THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. -- Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff has done a nice job of spreading the ball around through the season's first quarter. Sometimes it's Sammy Watkins and Robert Woods who take over. Or Cooper Kupp. Or one tight end (Tyler Higbee), or the other (Gerald Everett). But there has been one constant: Todd Gurley.
Goff has stayed true to that. Gurley, with an NFC-best 596 scrimmage yards this season, leads the NFL with 106 touches through the first four games, two more than Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell. He has accounted for 53.5 percent of the Rams' touches, which is also the most in the NFL (Bell is second at 53.3 percent). And he ranks third among NFL running backs, playing in 82.2 percent of his team's offensive snaps (Ezekiel Elliott leads with 89.1 percent and Bell ranks second at 87.8 percent).
Is this type of workload sustainable over the course of a 16-game season?
"That's a good question," said Rams coach Sean McVay, who has pondered that himself. "I think a lot of it is going to be how Todd's feeling. But you also want to make sure you have a long-term, big-picture perspective in mind with Todd because of how important he is to us. ... You want him to be able to be fresh as the season progresses, as well. So whether we tailor that back or not is going to be predicated on how he feels. But right now he's done a great job."
Gurley has gained more than 100 yards on the ground in back-to-back weeks, after failing to reach triple-digit rushing yards in 20 straight games. He has hauled in 20 of his 22 targets, according to ESPN's internal statistics. And he has scored seven touchdowns, one more than he scored in four times the amount of games last season.
Gurley is averaging 26.5 touches per game this season, after averaging 20.1 touches per game in 2016. Last year, he played in 74.1 percent of the Rams' offensive snaps, more than eight percentage points lower than where it is this season. But the Rams' internal data has shown that Gurley's body holds up well with rigorous workloads, as does this: Gurley is averaging 2.4 yards per carry after first contact in the fourth quarter, compared to an average of 1.7 yards in the first three quarters.
Gurley has shown the ability to be an every-down back, a goal-line back and a pass-catching back. But the Rams are going to need backup running back Malcolm Brown and gadget receiver Tavon Austin, who has been used increasingly more out of the backfield, to take some of the load off Gurley from time to time. McVay brought that up on Monday, the day after Gurley gained 215 scrimmage yards at AT&T Stadium. He's also confident in his other weapons, from Watkins to Woods to Kupp, Higbee and Everett.
"There's a lot of different playmakers that we feel comfortable with," McVay said, "and I think the best thing that Jared has done a good job of through the first quarter of the season is, 'Hey, let the ball go where my progression based on the play dictates.' That's why I think you're seeing guys get involved."