Beyond just the team's struggles finishing with an underwhelming 4-12 record, which marked the 10th straight season without a playoff appearance, it was a step back for Gurley on an individual performance standing. He recorded only 885 rushing yards with six touchdowns while averaging a meager 3.2 yards per attempt. This included falling short of cracking the century mark in any game while tallying fewer than 50 rushing yards seven times and failing to reach the end zone in all but five contests.
According to NFL.com, Gurley was also the first running back since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to participate in all of his team's games and average as many carries per contest (17.4) without amassing a single 100-yard rushing performance for an entire season. All of this has seemingly shifted Gurley's focus toward coming back stronger in his third campaign to demonstrate that his breakout rookie year wasn't a flash in the pan.
In light of that, Rams running backs coach Skip Peete believes there's another critical area that he believes the 22-year-old needs to show improvement heading into next season, according to ESPN's Alden Gonzalez.
“It has nothing to do with the running game,” Peete told ESPN. “I think the most important thing in this league, as far as a running back is concerned, is his ability to pass protect, whether it’s first or second down. Because they think it’s easy. They’ve all come into the league comfortable as a runner. But that aspect of it is a little bit different than you’re accustomed to coming out of college. He and I talk about that all the time — your ability to completely understand the blocking scheme, whether it’s run or pass.”
The running back position is far more than just rushing the ball as pass protection also plays a major part in the duties of an every-down player. According to Pro Football Focus, Gurley graded out 30th in pass blocking situations (65.6) on 69 pass block snaps among qualified players at his position.
The Rams emphasis on pass protection could come from the simple fact that the primary focus remains on developing quarterback Jared Goff. The 22-year-old is coming off a subpar rookie campaign in 2016 that saw him record 1,089 passing yards on a 54.6 completion percentage with five touchdown passes and seven interceptions, and holding a 22.2 quarterback rating.
Improvement on this aspect of Gurley's skill set could help provide more opportunities for the 2016 first overall selection to make plays with his arm. The future of franchise lies on these two players shoulders and cohesiveness in this area is a step in the right direction.