LOS ANGELES >> In high school, the hurdles never tried to tackle Todd Gurley.
A former track star in sprints and the 110-high hurdles in North Carolina, Gurley long ago traded spikes for cleats, but clearly the instincts remain. As Gurley struggled to run the ball for the Rams last season, perhaps he attuned that it’s easier to jump over opponents than to try to slip their tackles.
Regardless, it’s working. In Sunday’s loss to Washington, Gurley rushed 16 times for 88 yards and one touchdown and caught three passes for 48 yards and one touchdown. Gurley’s 136 yards from scrimmage was his highest total since December 2015, when he totaled 147 yards against Detroit.
The highlight play came in the third quarter, when Gurley caught short pass and, on the run, jumped over cornerback Bashaud Breeland, who lunged to make a tackle. Gurley kept his balance and completed the 18-yard touchdown, his first touchdown catch of his 31-game NFL career.
“They did a nice job of calling plays for me,” Gurley said, “and we just executed. … We did a good job on offense. Just everybody making space for each other and going out there and making plays..”
If only it could always be that simple. Gurley, who rushed for 1,106 yards as a rookie in 2015, struggled through an 885-yard 2016 and never topped more than 85 yards in a game.
So, first-year coach Sean McVay has turned creative, and that includes sneaking Gurley out of the backfield more often. Gurley has eight catches in two games. He had 43 in 16 games last season. Gurley has looked confident with the ball in the open field and has showed the ability to make defenders miss.
“Tremendous,” quarterback Jared Goff said. “Todd was great. We talked early on, and they weren’t covering him much coming out of the backfield in the pass game, so we were trying to get him the ball. Sure enough, we did, and he started jumping over people and making some plays.”
McVay also praised Gurley, and might want to see more. Seven of Gurley’s 16 carries came in the fourth quarter, when the Rams were able to run the ball effectively. McVay indicated that perhaps he should have got Gurley going earlier.
“I’ve got to to do a better job of giving us a chance to get that going,” McVay said. “It starts with me, and I thought Todd made a handful of plays and it was good to see him be able to do that.”
Show of support
Rams linebacker Robert Quinn raised his fist in his usual national-anthem protest, but for the first time this year, he had company. Punter Johnny Hekker stood to Quinn’s left and did not raise a fist but put his right arm around Quinn’s midsection. Quinn stood with his left arm around Hekker’s shoulders.
“Johnny, he’s one of the best dudes on this team,” Quinn said. “I explained to him why I do it, and I think he kind of understood. I just think it showed the message we’re trying to send, which is unity. Hopefully we can keep spreading that, and one day the world will realize what we’re all about, and that we’re all one people.”
Hekker did something else with his arm, in the fourth quarter, when he faked a punt and completed a 28-yard pass to Josh Reynolds. The play set up a Rams field goal that tied the game 20-20.
“That was a play that (special teams coach John Fassel) had a lot of confidence in,” McVay said. “He said he thought it would be a good time and I said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do it.’ And credit to Josh and Johnny. They did a great job executing on that play.”
Rams starting quarterback Kayvon Webster missed the game because of a shoulder injury that limited him in practice during the week. McVay said tight end Gerald Everett suffered a thigh bruise during Sunday’s game and that Everett’s status is day to day. McVay said the Rams had no other injuries.