C.J. Anderson adds new element to Saints rematch

Good NFL teams shapeshift throughout the course of a season.

A team we see in September isn't usually the one that takes the field in January. Bill Belichick's Patriots are famous for honing their product through the course of the season, finding what works for their personnel and what doesn't. Other times, injuries can change the complexion and trajectory of a team, like last year's Super Bowl-winning Eagles after Nick Foles took over for Carson Wentz.

The Los Angeles Rams found a knee injury to running back Todd Gurley morphed their team the last month. The addition of C.J. Anderson a month ago has provided Sean McVay's team with a battering-ram running game that can punish defenses.

In three games with L.A., Anderson is averaging an outrageous 140.67 rushing yards per game and has scored four touchdowns. In Saturday's pulverizing win over the heretofore stout Dallas Cowboys run defense, Anderson, Gurley and the rest of the Rams galloped for 273 total rushing yards, the most in a playoff game in team history.

"I guess it was a good thing I got hurt," Gurley said laughing, via the team's official website. "C.J. got me, was able to come in and was able to do his thing. I mean he's been doing his thing his whole career. The last three weeks been phenomenal, 100 yards each time, so we just going to keep it going."

The change couldn't have happened if three non-playoff teams hadn't jettisoned the 27-year-old running back. First, the Denver Broncos hit the eject button on his contract in the spring. Then, after wallowing behind Christian McCaffrey in Carolina, Anderson was granted his release. He landed in Oakland for a hot pretzel before Jon Gruden found no use for his skills.

After Gurley went gimpy with a knee injury, the Rams scooped him off the couch, and now he's starring on a playoff run. It's stunning to see the bowling-ball Anderson quickly get north-and-south and pick up chunk gains against a good defense like he did Saturday night at the Coliseum.

"I can't go 70 [yards]. Todd can go 70-80 if he wants to," Anderson said of his style. "From the 40 in, man. You know? When they say the 40 at the [NFL] Combine matters, that's where it matters."

In Gurley's first game back on Saturday, the Rams didn't bench Anderson, instead using the duo to body-punch the Cowboys into submission. Gurley played 55.3 percent of the snaps while Anderson handled 44.7 percent, per Next Gen Stats. Anderson's straight-ahead attacking style brings a needed element to the Rams' red-zone offense, which for all their scoring has struggled for stretches this season -- according to Football Outsiders, L.A. ranked 16th in red-zone points per drive and 18th in touchdowns per red-zone appearance.

"If [Gurley] wanted to play 98 percent of the snaps, then we were gonna let the man be the man. That's why he's one of the best backs in the league," Anderson said. "But I think him seeing the opportunity of being fresh, not taking as many hits, and having the workload on passing downs and run downs -- I think that helps."

It could help Sunday in New Orleans, where the Rams travel for the NFC Championship Game.

In the first meeting in Week 9 between the Saints and Rams, the L.A. running game was mostly held in check -- thanks in part to getting down big early. In the Rams' 45-35 loss, Gurley earned just 68 yards on 13 carries -- nearly a third of that yardage coming on one run -- and a touchdown.

The Rams are a different team since that road loss. Now they travel back to New Orleans with a dangerous two-headed backfield that could make the difference between a trip home for the winter or playing for a Lombardi Trophy.

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