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Film Study: 4 Gurley Plays

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Los Angeles Rams Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Here’s the film.

I am going to analyze the first 3 plays of the video, then analyze the TD on the last play of the 1st half at the 2:56 mark (fast forward).

Play 1:

Situation: 0-0 game, Rams’ ball, 2nd and 11 from Rams’ 18 yard line.

Rams’ Formation: Strong Left (TE 89 Higbee, FL 18 Kupp), shotgun, RB Gurley RIGHT (weak side) of QB Goff

Cardinals’ Defense: 4 man front, 3 under (Baker, Bynes, Benwikere), 4 deep—-in a ZONE look, because RCB Jamar Taylor isn’t in position to play man defense on the flanker. If it was man to man, Bene Benwikere would have covered Gurley off the snap, instead he plays the hook zone.

Play Call: Quick out pass to Gurley to the weak side.

Result: 7 yard gain by Gurley on an easy wide open throw and catch, which gets the Rams out of a 2nd and 11 hole deep in their territory, early in 0-0 game.

Cardinals’ breakdown? Who is supposed to be covering the flat? Benwikere plays the hook zone, so if anything it should be Patrick Peterson on a roll up, with FS Bethea filling in over the top.

How the Rams and Sean McVay were smart: They lined up in a strong left formation which typically would key the defense to roll its zone coverage to the left—-but by off-setting Gurley to the right, they felt they could get him wide open with the belief that the LCB Peterson would stay in his deep third and leave the flat open. They were correct.

Note: Peterson reacts quickly and makes the tackle, but the Rams’ plan worked to perfection.

Play 2:

Situation: 0-0 game, 1st and 10, Rams’ ball on their 31 yard line.

Formation: Strong Right (TE 89, FL 18), 1 RB behind QB (direct snap), twin WRs left.

Cardinals’ Defense: 4 man front, 4 under, 3 deep (Note: the Cardinals were showing a a 44 look a number of times in this game).

Play Call: 36 Off-Tackle Right. (36 = 3—-RB through the 6 Hole—the T/TE gap) QB—1, FB—-2, RB—-3....holes from left to right 7—5—3—1—0—2—4—6—8

Result: 5 yard gain by Gurley.

Cardinals’ Breakdown?

  • DE Benson Mayowa gets kicked out too wide by RT Rob Havenstein.
  • LB/S Antoine Bethea should have filled the hole sooner, but when he gets blocked by TE Higbee, Bethea at least does a good job of forcing Gurley back into the help (good job of contain after Mayowa lost it).
  • The irony is that the tackle is made by DT Corey Peters who was blown backward on a double team but then reacts to the flow, scrapes down the line and finishes up on Gurley. It turns out to be a heckuva play by Peters, otherwise this could have been a big chunk yard play for the Rams.

Play 3:

Situation: 0-0 Rams have ball in the Red Zone.

Formation: Strong Right (TE Higbee and LF Kupp), Gurley single RB.

Cardinals’ Defense: another 44 look, 4 man front, 4 under, 3 deep.

Play Call: 36 Off-Tackle with bounce-out option to Gurley

Result: 12 yard TD by Todd Gurley.

Cardinals’ Breakdown?

  • TE Higbee bunny hops to draw DE Chandler Jones inside, and Jones rides down with Higbee. The bunny hops suggests the Rams wanted to entice Jones to close down inside.
  • FL Kupp sticks a strong block on LB/S Bethea and seals Bethea to the inside. Bethea does not get off the block, and has lost his job of contain.
  • RB Gurley sees that Jones has collapsed inside to shout down the off-tackle hole, so he bounces outside, throws an inside-out move on CB Patrick Peterson, which Peterson overplays and then tries his best to recover from, but Gurley gets to the pylon faster as Peterson makes a tackle. (Note: if you keep watching the tape there is play later of the exact same call where Peterson plays it perfectly by funneling Gurley back inside to the help and then Peterson assists in the tackle. This shows how PP21 is adjusting. Kudos to Peterson.

Play 4:


Situation: 11-0 Rams under 10 second left in the first half, 4th and goal from the 1 yard line.

Formation: Strong Right (TE Higbee, FL Kupp), single RB Gurley, Goff over center.

Cardinals’ Defense: Modified goaline defense with both DTs in A gaps and LB Bynes and S Benwikere shading the inside of the B gaps. NO MLB!

Note: Steve Wilks had just called time out after seeing the Rams’ formation.

Play Call: 32 Dive (Right A gap) to Gurley

Result: Gurley 1 yard TD untouched.

Cardinals’ Breakdown?

* It’s an easy audible at the line of scrimmage for Goff—-all he really needs to call is a QB sneak to his right for an easy TD, but he calls the dive for Gurley just to be safe.

  • DT Nkemdiche gets easily dowblocked by RG Blythe Austin who has the perfect angle on him—-in my way of thinking, Nkmediche was supposed to shoot that gap and create inside havoc. But the way he took a dive on that play suggests that he was coached to do that.
  • There is NO MLB, and S Benwikere does not react to the RG’s down block to fill the A gap (which HAS to be his KEY on the play) and instead he gets easily blocked by T Rob Havenstein. Thus, Gurley is able to strut right through the hole untouched.
  • Note: it is mind-boggling that Wilks, in this critical situation (after wisely calling a timeout), called for this highly unusual and gift-wrapped goaline alignment—-made even worse by having a small safety (Benwikere) be the closest defender to the hole. Even if Benwikere got to the hole as one would hope that he was supposed to, the bigger, stronger Gurley would likely have run him over.

Comment—-there are things to teach and build on here—-it’s not all bad (some players are doing their jobs and the Cardinals under Wilks are trying to play physical)—-but, as we can see, when a crucial player breaks down and misses his key or his assignment, the pendulum swings widely in Gurley’s and the Rams’ favor. This is exactly what Steve Wilks is talking about when he talks about “gap integrity.”