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Stat Breakdown: Todd Gurley II and the Zone Block Scheme

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  • Stat Breakdown: Todd Gurley II and the Zone Block Scheme

    FINLEYJUN 21, 2016

    It seems, just as the running back position was slipping into "by committee" systems, a game changing athlete comes around with a do it all skill set. Adrian Peterson showed us in 2007 that backs like this still existed, and now Todd Gurley II has arrived.

    Gurley, the tenth overall selection in the 2015 NFL draft, exploded onto the scene with four straight 120+ yard games in his first four starts. Gurley continued to impress finishing his season with 1,106 yards and 10 TDs to earn himself a trip to Hawaii and Rookie of the Year honors. With sights set on an even better sophomore season, lets take a look into Gurley's 2015 and see where he was good, where he struggled, and what we can expect heading into 2016.


    To understand Gurley's success in the Zone Block Scheme (ZBS), I would like to direct you to (after you finish this article) to Brett Kollmann's Film Room Video that goes extremely in depth on the Rams style of the ZBS. The link will be at the bottom of the article. To paraphrase, the Zone Block scheme is a run game philosophy where the offensive line flows laterally down the line of scrimmage with the intent of stretching the defense and opening up a hole for the running back to run through. The responsibility of the running back is to flow with the play and read outside to inside. This means he is looking to get to the edge first (over the outside shoulder of his most outside blocker) and if it is not open, then he will look one gap to the inside. He will continue to read one gap at a time until he finds an opening. If no opening is there, usually a cut back lane is available so the running back can take it to the other side of the field. This system thrives with running backs who have great vision. Elite speed is not necessary as very successful backs such as Terrell Davis and Arian Foster, who both ran 4.6 in the 40 yard dash, were able to utilize the ZBS successfully. The difference with Gurley, is that he does have elite speed, great vision, and is perfect for this type of scheme.

    The ZBS works different against different defenses and particularly struggles against the 3-4. This is due to the down lineman in a 3-4 focusing in on controlling 2 gaps instead of penetrating like you would see in a 4-3 defense. Since the 3-4 uses 2 gap control, the big Nose Tackle will clog up the middle, preventing cut back plays. Alignment in the 3-4 also leaves the Guard uncovered, which can confuse assignments for the line. A response for 3-4 defenses is to switch to a man block scheme and pull those uncovered guards to where the 3-4 defense is at a disadvantage as they try to flow with the play and end up flowing right into a down block. The reason I am pointing this out, is because the Rams and Todd Gurley had MORE success against 3-4 defenses, averaging almost 40 more yards a game and two more yards per carry. The answer is in Brett Kollman's video, but in short they use Tavon Austin in motion, Man Blocking mix-ins, and other factors that will keep defenders guessing and ultimately leaving holes open for Gurley. Peak it, its a great watch. Gurley's elite speed allows him to get to the edge where he can do so much damage averaging 5.7 YPC off the left edge and 4.6 YPC off the right. This is an offensive line, mind you, that had 2 rookies in Jamon Brown and Rob Havenstein.

    What I enjoy about Gurley's game is that he gets better as the game progresses. In the chart above we see that as the game continues on Gurley is able to capitalize on tired defenders, and has an increased YPC through each quarter. Defenses come out, stop Gurley on his first 5 attempts and think they have him dialed down, then in carries 6-10 he takes advantage and exploded for 7.1 YPC. Gurley is an athlete who is a problem all game long. A constant threat to explode. In the first Arizona game he cracked 100 yards in the 4th quarter alone. To have a running back that you can rely on in the later stages of the game is important for closing out games and getting the hard yards when they are needed the most. The biggest problem is that when down, the Rams tend to abandon the run game effectively taking Gurley out of position to do anything. Its important the Gurley is getting 15-20 touches a game, regardless of score. Getting down early and panicking really hurt Gurley's ability in the games versus Cincinnati and the second game against Arizona.

