The Rams, on their return to Los Angeles, were hoping to lean heavily on running back Todd Gurley, the former Georgia star.
But that burden, in part because of poor quarterback play, has been too heavy for him.
The Rams don’t appear to have enough weapons around Gurley to keep opposing defenses from putting their laser focus on him.
Some contend that Gurley has become despondent and doesn’t seem to be having fun.
“He’s working hard with the rest of the offense just to increase our production,” Rams coach Jeff Fisher said. “I think we are all frustrated from an offensive standpoint, but Todd doesn’t let that (hurt) his game.”
Fisher hasn’t seen any outward signs of Gurley’s load being too much to carry.
“He doesn’t have that type of personality,” Fisher said. “He was voted a captain this year in his second year. That will kind of give you an idea of what kind of teammate that he is.”
Gurley was named the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year after rushing for 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns last season. But he has gone 15 consecutive games without rushing for more than 100 yards and had a season-low 11 carries in a 26-12 loss to the Patriots on Sunday.
Gurley has rushed for 679 yards on 211 carries, 56.6 yards per game and 3.2 yards per carry.
“We got behind, so that’s hard,” Fisher said about Gurley’s 11 carries against New England. “We’ve not been the offense that we hoped to become this year. The numbers reflect that, but it has nothing to do with Todd personally.
“Todd is feeling great. He’s had some explosive plays. He’s had some good runs, but it’s a team-oriented thing.”
Gurley clearly has suffered because of the Rams’ ineptitude on offense.
“What happens is when we are as inefficient as we have been on third downs, you just don’t get the opportunities,” Fisher said. “You just don’t get the extra drives, the extra shares and the extra touches. Todd is a great team guy. He’s working hard every day, and we are going to continue to try to get the football to him.”
Gurley hopes that he can still make it to the 1,000-yard mark with a strong late-season push.
“It will be important for us as far as the offense just knowing the struggles that we have been having, but it’s still a good accomplishment,” Gurley said. “But at the end of the day we are looking for wins. The big boys up front definitely want to get that for me for sure. They definitely are going to be working hard.”
The Falcons are giving up 100.8 yards rushing per game, which ranks 15th in the league. Philadelphia’s Ryan Mathews has been the only back to rush for more than 100 yards against the Falcons this season.
Gurley would like to snap his 15-game streak of not rushing for more than 100 yards against the Falcons.
“In the league, man, anything can happen any week,” Gurley said. “You never know, so you just have to prepare hard and go into the game with the mindset that you’re going to have an successful game.”
Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree, who played with Gurley at Georgia, contends the struggles are wearing on Gurley.
“I mean, he’s still the same guy that I know,” Ogletree said. “I met him the first day at Georgia. He’s not running the ball really well right now. He’s still positive. I think eventually, when it’s time for him to make a play, he’s definitely somebody that we look to make that play.
“He’s a little frustrated, but he definitely wants to be able to run the ball. At the end of the day, he wants to win games. That’s the biggest thing.”
Gurley had 18 career 100-yard games at Georgia, where he was suspended for four games for accepting $3,000 for autographed memorabilia.
“I made a dumb mistake, and I suffered the consequences,” Gurley told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution at the 2015 combine. “I had to move on from that, but just show them that I’m a great person at the end of the day.”
He scored 44 career touchdowns (36 rushing, six receiving and two kickoffs), which ranks second in Georgia history behind Herschel Walker (52).
Keanu Neal, Vic Beasley and Grady Jarrett of the Falcons all played against Gurley in college. They respect his running style and toughness.
“He’s gotten better,” said Neal, who played at Florida. “He’s filled out. He’s more thicker than he was in college. For us playing against him, we have to make sure that we wrap up.”
Neal leads the Falcons in tackles, with 79, and likely will play closer to the line of scrimmage against the Rams to help slow Gurley.
“I’m excited to go against him,” Neal said. “He’s a great athlete. He’s a great player.”
Beasley, who played at Clemson, has not seen a drop-off.
“He’s a tough runner,” Beasley said. “He’s definitely a highly talented back. He’s tough to bring down. We have to gang tackle him and tackle him low.”
Beasley believes Gurley’s struggles can be traced to the Rams’ quarterback woes. Case Keenum started the season at quarterback before being replaced by Jared Goff, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2016 draft.
The Rams rank last in the NFL in points per game (23.4) and total offense (333.3 yards per game).
“I think it’s because they are bringing in a young quarterback, and the young quarterback is still trying to learn the system a little bit, so defenses know they are going to try to establish the run first, so they are probably stacking the box on Gurley,” Beasley said “That’s the game plan that most teams take into playing the Los Angeles Rams.”
Jarrett, who also played at Clemson, fondly remembers his battles with Gurley.
“He’s definitely one of the best players in this league,” Jarrett said. “One of the best players that I’ve played against in college. I have great respect for the game that he plays.”
The Falcons’ run defense has been playing strong since it gave up 208 yards rushing to the Eagles on Nov. 13. The Falcons know they can’t let Gurley get loose.
“Any day can be his day,” Jarrett said. “You just have to be prepared and get many hats to the ball. You have to give him the utmost respect as far as a runner because he’s earned that. That’s our mindset going into the game.”