Todd Gurley keeps consistent approach: ‘All it takes is one play’

Credit: D. Orlando Ledbetter

Todd Gurley didn’t have many lanes to run through.

During the Falcons' 40-23 win over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, Gurley faced a defense that made it a point to key on him and set a solid edge to prevent the outside run. A week after gashing the Carolina Panthers for 121 yards and a touchdown, Gurley was held to 47 yards on 20 carries. His 2.4 yards per carry average easily was his lowest of the season.

But throughout each of the 20 carries, Gurley never once grew frustrated or concerned. In fact, even while the run game found it difficult to produce much, Gurley explained why it was important to stick with it and keep the Vikings honest throughout the entire 40-plus minutes the Falcons held possession of the football.

In the second quarter, the Falcons faced a second-and-1 at the Minnesota 15-yard line, with Gurley taking a handoff to the right side of the formation. Vikings defensive end Yannick Ngakoue chased him down for a 2-yard loss. The Falcons picked up the first down a play later and then got a 5-yard reception to set up a second-and-5 on the other side of the two-minute warning.

This time, Ryan faked the handoff to Gurley, bootlegged to his right and hit receiver Calvin Ridley underneath for a reception. Ridley was able to take the play in for an 8-yard touchdown. With the Vikings keying on Gurley, the play-action pass was able to set up one of quarterback Matt Ryan’s four touchdown throws.

“Each week it’s not going to be your week,” Gurley said. “Obviously those guys were crashing down pretty hard. If you go back -- we probably lost some yards on a run and then we came back with the play-action and hit (Ridley) on the touchdown. That’s a part of football, being able to adjust and adapt. And then just doing your job.

"My job might not be getting 100 yards. My job might not be getting a 30-yard run. My job is to play-action fake, get out where I need to be and then open things up for the receivers, and vice versa.”

Credit: Jason Getz

Credit: Jason Getz

Gurley signed a one-year contract with the Falcons this offseason after the Los Angeles Rams decided to part ways with him after five seasons. The move has worked, with Gurley being an effective a runner for the Falcons. Thus far, he ranks eighth in the NFL in rushing, with 422 yards. He’s also scored in four of the Falcons' six games, with five total touchdowns.

Gurley has been consistent with how he’s approached each week. Falcons interim coach Raheem Morris said he got a glimpse of this, as well as what made Gurley the 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, during training camp.

“I watched him in a walk-through one time, and as the defensive coordinator, I tried to throw some jabs at him and pick some fun with him,” Morris said. “He was all-business. He was all-serious. He was locked in listening to what Matt was saying in the huddle. When he was out of the play, he would not let you get into his head. He wanted to pick up everything and know everything exactly how we want him to do it.”

Over time, Ryan said Gurley has gradually become more comfortable with the Falcons' offensive scheme, predicting that his production should increase as the season continues. Ryan noted that while the big gains didn’t materialize against Minnesota, Gurley still had some physical third-down runs that helped lengthen important possessions.

“He’s got a belief that he’s going to make a great play and set things off for us,” Ryan said. “I think although the numbers weren’t that great last game, he had a number of huge runs for us on third downs to keep drives going. And just to wear down the defense. He’s so physical, so big, tackling him takes a lot of the defense, and I think we’ve seen that throughout the year.”

Based on the games played to date, Gurley could have an opportunity to have a similar outing as he did against Carolina when the Falcons host the Detroit Lions at 1 p.m. Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Lions rank 29th in the NFL in rushing defense, allowing 145 yards per game.

However, the Lions fared much better in this department Sunday in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars, holding them to only 44 rushing yards.

Morris was asked what kind of improvements the Lions made to improve the run defense in one week.

“Stats are for losers," he said. “You have to go out each week, and every game is going to be different. We gotta go out each week, and we have to prepare differently. You have to stop what you can stop to win the football game.

"Last week, those guys did a great job going out there and playing some really good defense. They got a chance to do what they had to do last week, and it paid off for them.”

Gurley agreed with the sentiment, stating that he feels like the Lions have played better than their rush-defense ranking shows. Therefore, Gurley said all he can do is trust the offense and hope to get an early feel for how the game will play out once he gets his first touch.

As long as Gurley stays within the scheme and doesn’t try to create outside of it, he believes he has the chance for an explosive gain at any moment.

“That’s just part of the league," Gurley said. "You just adjust, adapt and keep going. You can never get frustrated. All it takes is one play.”

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