At 10:48 left in the fourth quarter with the Rams leading by only two, Todd Gurley burst through a hole and rumbled for 52 yards to the Arizona 16-yard-line.
Those 52 yards were part of a 146-yard effort from Gurley as he helped the Rams pick up a 24-22 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday. Gurley has since become the talk among Rams fans, and he deserves the spotlight.
But, Gurley didn’t accomplish the feat by himself.
The Rams’ offensive line has been a lighting rod for criticism since the start of the preseason. Last week in the team’s loss to Pittsburgh, the O-line did its part to suffocate the offense by failing to open up holes in the running game and taking pressure off quarterback Nick Foles.
Some argued that the line held up fine in pass protection, but when defenses shut down a running game they can sit back in coverage in third-and-long and force quarterbacks to make difficult throws in clogged passing windows. Unless we’re talking about the truly elite, QBs can only do so much with no running game and no passing game playmakers.
But something clicked in the desert last Sunday. Suddenly a much maligned offensive line started executing and when you have a back like Gurley, who is capable of breaking tackles and gaining yards after contact, a 5-yard run turns into a 10-yard run.
Or a 52-yard run.
Take that play early in the fourth quarter as example. Out of an Off-set I, the Rams ran a stretch play to their left. At the snap, the offensive line stepped to their left in unison, which is a staple of the new zone-blocking scheme put in place by offensive coordinator Frank Cignetti this spring.
Left guard Jamon Brown and center Tim Barnes executed a perfect double team on Calais Campbell, who winds up being pancaked by Brown. Barnes then slipped off the double team and worked to the second level (another staple of the zone-blocking scheme), where he walled off safety Tony Jefferson (who had lined up in the box for run support).
Also play-side was left tackle Greg Robinson, who put Josh Mauro on skates and wiped him out of the play. Backside, Rodger Saffold blocked down and tossed Ed Stinson like a rag doll, which, along with the work that Barnes, Brown and Robinson put in, created a massive running lane for Gurley.
Gurley did the rest, bursting up field while slipping a tackle and out-running Rashad Johnson before Tyrann Mathieu finally pushed him out of bounds 52 yards later.
Some fans were enraged when the Rams selected Gurley with the 10th overall pick back in April. They asked why, after Zac Stacy showed promise as a rookie, would the Rams draft Gurley when, “they already had running backs on the roster?”
That’s why. That same run may have only netted 12 yards instead of 52 had it been Stacy. Gurley’s combination of size and speed make him special – a playmaker. A difference maker.
But the Rams didn’t receive that type of blocking in the first three games. Even in the win over Seattle, the initial double-team that Brown and Barnes executed was non-existent. Running backs were being met in gaps because the Rams’ O-line wasn’t getting to the second level of the defense. And even when linemen did, they were whiffing on blocks.
That wasn’t Gurley’s only explosive run and that wasn’t the only time the Rams’ offensive linemen executed in the second half. You don’t gain 7.7 yards per carry as a back if you don’t have multiple explosive runs created by your own talents and the ability of your offensive line to create running lanes.
The Arizona game is how teams draw it up. It’s how the Rams envisioned their running game would look back in April.
Now, as with anything else as it pertains to the Rams, we need to see consistency out of the O-line moving forward. It’s time for that group to build off it’s performance in the second half so that the Rams can stay in contention all season.