Examining The Snaps Between The Los Angeles Rams' Backfield
Entering the 2019 NFL season, arguably no player was more in question than Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley. Gurley ended 2018 season on a rocky note as the health of his knee came into question and his usage late in the season and into the playoffs was minimal. Those factors sparked a major debate over the offseason as to the health, the contract, and the status of the star running back.
Now with two weeks past in the season, we can examine the usage of the Rams’ backfield to get a better look of what the situation is, the health of Gurley, and what the Rams might be planning for the rest of the year.
Through two weeks, here’s the breakdown of touches and snaps between the trio of Todd Gurley, Malcolm Brown, and Darrell Henderson:
- Gurley: 30 rushing attempts, 160 yards, 1 touchdown, 5 targets, 4 receptions, 8 yards, 98 snaps
- Brown: 17 rushing attempts, 90 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 target, 1 reception, 10 yards, 46 snaps
- Henderson: 1 rushing attempt, 0 yards, 0 touchdowns, 0 targets, 0 receptions, 0 yards, 2 snaps
As we lay the numbers out, the Rams seem to be looking at a two-headed monster thus far, with Gurley receiving the bulk of the work. Gurley wasn’t really used as a receiver in week one, though his usage rate in week two ramped up with him receiving 19 total touches and Brown only receiving seven total touches. The usage rates are in favor of Gurley – as they should be – though the snap counts start to really drive the point home as Gurley has played more than double the snaps that Brown has.
The Rams seem to be playing it on a weekly basis, as week one represented a nearly even workload with Gurley receiving 15 total touches and Brown receiving 11 total touches. Furthering this point, Brown received nearly all the redzone work in week one, with Gurley receiving the bulk of the redzone work in week two. The split between the workload is functioning exactly as the Rams planned as Gurley has looked fresh and healthy – particularly in week one against the Carolina Panthers when Gurley was used late into the 4th quarter to help ice the game – and Brown has ensured no dropoff in production when he’s entered the game.
Brown has run extremely hard and created a ton of yardage in his attempts, proving his health (after suffering an injury in 2018 that forced the Rams to sign C.J. Anderson as a free agent) is also in tip-top shape. His productivity and solid play may give the Rams more reason to lighten Gurley’s workload in hopes that he’ll remain extremely fresh late into the season and potentially into the playoffs, though that has yet to be the case.
Maybe the most interesting aspect of the backfield is the lack of usage in rookie third-round pick Darrell Henderson, as he’s virtually been unused. Henderson shouldn’t receive any running game work over the aforementioned Gurley or Brown as they’re both superior players to this point, though the Rams did state that Henderson would be their version of New Orleans Saints’ running back Alvin Kamara. Kamara is arguably the most dangerous receiving back in football, and the Rams seemed to be on track with acclimating Henderson in that role in the preseason as he totaled 8 receptions in three games. Yet, Henderson is currently riding the bench, although with good reason as Gurley and Brown are not only great runners, they’re both productive receivers and among the best blocking backs in the entire league. The usage rate of the rookie going forward will surely be interesting. The main issue here is the Rams would need to decrease the touches of other players who’re currently significantly more productive, meaning they have no real reason to give Henderson an uptick in playing time or touches.
Breaking down the future is impossible, specifically because even the Rams aren’t sure how the games will play out. Yet, to this point in the 2019 season, the Rams have deployed their bevy of running backs brilliantly as they’re 7th in the league in rushing yards per game (140.5) and 15th in the league in yards per rush attempt (4.5 yards per carry).