EARTH CITY, Mo. -- The St. Louis Rams believed they knew what they were doing when running back Todd Gurley was selected with the 10th overall pick in last April's draft. They just weren't totally sure when he would be ready to play and how quickly he would be up to speed after coming back from a torn ACL suffered a year ago on Nov. 15 while at the University of Georgia.
They know now as Gurley has taken the NFL by storm in the three games he's started. After gaining just nine yards on six carries in spot duty against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 3, Gurley has rushed for 433 yards on 68 attempts (6.4 average) and scored his first two touchdowns in Sunday's 24-6 victory over the Cleveland Browns.
The Rams are 2-1 in his three starts and now will be preparing to play San Francisco and push their record over .500 to 4-3. Quarterback Nick Foles referred to Gurley as an "animal." Wide receiver Kenny Britt said "there is no one like him" in the NFL, adding, "He's a playmaker; he can change the game."
Foles amplified Britt's comments, saying, "The guy's an extremely, talented, hard worker. His vision, when he runs, like I've said before, just watching him run, he's special. There's not many people that can run like that, that have ever played this game. So, he's a young guy that keeps working hard. So, the sky is the limit to what he can do throughout his career."
--With his 128 rushing yards against the Browns, Gurley became the first rookie since Tampa Bay's Cadillac Williams in 2005 to rush for at least 125 yards in his first three starts.
--In the first seven weeks of the season, there have been 15 runs of 45 yards or more. Gurley has three, the most in the league.
--In the fourth quarter, Gurley has 213 rushing yards, the most in the NFL and is averaging 9.27 yards per carry in the final quarter.
Head coach Jeff Fisher has had some excellent backs in his coaching history, and was asked if he has coached anyone like Gurley that has been so good so soon. Said Fisher, "No, and I've been around some really good ones. Chris Johnson was outstanding early. Eddie George was outstanding early. I don't recall them having the numbers that they had after three full games like Todd has."
After the loss, Browns head coach Mike Pettine was asked how he thought his defense did against Gurley. Said Pettine, "Hot and Cold. That is easy to say, 'except for the 40-yarder,' but that is what he does. The two big games that he has had, he had four or five chunk runs that accumulated for about half of the yards he had. I felt at times we did a good job and other times we didn't. You can tell he is a back and he can make you miss, jump over you. He is patient and he knows when to slow down and he is good with his change of pace. We battled for a while, but unfortunately we weren't good enough."
Gurley revealed that he played Sunday's game without a brace on his knee.
"It definitely felt better," he said. "Usually I'll be on the sidelines messing with the straps and stuff like that, so yeah it definitely felt a lot better today."
Gurley is a humble sort, who is quick to credit his offensive line and turn the attention to winning.
Several times in the second half, fans were chanting, "Gurley, Gurley, Gurley."
He said simply, "Yeah, I heard it. It was cool, but we just wanted to get a win."
Many believe a lot more wins will come with him running the ball for the Rams.
REPORT CARD VS. BROWNS
--PASSING OFFENSE: C. Pass protection was better than it was in the loss to Green Bay, and most important, QB Nick Foles had no interceptions. A touchdown by RB Todd Gurley occurred after a 26-yard pass interference penalty followed by a 41-yard play to WR Kenny Britt. Foles' passer rating was 86.0, although his 14 completions other than the Britt play totaled just 122 yards. WR's Britt, Tavon Austin (4-43) and Stedman Bailey (1-8) combined for six catches for 92 yards. Gurley contributed 35 yards on four receptions.
--RUSHING OFFENSE: A. Gurley had 128 yards on 19 runs, 93 of which came on four attempts. Austin had a great downfield block on Gurley's 48-yard run and also contributed 21 yards on one Jet sweep. It was surprising Austin wasn't used more, but he did miss practice time during the week because of a hamstring injury.
--RUN DEFENSE: A. The Rams basically shut down Cleveland's running backs except for 28 yards gained on four carries by Robert Turbin in the third quarter. Duke Johnson managed just 17 yards on six attempts with Isaiah Crowell adding nine yards on eight runs. QB Josh McCown (4-21) and Johnny Manziel (1-5) accounted for 26 of the Browns' 82 rushing yards on scrambles.
--PASS DEFENSE: B-plus. There was that completion percentage and 297 yards passing, but there was little damage. TE Gary Barnidge ran free several times totaling 101 yards on six catches, but the remainder of the 24 completions gained just 196 yards. Cleveland's three wideouts: Travis Benjamin (4-47), Taylor Gabriel (4-15) and Brian Hartline (3-22) totaled 11 catches for 84 yards, and Gabriel and Benjamin both lost fumbles on big hits by the Rams defensive backs. QB Josh McCown was sacked four times and also lost two fumbles.
--SPECIAL TEAMS: B-plus. The only negative was a missed 35-yard field goal by K Greg Zuerlein. P Johnny Hekker averaged 48.8 yards on five punts with a net of 48.0. He had three punts downed inside the 20 and two returned punts totaled four yards.
--COACHING: A-minus. All the right decisions were made in regards to when to play RB Todd Gurley and that has paid off. Sunday, the basic game plan was executed: run the ball, protect the ball on offense, play aggressive defense and force turnovers. Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams has designed packages that take advantage of what his players do well, especially S/LB Mark Barron, who is becoming a force on defense.