Todd Gurley had his way with the Seattle Seahawks last December. Though I am less of a Gurley believer than most, at least in the sense of him being an MVP last year or him repeating his performance next season, I can still recognize that he was at least one of the league’s three best running backs in 2017 and that he had the best game by a RB against the Seahawks.
With three games left to go and Seattle probably needing to win at least two of their remaining contests to make the postseason, Gurley helped shut the door on them almost immediately.
Nine minutes into the game, Gurley scored a 1-yard touchdown to put the LA Rams up 13-0. Two LA drives later, he scored another 1-yarder to give his team a 20-point lead. At this point, Gurley was not dominating in any sense of the word, but his team was. Or at least, the Seahawks were allowing his team to dominate them.
Seattle opens the game with the football and Tanner McEvoy converts 3rd-and-5 with a 22-yard gain, but fumbles it away. The Rams get the ball at the Seahawks 40. Gurley’s first run is for 14 yards, but LA settles for a field goal. On the next drive, Russell Wilson is sacked by Aaron Donald on third down and Jon Ryan’s punt only pins the Rams to the 50-yard line. Gurley’s second run goes for 15 yards, and his next goes for four. Still, Seattle holds LA to another field goal.
On the Seahawks’ third drive, Wilson appears to complete a 23-yard pass to Jimmy Graham, but the Rams challenge the call and it is overturned. Wilson is sacked on the next play, eventually it becomes 4th-and-20. Ryan’s punt goes 44 yards one way, but 53 by Pharoh Cooper in the other direction. Gurley’s first touchdown is a drive that started at the Seattle 1.
Gurley’s production up to this point: four carries, 34 yards, one touchdown, one catch for four yards.
The “production” by the Seahawks offense and special teams: let the Rams start at the 40, the 50, and the 1.
On Seattle’s next possession, they get to midfield, their best drive all day so far, by are forced to punt. Ryan’s got 50 yards to work with to pin LA inside the 10, but it goes for a touchback instead. Ryan’s cap hit for 2018 is one reason to add competition to the punting position, but games like this don’t help. Especially when the punter on the other side of the field also happens to be the best punter the game has maybe ever seen. (For today’s action, Johnny Hekker doesn’t make an appearance until the third quarter.)
The Seahawks rank for punt coverage last season over at FootballOutsiders: 31st. Only the New York Giants were worse at punting in 2017 than Seattle, according to DVOA.
After the touchback, Gurley runs for nine, then 14 yards on back-to-back carries. He then adds runs of one and zero yards, with the drive ending on an interception by Michael Wilhoite on 4th-and-1 that he should have intentionally dropped. Gurley’s production after four more carries: eight carries, 58 yards, one touchdown, and one catch for four yards.
The next Seattle drive is a three-and-out with a false start by Germain Ifedi mixed in. Ryan punts 54 yards, but Cooper takes it back 26. This drive starts at the Seahawks 36. Gurley runs for 10, 3, then a 1-yard touchdown to make it 20-0. We’re back to where we were before the “rewind” and these are Gurley’s numbers:
11 carries, 72 yards, two touchdowns, one catch for four yards. Is Gurley “dominating” them at this point? I wouldn’t say he’s the reason that the Rams are up 20 points as much as Seattle’s offense and special teams has given LA easy opportunities to score at will, leaving the Seahawks defense out to the wolves. Gurley and the Rams’ offensive line are doing an excellent job, that’s unquestionable, but LA pulls away thanks to other factors and that’s also what gives him/them an opportunity to make it even uglier before the midway break.
Only two plays later, Wilson is sacked and fumbles the ball back over to the Rams, giving them a start at the Seattle 39. Gurley opens with a 10-yard reception, followed by runs of 5, 4, and 4. The drive ends with a one-yard touchdown pass from Jared Goff to Robert Woods. 27-0. The Seahawks next drive ends on a 4th-and-29, Ryan punts it 46 yards, Cooper takes it back 26 yards.
