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Todd Gurley has Rams feeling good about Super Bowl expectations

L.A. made big moves this offseason, but its star running back is still the key

OAKLAND, Calif. — The Los Angeles Rams’ dismantling of the Oakland Raiders in a 33-13 victory Monday night should be of great concern to the rest of the NFL. Because throughout a second-half display of spectacular star power, the Rams served notice about the rest of the season.

The headliners acquired during the Rams’ aggressive maneuvering in the offseason helped them score 23 unanswered points, shut out their hosts in the second half and ruin Raiders head coach Jon Gruden’s regular-season debut in his second stint with the franchise.

The Rams, however, didn’t get going until running back Todd Gurley did, which isn’t surprising.

Los Angeles added top-notch cornerbacks Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib and brought in intimidating defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, pairing him with tackle Aaron Donald, last season’s Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year. On offense, stretch-the-field wide receiver Brandin Cooks came over from the New England Patriots. And third-year quarterback Jared Goff has proven he’s legit. But for a team that’s built to win the Super Bowl this season, Gurley remains its No. 1 key to success.

Limited to only 19 rushing yards on four carries in the first half, the All-Pro finished with 108 rushing yards and three catches for 39 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown on a shovel pass. In the third quarter alone, the Rams put the ball in Gurley’s hands 10 times.

“That’s what I do,” Gurley said.

The Raiders didn’t respond well. Playing their first game since they traded outside linebacker Khalil Mack, the 2016 AP Defensive Player of the Year, to the Chicago Bears, they didn’t offer much resistance after halftime.

“You’re already going into the game knowing the objective was to get Gurley the ball,” Oakland linebacker Tahir Whitehead said. “We knew that.”

No one is more aware of Gurley’s ability than Rams head coach Sean McVay, whose offensive design and play-calling helped Gurley have a sensational 2017 season — he was selected the AP NFL Offensive Player of the Year. For Week 1 of this season, McVay planned to call on Gurley often as usual.

But the Rams “only had [20] plays in the first half,” McVay said. “It was a conscious effort to get Todd more involved [in the second half].”

After leading the NFL with 2,093 yards from scrimmage and 19 total touchdowns last season (he also was second in rushing with 1,305 yards), Gurley reported to camp in top shape and ready to take on even more. Rams starters played little in the preseason, making Monday night their first extended test.

“Everybody did a great job. We got in a rhythm,” Gurley said. “We didn’t get too many opportunities in the first half. Came out in the second half and put on a show.”

One of the newest members of the cast raved most about Gurley.

“He’s explosive,” said Cooks, who had five receptions for 87 yards. “He catches balls out [of] the backfield. He runs the ball great. Just playing that complementary football is great.”

This season, Gurley can be even better, McVay said.

“Obviously, he’s incredibly talented. He works really hard. And I couldn’t be more impressed with his consistency both in the meeting room and on the practice field,” McVay said. “Now, when you look at him, you see a guy who’s continuing to mature. He’s starting to take ownership of what we’re trying to do offensively. That’s one of those things that separates those elite players.

“You have a tendency to make everyone around you better. He’s a special talent who also has special instincts. Total package. Obviously, we’re not naïve to the fact of what’s being said about us in regard to expectations. But we know we have to go out there every day and earn it. And you feel really good when you’ve got guys like Todd setting an example.”

The Rams are only getting started. To wind up where they want to be, they’ll have a long, difficult road to travel. And if they make it, Gurley figures to occupy the first spot in line.

Jason Reid is the senior NFL writer at The Undefeated. He enjoys watching sports, especially any games involving his son and daughter.