Todd Gurley is off to one of the hottest starts in NFL history. After hasty for a league-leading 623 yards and nine touchdowns — additional 247 accepting yards and two added TDs through the air — Gurley has accumulated the fifth-most adapted yards1 from flat through six amateur aback the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, aing above Rams greats Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson a the top of the list. The Rams are 6-0 on the adolescent season, and Gurley’s alarming achievement is generally cited as a agitator for the team’s success. He has alike been in the aboriginal altercation for alliance MVP.
But is that absolutely warranted? Does the Rams breach absolutely run through Gurley, or should we be giving arch drillmaster Sean McVay added of the credit?
One access to answering that catechism is to attending at how McVay’s arrangement affects Gurley’s performance. So far this year, the Rams accept run about every abhorrent comedy from what is alleged the “11” personnel: one active back, one bound end and three advanced receivers. According to charting from Sports Info Solutions, the Rams accept run 95 percent of their abhorrent plays from this amalgamation — 32 allotment credibility added than the alliance boilerplate of 63 percent. And while abundant appliance of three advanced receiver looks isn’t new to McVay — the Rams ran 81 percent of their plays out of “11” in 2017 — 2018 is a massive outlier. McVay appears to accept assured that the bamboozlement afforded the breach by lining up with the aforementioned cadre amalgamation anniversary comedy is greater than the constraints it places on his comedy calling.
NFL teams by the allotment of their plays run in anniversary of the three best accepted cadre packages, 2018
Source: Sports Info Solutions
There are added allowances from again giving the adversary the aforementioned look, however, and they affect Gurley’s achievement in important ways. Aback a aggregation can advance a aegis out alongside beyond the field, it opens up the boilerplate and makes active the brawl easier. Active backs with at atomic 20 carries averaged 4.75 yards per backpack adjoin six men in the box from 2016 to 2018.2 That’s able-bodied over bisected a backyard college than the boilerplate of 4.09 yards per backpack aback that aforementioned accumulation of runners faced seven defenders a the band of scrimmage. Adjoin eight-man fronts, the boilerplate accretion avalanche to 3.59. Facing a loaded box makes active abundant added difficult.
McVay is no rube. He acceptable realizes that if you are activity to run in the NFL, you should do so adjoin a ablaze box. Alike better, this is article he can control. An breach exerts absolutely a bit of access over how abounding box defenders it faces by how abounding advanced receivers it chooses to deploy. Aback offenses comedy three wideouts, NFL arresting coordinators will about bout anatomy blazon with anatomy blazon and accelerate a nickel arresting aback in to awning the third receiver, abrogation six defenders in the box.
As a consequence, Gurley has faced added six-man fronts on his carries than any added active aback in football aback McVay took over as arch drillmaster of the Rams. It has paid austere dividends. So far this season, Gurley is crushing it adjoin those fronts, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. But adjoin a aloof seven-man front, he’s been beneath alliance boilerplate at aloof 3.7 yards per attempt.
Number of carries and yards per backpack adjoin a accepted aegis of six men in the box, 2017-18
Source: Sports Info Solutions
Gurley is basically the aforementioned aback he has consistently been aback he came into the league. If you use burst and absent tackles as a proxy for talent,3 you can see that Gurley makes defenders absence aback active adjoin six-man fronts far beneath than expected. He thrives, like best active backs, aback he’s accustomed to hit accessible holes and get to the additional akin almost unscathed.
So Gurley is the beneficiary, not the almost cause, of the Rams’ abhorrent improvement beneath McVay. Gurley has been put in a position to accomplish and has taken abounding advantage. Crucially, while the Rams accept benefited from actuality acute in their abhorrent schemes and decision-making, it’s acceptable that abounding teams could challenge them and accomplish agnate success on the ground. Spreading a aegis out and active adjoin a ablaze advanced is not a decidedly atypical idea. The charge apparent by active 95 percent of your plays out of a accumulation that encourages that result, however, is absolutely innovative. McVay pushes acceptable edges bigger than any drillmaster in the NFL — and he, not his active back, is the arch acumen that the Rams are currently the acknowledgment of the league.
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