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Next Gen Stats notebook: Todd Gurley's vanishing act

Football is the ultimate team game.

Tom Brady isn't the MVP frontrunner without Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Dion Lewis, a passable offensive line and an astute coaching staff.

Along the same lines, Todd Gurley doesn't go from prohibitive Offensive Rookie of the Year favorite to an unproductive afterthought without a comprehensive breakdown in the Rams' offense.

Gurley topped 15.00 mph with the ball in his hands just once for the second straight week, per Next Gen Stats. Last week, he needed to run an inefficient 6.02 yards per rushing yard gained -- easily a season high. In Week 12, that number jumped to 9.15.

We know Gurley is a special talent. He hasn't lost his burst or forgotten what it takes to make plays. This is the direct result of the Rams' quarterbacks and offensive line holding the ground attack hostage.

No quarterback situation has been more debilitating than the Nick Foles-Case Keenum tandem over the past three weeks, leaving defensive coordinators with no reason to resist crowding the box. The blocking has been just as problematic, with left tackle Greg Robinson starting to look like a Jason Smith-style draft bust. Even worse, the rookies comprising the right side of the line have simply been overmatched.

Gurley's star hasn't faded in recent weeks. Barring a catastrophic injury, he's going to be a major offensive force for the next decade.

Like all football players, though, he can't overcome enveloping ineptitude.

Here's what else we learned from Next Gen Stats in Week 12:

  1. Texans coach Bill O'Brien earned a heaping helping of derision for his early-season bungling of the quarterback room, but he also deserves plenty of praise for the offensive innovation complementing a swarming defense of late. One week after using 12 different personnel combinations, including 25 plays with a sixth offensive lineman, he used nine different groupings and 15 plays with an extra lineman in the convincing victory over the Saints.

With little help beyond DeAndre Hopkins, O'Brien has gotten creative, dusting off a variety of gadget plays such as the Wildcat, the jet sweep and wide receivers throwing touchdown passes. Houston will be one of the most fascinating teams to watch over the season's final month.

  1. O'Brien isn't the only coach tinkering with his offense on the fly. When Danny Amendola joined Julian Edelman and Dion Lewis on the sideline for Week 12, Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels shifted their focus to the tight-end position. The Patriots aligned in the "12" (two-tight end) formation 42 times against Denver. It's no surprise, then, that Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler led the team with a combined 11 receptions on 21 targets. With Gronkowski joining the injured trio in the trainers' room this week, Belichick will have to scrap that game plan and head back to the drawing board.
  1. The speed issues at wide receiver resurfaced again in Green Bay for the Thanksgiving loss to the Bears. James Jones was held without a catch for the second time in three weeks. His fastest speed with the ball in his hands over the past five weeks is 16.79 mph, well below average. His inability to separate from coverage was also a prime culprit in Derek Carr's disappointing rookie season in Oakland.

Davante Adams, relentlessly hyped by the Packers all offseason, has been abysmal, dropping four passes including the potential game-winner versus Chicago. Shaky hands aren't the only issue. Adams hasn't topped 15.00 mph with the ball since Week 9. According to the analytics site numberFire, Adams' 2015 season is one of the least efficient of the past 15 years. On the receiving end of passes from the best quarterback of the past half-decade, Adams' performance has been one of the season's true head-scratchers.

  1. Speaking of Packers wideouts, Doug Baldwin has supplanted a drop-prone Randall Cobb as the league's most productive receiver out of the slot. All six of Baldwin's receptions for 145 yards and three touchdowns versus the Steelers came from the slot. He now leads all receivers with 662 yards out of the slot, while posting the highest yards-per-catch average (14.71) among players with at least 40 percent of their snaps in the slot. With Jimmy Graham out for the season, the Seahawks will need that Russell Wilson-to-Baldwin connection to continue firing on all cylinders.
  1. On the Week 12 Recap edition of the Around The NFL Podcast, we noted that the Vikings' biggest concern is the number of hits Teddy Bridgewater is taking as a scrambler. Next Gen Stats bear that out, noting that Bridgewater has the happiest feet in the pocket this season. He entered Week 12 averaging 13.84 yards run per drop back, the highest figure in the league. That number increased to 14.86 against the Falcons.

That trend suggests the receivers aren't gaining separation, the offensive line isn't holding its blocks or Bridgewater has been indecisive in pulling the trigger -- or perhaps a combination thereof.

  1. From the pure speed department: Carson Palmer was lampooned for his "unathletic" game-winning touchdown scramble, but it generated the fastest speed of any Week 12 rushing touchdown. In fact, Palmer's 18.88 mph on that play was slightly faster than Adrian Peterson's maximum speed (18.86) in racking up 187 yards from scrimmage.

Next Gen Stats has taught us that the game's best linebackers are often just as fast as starting running backs. Luke Kuechly reached 18.37 mph on his second-quarter pick-six, equivalent to C.J. Anderson's 18.37 mph on the game-winning touchdown run in overtime Sunday night.

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