LA’s drive starts at the Seattle 47 but the Seahawks defense asserts itself temporarily: Gurley’s first run goes for two yards, then Frank Clark sacks Goff to make it 3rd-and-20. This handoff should result in a gain of maybe 10 or 15 yards and lead to a punt, but instead this happens:
Todd Gurley goes 57 yards to the house, his 3rd TD of the first half. pic.twitter.com/ywq6Uorykh
— NFL Update (@MySportsUpdate) December 17, 2017
Gurley’s 57-yard touchdown explodes his statistics for the day and puts a game that was already out of reach even more into the realm of memories you want to erase. He had three touchdowns in the first half and went well over 100 yards. He started to depress his YPC average in the second half (in the third quarter, Gurley had five carries for eight yards) but the Rams had no reason not to pull him once they were up 40-0 following a 14-yard touchdown pass to Gurley.
His final stats for the day: 21 carries, 152 yards, three touchdowns, 7.24 Y/C, three catches for 28 yards and a touchdown.
It was the most rushing yards and touchdowns by a player against Seattle all season and proved to be Gurley’s best single-game rushing total of 2017. (He had 118 rushing and 158 receiving in a game against the Tennessee Titans.) Only five players have had a higher single-game rushing total against the Seahawks in the Pete Carroll era, and Gurley’s 152 was the most since Jamaal Charles had 159 in 2014. And unfortunately Seattle, which hadn’t allowed 115+ rushing yards by a player in 2015 or 2016, they gave up 152 to Gurley, 124 to Carlos Hyde, and 115 to DeMarco Murray.
Overall, the Seahawks were not terrible against the run (14th by DVOA), but they weren’t nearly as dominant as they had become accustomed to. Gurley was very good in this game, but the Seattle offense and special teams had a lot to do with the porous statistical results allowed by the defense. At that point, a 57-yard gain — which is a mistake that can happen to any defense — amplifies an already-good performance into a historically-great one. Gurley gets plenty of credit for that, and he did have the best single-game performance by a running back against the Seahawks last season.
The others worth a mention are Hyde (his 8.27 YPC was the highest against Seattle last season) and Murray, who had 8.21 YPC. Leonard Fournette also went over 100, rushing 24 times for 101 and a touchdown. That wasn’t as dominating, especially when you put it next to Ezekiel Elliott’s performance against the Seahawks: 24 carries for 97 yards.
It’s funny how much triple digits can tip the scale in someone’s favor; Fournette and Elliott had the exact same number of carries but 24/101 looks so much better than 24/97.
Those were some of the best, but what about the worst?
17 players had at least 10 carries against the Seahawks in 2017. Of those, nine were held under 4.0 yards per carry.
Robert Kelley of Washington carried it 14 times and gained only 18 yards, but had two touchdowns on the ground.
Instead, the answer for the worst game against Seattle is also the same player who has had the single-game high against Carroll going back to 2010: Adrian Peterson. As a member of the Minnesota Vikings in 2012, Peterson rushed for 182 yards and two touchdowns in a loss to the Seahawks. As a member of the Arizona Cardinals last year, Peterson was noticeably different.
In the infamous Thursday Night game that cost Seattle both Kam Chancellor and Richard Sherman for the season (and really, forever), Peterson played 36 snaps. On the first play of the game by Arizona’s offense, Peterson lost four yards and Kam forced a fumble that was recovered by Sheldon Richardson at the AZ 48.
In about 2/3rds of his snaps, Peterson got the ball, which is interesting given how little he did with it that night. Peterson rushed 21 times and gained 29 yards, including that fumble.
So in the Pete Carroll era (2010-2017), Peterson has both the single-game high against Seattle and the single-worst YPC against Seattle by a player with at least 20 carries (1.38). It’s really not even close with any other player; Shaun Draughn had 21 carries for 41 yards in a Week 17 loss by the San Francisco 49ers to the Seahawks in the 2016 season finale, but Draughn also scored two touchdowns that day. Chris Johnson had 25 for 58 for Arizona in a 39-32 win for the Cardinals in 2015.
Surprisingly, teams are 7-3 against the Seahawks since 2010 when a running back has at least 20 carries and 3.0 YPC or less. The Seattle wins are against Peterson, Draughn, and Miller in that thrilling 41-38 game against the Texans last season.
Will the defense return to being dominant against the run in 2018? It’s tough to say with so many new pieces in the mix, but perhaps the more important question is: will the offense and special teams units do a better job of setting them up?
We have to certainly hope so, because Gurley will be waiting.