The dip in production for Todd Gurley in 2019 has been well chronicled at this point. He finished the 2019 season with 1,064 all-purpose yards and 14 total touchdowns, which is still a strong season but pales in comparison to the otherworldly stats he posted in 2017 and 2018.
Taking a closer look at the numbers, however, there's reason to believe Gurley is headed to a Falcons offense that will allow him to thrive once again. According to Pro Football Focus, Gurley was the fourth-best running back against stacked boxes (defensive fronts with eight or more defenders) in the NFL last season.
"Gurley averaged only 3.4 yards per carry with eight or more defenders in the box in 2019, but a couple of factors play into why he still graded well in those situations," PFF's Ben Linsey writes. "First, the Rams' offensive line was bad last season. On average, 2.9 of those 3.4 yards for Gurley came after contact. Second, a higher percentage of Gurley's carries came in short-yardage situations than most, and he was one of just five backs to convert a first down or touchdown on over 30% of his carries against loaded boxes in 2019 (32% — third). His injury issues may have taken away some of his explosiveness, particularly as a receiver last season, but his PFF rushing grade was still that of an effective runner."
PFF also notes that 32 percent of Gurley's runs against stacked boxes earned the Rams a first down or a touchdown, which was tied for the second-best rate in the league behind only reigning NFL MVP Lamar Jackson. He also forced a missed tackle 23 percent of the time while facing stacked boxes, which ranked fourth among all ballcarriers in 2019.
Simply put, Gurley was still effective as a runner against defensive fronts specifically determined to slow down the run.
Now, what does this mean for his future in Atlanta? Well, Gurley is leaving an offense that does not have Julio Jones and entering one that does. Jones, arguably the best receiver in the NFL, commands double teams consistently throughout games. He's not alone, however, as Calvin Ridley is emerging as a threat of his own, and the Falcons believe Hayden Hurst can develop into an effective option from the tight end spot.
Given how well the Falcons have thrown the ball in years past – they ranked third in passing offense in 2019, fourth in 2018, eighth in 2017 and third in 2016 – Gurley is entering a situation where defenses will have to pick their poison. Atlanta is also different from Los Angeles in the sense that it's the personnel on hand forcing a defensive coordinator's hand as opposed to the schemes of Rams coach Sean McVay.
It doesn't take much scheming to help Jones beat his man, regardless of who lines up on him. So defenses must dedicate more resources to slowing him down, and Ridley looks like he's capable of earning similar respect if he progresses the way he has.
When Gurley takes the field as part of Atlanta's offense, he should see lighter boxes than he has throughout his career. He proved last year he can still be effective against loaded defensive fronts and behind a struggling offensive line. This change of scenery might be exactly what he needs.