GLENDALE, Ariz. — Who would’ve expected this?
Twenty carries, 167 yards — including runs of 46 and 27 — with a rushing touchdown.
Were you surprised?
“[I]f you’ve ever paid attention to any football with C.J. Anderson in it, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.”
That’s what C.J. Anderson himself told the media in the locker room following Los Angeles’ 31-9 victory.
And, sure — he has a point. Anderson’s has experienced plenty of success in the NFL as a running back. He was a significant part of Denver’s Super Bowl 50 victory over Carolina, rushing for a pair of touchdowns in that championship game.
He rushed for 1,000 yards in Denver last year for the first time in his career.
But we’re also talking about a running back who has been cut three times in the calendar year of 2018 — once by the Broncos, once by the Panthers, once by the Raiders. He signed with the Rams on Tuesday, after it became clear that Los Angeles had to do something to increase its depth at the position.
And until mid-day on Sunday, he was also a running back who wasn’t necessarily supposed to be in the starting lineup.
“My inclination this morning waking up was that [Todd Gurley] was going to go, just based on everything,” head coach Sean McVay admitted after the game.
That, of course, wouldn’t be the case. Gurley went through a pregame workout, but wasn’t feeling good enough to play.
So Anderson started instead. And he played one of the best games of his career in Los Angeles’ Week 16 victory, earning a game ball for his performance.
“I knew I had an opportunity to play,” Anderson said, “And you knew you had to be ready no matter what. So like I said earlier in the week, it’s a one-play league and you got to be the ultimate pro.”
“The ultimate pro” — that’s a phrase that certainly seems to describe Anderson after Sunday’s game. Just consider his stat line: 20 carries, 167 yards rushing, one touchdown. Longest run was 46 yards.
Again, this guy signed with the team just six days ago.
How did this happen?
“He just had a great way about himself this week. Really impressed with how quickly he was able to pick things up and just watching him, being a fan of this game, and seeing the production that he’s had throughout the course of his career,” McVay said. “I think he sees things well, I think when he puts his foot in the ground he’s decisive, levels off, he finishes falling forward — I thought he had some really tough runs in some short-yardage situations as well that were big-time conversions for us. Then he was able to pop the long one when we were backed up right there. But he did a great job and there’s certainly some things that we can learn from, but the game isn’t too big.”
McVay also praised running backs coach Skip Peete for the work he did with Anderson this week.
“He’s a phenomenal coach, great communicator, has a big-picture understanding of everything that’s going on. I thought those two working in coordination and C.J.’s work ethic was really extremely important and influential on the success that they had today,” McVay said.
Anderson said he had a lot of help getting prepared for the contest, crediting Peete, McVay, Gurley, quarterback Jared Goff, and left tackle Andrew Whitworth by name.
“Just a bunch — Todd, J.G., Whit, McVay coming in here at 5:30, Skip coming in at 5:30 in the morning, and doing everything that I possibly can to pick up the feel,” Anderson said. “The good thing is that some of it was cross over [from other offenses], so that kind of helped.
“But I’m the type of player that I come in, keep my head down, and keep grinding,” Anderson added.
Even considering how well Anderson picked things up from a playbook standpoint, the Rams’ offensive line helped significantly in opening up holes for the veteran back to get through. Left guard Rodger Saffold said that was part of the focus coming into Sunday.
“It’s awesome to be able to run the ball the way we did,” Saffold said.
“The big boys played really great up front — obviously I get nothing going if it wasn’t for them,” Anderson said. “But that’s been my game since I’ve been here [in this league.]”
And in a game where Anderson finished just a yard shy of his single-game career high, the running back’s new teammates couldn’t help but come away impressed. No one would quite say that they were surprised — and as Anderson told it, they shouldn’t have been. But everyone was pleased.
“We expected him to have a good game, because we knew it was going to be one of those big-time hitting games. And especially with a guy like that who’s running downhill, if we can get him four and five yards a gain, we knew we were gonna get him up there — get him close to, I was thinking, around 100 yards, something like that,” Saffold said. “It may not be as easy, but at least we’re pounding the ball. For him to open up and get that huge run at the end, I mean, that just goes to him.”
“You see the way he practices, the way he prepared, how smart he is, and how quickly he picked things up. And I think about halfway through that first quarter, I’m like, ‘OK, this guy can still run.’ And you see him moving around out there, and he broke that long one, obviously, at the end. And it was good to see him out there and do his thing.”
“We love Todd and everything he can do,” Goff continued. “But C.J. will be a good compliment.”