    The average run defense rank that the Rams faced last season was 14th in the league, and the projected average for 2016 will also be 14th, with ten of those teams being 4-3 defenses. The Rams will have tough games against great run defense teams in the Seahawks, Panthers, and Jets next season. The focus for the Rams is to get Gurley going, and believing in his ability even if they are down a few scores.. With a season down in the ZBS, I expect Gurley to be more effective this next season, and break 1,300 yards. The key is to stay healthy, and continue to get better as the games progress. Gurley's success will create opportunity for the young rookie quarterback for years to come, and it all gets to go down in one of the biggest stages there are, Los Angeles.

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  • Nick
    ESPN: Numbers say Todd Gurley missed holes in 2016
    by Nick
    Numbers say Todd Gurley missed holes in 2016
    9:15 AM ET
    Alden Gonzalez
    ESPN Staff Writer

    LOS ANGELES -- The fault of Todd Gurley's disappointing 2016 season for the Los Angeles Rams usually falls on the circumstances that surrounded him, specifically a shoddy offensive line and a non-threatening passing attack that caused defenses to stack the box and suffocate Gurley every time he touched the football.

    But Gurley himself didn't take advantage of opportunities.

    ESPN NFL Insider K.C. Joyner tracks the situations when running backs receive good blocking under a stat called good blocking yards per attempt. Good blocking, in this instance, roughly refers to the times when offenses do not allow defenses to disrupt a rush attempt. In 2015, while on his way to being named Offensive Rookie of the Year, Gurley averaged 10.9 good blocking yards per attempt (GBYPA) on 73 carries, the highest rate in the NFL. In 2016, Gurley averaged 6.8 GBYPA on 101 carries, 38th among the 43 running backs with triple-digit good blocking attempts.

    It validates what Jamon Brown alluded to at the end of the season, when he talked about how Gurley and the offensive line "have to get back on the same page." And what running backs coach Skip Peete talked about six weeks later, when he said that sometimes Gurley went away from the playcall.

    "The past is the past," Gurley said when asked last week about the holes that he missed. "We all put in a great effort and tried to do what we tried to do, but things just didn't work out for us on game day. We came up short a lot of times. Too many times."

    Veteran offensive lineman Rodger Saffold, currently the starting left guard, saw improvement in the communication with Gurley during the offseason program.

    "It's more just kind of figuring out the speed out of the backfield that he needs," Saffold said. "Once you get that down, then you kind of see the mesh of what we're trying to get done. He knows what we're trying to do on the offensive line as far as front side and back side. So, he knows where the play is going. Inside, with our wide zones and our inside zones, I think he's attacking where we want the ball to go a lot better. And I think he’s letting things develop, too. Letting things develop on the inside, but on the outside he’s really pushing that edge, and it’s opening up some things for him."

    Gurley, the 10th overall pick out of Georgia in 2015, went from rushing for 1,097 yards through 12 starts in 2015 to rushing for 885 yards through 16 starts in 2016. Those 885 yards were the fewest ever for a running back with at least 275 carries in a single season. It vaulted Gurley out of the discussion for the elite running backs in the game, mere months after he was thought to be in position to lead it.

    Rams quarterback Jared Goff still considers Gurley "one...
    -06-21-2017, 10:40 AM
  • Nick
    Gurley: It's like there are 12 people on the field
    by Nick
    Rams' Todd Gurley will try to break through against Tampa Bay
    By Gary Klein
    September 23, 2016, 7:05 PM

    Todd Gurley lined up in the backfield, looked across the line of scrimmage and saw a crowd.

    A large one.

    The San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks stacked defenders to stop the second-year running back. Only the allowable 11 defensive players were on the other side of the ball, but it seemed like more.

    “It’s been crazy,” Gurley said Friday. “I’m like, ‘There’s 12 people on the field!’ It’s definitely a lot of people.”

    The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are expected to employ a similar strategy Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

    The Rams are 1-1 and tied for first place in the NFC West, but they have yet to spring Gurley for a long run that was a staple of his performance last season, when he was voted the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year.

    Gurley has rushed for 98 yards in two games. His longest run went for 11 yards, and he is averaging only 2.7 yards a carry.

    Not coincidentally, the Rams are the only NFL team that has not scored a touchdown.

