-line, the tight ends, and the fullback if that be the case. Part of that again is staying on the field, and sustaining some drives, and eliminating three-and-outs, and that’s obviously a stress what we’re trying to get done.”

As a strong runner for much of his life, Gurley knows what it takes to excel when he does get into a rhythm and receives multiple carries in a row.

“Obviously, being a running back, you want the ball,” Gurley said. “So, you’ve just got to be mentally tough in getting those carries play after play. And the biggest thing with that is, that’s when endurance comes in. You start seeing stuff when you’re tired. So you have to make sure you’re doing the same thing that first carry that you’re doing at that 25th carry.”

And while Gurley would surely like better results than he’s had this season, it hasn’t changed the way he’s approached going about improving.

“I’ve said it before, I’ve been impressed with Todd as much success he had last year, and how well he handled the success last year as a 22 year old, or whatever he was last year. I think he’s handling what’s happened this year just as well,” Boras said. “Again, that’s a sign of his character and what he’s all about. I’m not saying that he’s not frustrated, but he’s not showing it. He’s a team guy. He’s willing to do protection-wise, route running – whatever it’s going to take for us to get first downs and ultimately score touchdowns.”

It seems like the Rams have faced some of the toughest defensive fronts week after week, and they’ve all loaded the box to stop the run. That’s going to be the case this Sunday, too, as L.A. takes on the Jets — currently No. 4 in run defense.

“Obviously, they’re very athletic,” center Tim Barnes said of the Jets’ front. “They play really hard, fast. You see some of those guys, they’re running down plays — so you know what you’re dealing with. Big guys, but they’re very athletic. They’re playing at a high level right now.”

“Just have to stay consistent, read your tracks, and just stay patient,” Gurley said.

New York is also multiple with its defense, employing both even and odd fronts depending on the situation. That’s can be a challenge for any team in terms of preparation.

“You have to really get into your playbook. And you do that every week, but especially when you have different looks for everything like we do, you just have to make sure everyone’s on their game together,” Barnes said, stressing the Rams have been focusing on communication. “We’re going to be away, so we’re going to have to communicate in the noise — things like that. We know that we have to do everything together correctly.”

And given the Jets strength against the run, might it mean a bit more if this was the week where the Rams finally broke out in a big way?

“Absolutely. And we want to get the run started bad. It’s something that’s bothering everybody,” Barnes said. “It means something to us. So we just want to make sure that we do everything we can to get it going.”

“That’s our focus. They know it and we know it. It’s easier sand than done,” Fisher said. “We have to finish plays and we have to find a way to hand the ball off to Todd and Benny late in the game. That’s how you win games at the end.”

BRITT’S HOMECOMING

Wide receiver Kenny Britt is a Jersey boy. Now in his eighth pro season, Britt hails from Bayonne, N.J. — a town just under a half-hour away from MetLife Stadium, the site of Sunday’s game against the Jets. While he had offers to play his college ball elsewhere, Britt chose to stay closer to home, becoming arguably the best receiver in Rutgers history.

So, as you can imagine, Sunday will represent a kind of homecoming for Britt.

“Near home? We’re right there, baby!” Britt exclaimed earlier this week.

“I love playing in New Jersey,” Britt said. “It’s something that I always dreamed of as a little kid, coming back and playing in that stadium — either playing for them, or just playing in there.”

This will actually be Britt’s third time playing at the Meadowlands site, but his second at MetLife. In his rookie year with the Titans, Britt played the Jets at old Giants Stadium as a rookie in 2009, making four receptions for 59 yards in a 24-17 loss. But he played at MetLife in its inaugural season against the Giants, making two receptions for 26 yards and a touchdown in a 29-10 victory.

“This is my second time back, so hopefully we go out there and have a great one, and get a celebration afterwards,” Britt said.

INJURY REPORT

While Gurley (thigh) did not practice on Wednesday — and would not have been able to Thursday, according to the Rams’ practice estimate — he was a full participant on Friday. He’s listed as questionable for Sunday.

“I felt pretty good today, so we’ll just leave it at that,” Gurley said.

Defensive tackle Michael Brockers (groin), cornerback Trumaine Johnson (ankle), and defensive back Lamarcus Joyner (back) also participated in full on Friday and are listed as questionable.

Defensive end Matt Longacre (hip) did not practice on Friday for the first time this week and is listed as questionable. Wide receiver Nelson Spruce (calf) has been declared out.

For the other side, Jets head coach Todd Bowles told reporters quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick will be a game-time decision on Sunday. Fitzpatrick suffered an MCL sprain last week against Miami. If he cannot play, second-year quarterback Bryce Petty would start.

Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams said it is not necessarily too challenging not knowing whether Fitzpatrick or Petty will be behind center because of his knowledge of Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey’s scheme.

“Conceptually, we scout, I scout coordinators every week, too. And so I’ve gone against Chan, and know that, and have a lot of respect for Todd,” Williams said. “If Fitz plays — I was was with Fitz, too. I was at Tennessee when he was the quarterback [there], went against him in a lot of practices. So I feel like I know quite a bit about him.”

Center Nick Mangold (ankle) has also been ruled out.