At every turn since the end of Super Bowl LIII, one of the main questions surrounding the Rams has been what is the explanation for running back Todd Gurley's performance in Los Angeles' last two postseason games?
Head coach Sean McVay has been consistent in saying that Gurley's showings against the Saints and Patriots weren't indicative of some larger unhealed injury in Gurley's knee — mainly as evidenced by the running back's 16-carry, 115-yard showing against the Cowboys in the Divisional Round.
Check out the best photos of the Rams running backs from the 2018 season.
While there was a report during the NFL Combine that Gurley has arthritis in his left knee — the same one surgically repaired after he tore his ACL during his junior year at Georgia — neither general manager Les Snead nor McVay would directly confirm that report on Tuesday. But McVay did address the question, and his answer is worth noting in full.
"Do you know what arthritis is? I don't really either except from like a general understanding that there is a wear and tear on something. When I start to get into the specifics, I don't know exactly medically when you categorize what arthritis is, but I've never seen a guy on the medical report, on the injury report with that," McVay said. "I think if you said is there a wear and tear, was there a pounding that that knee took, absolutely. He missed a couple games because of the accumulation where it wasn't one specific thing, but it had swelled up, it was bothering him. I think if you look at the amount of work that he got, there was something there. I'm not sure where the arthritis term came in or who mentioned that, but I do know that just from the amount of work that he's had, there's been a wear and tear on that knee, the accumulation of activity that he had ended up leading to him working through that Philly game and then missing those last two games — I thought he did a nice job coming back."
"He's really the only one that can talk specifically about how his body feels, you see he's fully capable of playing at a high level referenced by the Dallas game, but where do you categorize those types of things? That's hard for me to say because I'm not an expert in that area," McVay continued. "I just know that he was able to play and able to play at a high level, referenced by some things that he did. Really in all three games there was examples of 'this looks like a guy that is healthy enough to play at the level that we've seen him accustomed to playing at consistently."
McVay went on to say that how Gurley's knee was feeling did not negatively influence his number of touches in the NFC Championship Game or the Super Bowl — just as he's intimated since early February. And McVay added that Gurley's knee did not appear to affect the way he was able to run or cut during the postseason.
"I would say the Chicago game is a good example, where production was pretty similar offensively — he didn't miss any games before that, so we weren't talking about that," McVay said, referring to something being potentially wrong injury-wise with Gurley. "[T]here weren't any limitations that he communicated to us, or that you could see as far as just watching him."
So, again, the Rams have consistently stated that Gurley was healthy for the postseason — so there doesn't appear to be any kind of conspiracy theory there.
However, going forward, both Snead and McVay have said that they would like to better manage Gurley's workload to keep him at his best for any potential postseason run.
"I think what we said is he's had a lot of carries over the last few years and so anything you hear us say, any plan is basically — and I'd probably say this probably not just with Todd Gurley, it might be with our wide receivers because they've played a lot of snaps over the last few years — what can we do to help those guys be as fresh as possible at the end of the season," Snead said. "I don't think we are all of a sudden doing something that no other team is doing. It's a hard game, hard to play, I'm sure marathon runners go through it, I'm sure skiers go through it, but you want to be fresh when it counts and that's our goal."
"[W]hether it be this coming year, eventually, I think you always want to be mindful of elongating a player's career," McVay said. "But to sit here and say that we are going to use him less or not, that wouldn't be fair at all. I think a lot of it is predicated on — you guys hear us talk about the contingency plans — if that's something that we feel like is best for our team and best for Todd, then we certainly have the ability to maybe do that. But to say that he's not going to be a guy that can carry the workload and play at a high level, I absolutely would not say that yet."
Still, the Rams will likely have a suitable backup for Gurley in camp — whether that's Malcolm Brown, a free agent like C.J. Anderson, someone already on the roster like Justin Davis and John Kelly, or an incoming rookie from the draft.
And at this point, it seems like there's at least a decent chance that could be Brown. A restricted free agent, the Rams placed an original-round tender on Brown this week — which means Los Angeles gets the right of first refusal to any offer sheet the running back may sign on the open market. It's worth noting that Brown averaged 4.9 yards per carry through the first 12 games of Los Angeles' season in 2018, before he was lost for the year with his clavicle injury in December.
"Going to C.J., he did prove that when Todd was out that, wait a minute, he can keep the offense in rhythm — maybe not as explosive as Todd in the long gains — but we also felt like Malcolm Brown could potentially have done the same thing that C.J. did, it's just he went out with the week before with an unfortunate injury and we never got to see that," Snead said.
So as the Rams advance into the new league year, the Rams' running back situation is worth monitoring. But given that we're six months from Week 1, at this point, it doesn't seem like there's much concern about Gurley and the rest of the position group.
"I think for us, it's knowing that you have to constantly evaluate these things and that ongoing communication," McVay said of Gurley, "but our plan is that he's our starting running back."