    Gurley lamented opponents’ strategy to stop him but said there was an upside.

    “Sometimes that’s a good thing because if you get past that first level, then you’re gone,” he said. “But you have to get past that first level first.”

    Last season, Gurley rushed for only 48 yards in 21 carries in a 31-23 victory over the Buccaneers. But it was a memorable performance that included a milestone.

    Gurley scored on a three-yard touchdown run that put him exactly at 1,000 yards.

    He finished the season with 1,106 yards, and joined Eric Dickerson and Jerome Bettis as the only Rams rookies to rush for 1,000 yards.

    “That was a pretty good night for us,” he said of the victory over Tampa Bay, “and the offense was actually rolling.”

    The Rams had a good night against the Buccaneers but finished the season ranked last in the NFL in offense.

    That’s where the Rams are again this season after a 28-0 defeat by the 49ers and a 9-3 victory over the Seahawks.

    So getting Gurley on track remains a priority.

    “It takes 11 guys to protect the quarterback, it takes 11 guys to be able to run the football,” offensive coordinator Rob Boras said. “It’s just like anything, when things aren’t going well in business or in football, it’s not always the same guy.”

    Veteran guard Rodger Saffold said it should come as no surprise that defensive coordinators with a season’s worth of film to study have devised ways to try to stop Gurley.

    The situation is reminiscent of what former Rams running back Steven Jackson encountered, Saffold said. Jackson was a 1,000-yard rusher every season from 2005 to 2012.

    “He kind of knew, ‘With so many people inside, I’ve got to bounce’...
    -09-24-2016, 07:53 AM
  • r8rh8rmike
    Struggling Rams RB Todd Gurley could see more targets as a receiver
    by r8rh8rmike
    Struggling Rams RB Todd Gurley could see more targets as a receiver

    Oct 3, 2016
    Alden Gonzalez ESPN Staff Writer

    THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Los Angeles Rams coach Jeff Fisher said Monday that Todd Gurley is "very close" to breaking off big runs.

    He's been saying that for four weeks now.

    Gurley was held to a mere 33 yards on 19 carries in Sunday's 17-13 win over theArizona Cardinals. That's 1.74 yards per attempt, the lowest rate among his 16 career NFL starts.

    For the season, Gurley has amassed only 216 yards on 82 carries, ranking 44th among 45 qualified running backs (Adrian Peterson is the only one below Gurley, but Peterson has only played in two games). Stretching back even further, Gurley has been held below 100 yards in 11 of his last 12 games.

    "As long as I keep winning, I can care less," Gurley said after his team's third straight win on Sunday. "It don’t even matter to me.”

    But the winning probably isn't sustainable if Gurley isn't effective.

    Fisher said "the line of scrimmage was full of Cardinals" on Sunday, as is normally the case. So the Rams used Gurley a little bit more in the passing game. He hauled in a one-handed catch on a lob pass that turned into a 33-yard gain early in the third quarter, then converted a key third-and-8 down the stretch, running out to the flat, catching Case Keenum's throw, cutting to the inside and gaining the extra yardage two plays before Brian Quick caught the winning touchdown.

    Gurley finished with five catches for 49 yards, giving him a more respectable 82 yards from scrimmage.

    Pass-catching ability is an underrated part of Gurley's game, a skill that wasn't on display very often during a rookie season that saw him finish as the NFL's third-leading rusher.

    But the running lanes haven't been there frequently enough for Gurley this year. He's averaging the NFL's third-fewest yards before first contact (0.90), with teams continuing to dare the Rams to beat them through the air. According to Pro Football Reference, Gurley is the first running back in history with 80-plus carries in his team's first four games and less than 2.75 yards per attempt.

    "Obviously the running game hasn’t been going as well," Gurley said Sunday night. "But hey, I got a couple passes in the backfield. That was key."

    Look for the Rams to continue exploring that....
    -10-06-2016, 05:27 PM
  • RockinRam
    Gurley on Second NFL Season: 'Like a Nightmare'
    by RockinRam
    • By Chris Wesseling
    • Around the NFL Writer
    • Published: Jan. 24, 2017 at 02:53 p.m.
    • Updated: Jan. 24, 2017 at 03:05 p.m.

