Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden has changed the course of this NFL season. No, seriously. Go back to the Khalil Mack trade for starters. As a result, the Chicago Bears had the best defense in the NFL and clinched the playoffs. Midway through the season, Gruden and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones made a deal that would send Raiders star receiver Amari Cooper to “America’s Team.” Cooper would reignite the passing game, filling the void for Dez Bryant and being the impetus that would get the Cowboys to the playoffs.
But it was Gruden’s last move that made the most impact. C.J. Anderson was once an Oakland Raider this season before he was castoff by Gruden. On December 15th, 2018, the Los Angeles Rams decided to take a chance on Anderson, as Todd Gurley was nursing a serious injury. It would pay off for the Rams in the divisional round matchup against the Cowboys, rushing for 123 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries. A masterful performance for a running back, who many thought his career was over.
“I never gave up on myself,” Anderson said. “I never gave up on my ability and what I could do.”
C.J. Anderson Released By Three Teams Before Arriving in Los Angeles
Before C.J. Anderson became a playoff hero in Los Angeles, he is revered by the fan base in the Mile High city of Denver. From 2013 to 2017, Anderson was the physical running back for the Denver Broncos. He would be the anchor of an offense that was captained by quarterback Peyton Manning (a.k.a. The Sheriff). In 2014, Anderson would have a career-high season that would earn him a spot on the Pro Bowl, where he generated 849 yards for eight touchdowns. Anderson would play a pivotal role on the Broncos Super Bowl run in 2015, often using his physicality to set up Manning and the passing game.
But after the 2017 season where Anderson recorded 1007 rushing yards, the Broncos decided to part ways with the tailback. Anderson would get signed onto the Carolina Panthers, hoping to provide some much needed running support for the franchise. But through nine games played, it was clear the Panthers were going to ride with Christian McCaffrey. Anderson only had 24 carries for 104 yards in the nine games he played for the Panthers before the franchise released him.
Anderson would not play a single game as an Oakland Raider. A running back’s career is short-lived; at any one moment, the downward spiral could begin. For a physical rusher like Anderson, the hits do take a toll. However, the Los Angeles Rams decided to give Anderson a chance. A team located in the city where “dreams are made of,” the Rams were looking to be dealt some luck by possessing an effective running game during Todd Gurley’s absence.
Anderson & Gurley Each Tally 100 Yards in Divisional Round Victory
Coming into Saturday’s contest against the Cowboys, there were question marks for the Rams. Was Todd Gurley going to be healthy? Will Jared Goff rise and perform on the playoff stage? How will a Rams run defense, which was 31st in the NFL last season, handle Ezekiel Elliott, the league’s top rusher?
What no one focused on was CJ Anderson, who would become the Rams’ secret weapon. It is clear that the entire Rams team, from head coach Sean McVay to Jared Goff, believe in Anderson to run his routes and utilize his physicality against opposing defenders.
“He’s brand new to the team,” Goff said. “But you see the way he practices, the way he prepared, how smart he was, and I think halfway through that first quarter I’m like, ‘OK, this guy can still run.”
The Cowboys defense did a stellar job in the Wild Card game against the Seattle Seahawks, eliminating their rushing attack which was rated as the top run offense in the NFL. But against CJ Anderson, Dallas had no answer. With the help of a stout offensive line, Anderson saw the holes and bulldozed through the Cowboys defense consistently. Todd Gurley, who had many question marks coming into the Divisional Round, looked healthy and back to his normal self, rushing for 115 yards on 16 carries (one touchdown). The Rams would rack up 273 total rushing yards, a new franchise record that was only made possible by the two dynamic running backs.
”It’s scary,” Anderson said of his partnership with Gurley. ”We’ve got two different styles, and we can keep teams off balance. … Playing on the field with Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, I’m just trying to make my statement and make my stamp in this game, too.”
Heading into the NFC Championship Game next week, it is clear the Rams have championship aspirations. But for the team’s first postseason win since 2005, it would be CJ Anderson who would be the unsung hero.
Not even Hollywood could script a better story for the running back.
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