The Rams host the Dallas Cowboys on Saturday marking yet another “biggest game in history” moment for the young Rams. Those proclamations aren’t entirely wrong. After all, if the Rams lose the game to Dallas, the Sean McVay veneer will begin to fade a bit and the legacy of this team will take a hit. Fortunately, the Rams got a bye week and that allowed both their offensive line to get healthy as well as star running back Todd Gurley. Gurley’s knees haven’t been right for some time and the hope is he can get back to his September/October form. The key to Gurley’s success lies not only within his line, and Sean McVay, but recently signed back up C.J. Anderson…yeah C.J. Anderson.
The Rams offense took a dive after their epic Monday night shootout with the Chiefs in early November. Some thought it was defenses figuring them out, Jared Goff regressing, Gurley not being right, or some combination of the three. All of those reasons are true but they all stem from the same place. What makes McVay’s offense one of the most sought after styles by other teams, isn’t that its exotic, but how machine like it is. The Rams don’t have an Antonio Brown/DeAndre Hopkins like star at receiver but they have a bunch of guys who can beat you from all points on the field. That’s why they can run 11 personnel 96% of the time without being predictable. That all starts with Gurley and because Gurley is responsible for so much he needs that second back to give him a break, enter C.J. Anderson.
When the Rams lost back up Malcolm Brown to a shoulder injury following the bye week, the offense lost a key cog in the machinery. Brown averaged 4.3 yards a carry and could also assist in pass blocking. By having another back that can move the ball, keep the defense guessing, and chew up clock they can do all the other stuff they like to do on offense. Losing Brown meant now Gurley had to do more with less rest, and that meant him taking more beatings. The defenses knew Gurley wasn’t right and thus knew they could just pressure Goff, who still hasn’t figured out how to handle himself when under heavy duress.
This all culminated in the Rams/Eagles when the Rams had John Kelly trying to fill that void. Unfortunately, the rookie couldn’t pass block as well as Brown so the Eagles menacing defensive line was able to force Goff into high-pressure situations. After that Sunday night debacle, the Rams turned elsewhere to fill that Malcolm Brown role and that’s where they turned to the much-maligned C.J. Anderson.
Anderson came into a great situation where he got to work off his rust against two teams with nothing to play for. Against the Cardinals, he rushed for 167 yards and a touchdown. A week later he rushed for 132 yards and a touchdown. Not only could he fill in for Gurley as a runner but he also provided enough pass blocking for Goff to get his extra nanoseconds in order to find his receivers and groove again.
The bye week not only benefited the Rams from a health standpoint which can’t be mentioned enough, but it allowed McVay to find ways to further integrate Anderson into his machine. They play a Dallas front seven that has a lot of talent and athleticism. If Anderson can spell Gurley enough and gash the Dallas run defense than the Goff can beat their equally formidable secondary.
If anyone believed C.J. Anderson could once again play a big part on a Super Bowl contender they’d be lying or a member of the Anderson family. Never the less, he’s back in a big way. He doesn’t even need to put up the numbers he put up the last two weeks. All he needs to do is fill the void as best he can when Gurley takes a breather. The Rams offense hasn’t looked explosive since November and if they can get back on track the Saints or Eagles will be in for a fight. The McVay offense is a machine and that machinery received a gigantic upgrade at the best possible time.