    After a successful debut campaign as the NFL's Offensive Rookie of the Year, Rams running back Todd Gurley suffered through a miserable second season.

    Mired in an inept Los Angeles attack, Gurley clearly regressed as a playmaker, finishing with the lowest yards-per-carry figure (3.2) of any back with 150 or more rushing attempts.

    In a Tuesday appearance on The Rich Eisen Show, Gurley was asked to categorize his 2016 season.

    "Like a nightmare. I still can't believe the season," Gurley said. "It was definitely a tough year, a learning experience for me. To be 4-12 this year? I don't want to feel that feeling again."
    Gurley made news in December, describing the Rams' attack as a "middle school offense" in the wake of back-to-back lopsided losses that led directly to the firing of coach Jeff Fisher.

    Provided a forum to explain that criticism, Gurley clarified that he was speaking strictly of the players rather than the coaching staff.

    "The week before, we played New England. I think we probably scored one touchdown and that was the last two minutes of the game," Gurley explained. "Then we go play Atlanta, and they probably put more points up on us on defense than we actually put up on offense."

    "It was frustrating. I kind of told it like it was, kind of how we looked. It was too many mental errors from everybody, including myself, just turning the ball over. You just can't have that."

    Gurley was gracious enough to let the coaching staff off the hook, but Fisher's offenses were dysfunctional for long stretches of his five-year tenure with the Rams.

    Erupting for more than 125 rushing yards in each of his first four NFL starts, Gurley drew lofty comparisons to Hall of Famers such as Gale Sayers and Eric Dickerson early in his rookie season.

    His rare talent was so obvious at the time that NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger raved, "My mom could scout Todd Gurley."

    Since that torrid start to his career, however, Gurley has reached the century mark just once in 24 games. No other running back since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger has played all of his team's games and averaged as many carries per game as Gurley (17.4) without reaching 100 rushing yards at least once in a season, per NFL Research.

    The Rams have enlisted new head coach Sean McVay to pull No. 1 overall draft pick Jared Goff out of his rookie-year tailspin. Beyond that quarterback-whisperer responsibility, McVay will have to find a way to free Gurley from the bad habits he picked up behind an offensive line that is too often overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage.

    The talent is there. Can McVay and his staff unlock the potential in 2017?...
    -01-24-2017, 06:32 PM
  • AvengerRam
    Gurley's struggles... we've seen this before.
    by AvengerRam
    Todd Gurley finished his rookie year with a 4.8 ypc average.
    This year, after 6 games, he has a 2.9 ypc average.

    Believe it or not, we've seen this before.

    In 1993, Jerome Bettis ran for 1,429 yards as a rookie with a ypc average of 4.9.
    The next year, he finished with only 1,025 and a ypc average of 3.2.

    Two years later, Bettis was a Steeler, and he finished with 1,400+ and 1,600+ yards in his first two seasons in Pittsburgh (with ypc averages in the 4.4-4.5 range).

    While the reasons for Bettis' struggles (some felt it was over-use) may not have been identical to those impacting Gurley (OL play, playcalling), I think there is something to be learned from what happened with Bettis.

    Don't give up on a talented RB. Fix the problems around him.

    I'm really not interested in evaluating whether Gurley may have missed a hole or two. Perhaps he has, but on the vast majority of his carries, a hybrid of Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson would have been stopped for no gain.

    Gurley has not forgotten how to run. He is likely very frustrated, and it may be impacting his patience. But when I watch other teams, I see RBs, at least on occasion, getting 2-3 yards downfield before getting hit. I see holes opening. I see defenses getting fooled. I'm not seeing any of that with the Rams offense. Whether its the design, the playcalling, the blocking, or a combination of all three, the degree of difficulty Gurley is facing is unprecedented.

    Well... almost unprecedented. We've seen this before, and we should not make the same mistake again. I'd hate to see Todd Gurley going to the Hall of Fame and citing his time in another city as the reason for his great career....
    -10-17-2016, 08:59 AM