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Friendships aside, Falcons know key is to slow Rams' Todd Gurley

ATLANTA -- Atlanta Falcons nose tackle Grady Jarrett didn't hesitate when asked about Los Angeles Rams running back Todd Gurley, a player Jarrett and the Falcons will face in Saturday's NFC wild-card game.

Jarrett knows all about Gurley from their college days, when Jarrett played on Clemson's defensive line and Gurley starred for Georgia. In 2013, Gurley rushed for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns on 12 carries in a 38-35 season-opening loss to Jarrett and the Tigers. Then in 2014, Gurley rushed for 198 yards and 3 touchdowns on 15 carries -- and added a 100-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- in Georgia's 45-21 victory.

"I always tell people, coming out the combine, I was asked who the best player you ever felt like you played against in college, and I always said Todd," Jarrett said. "So I have a great respect for his game. And he's having a great year, so I know it's definitely going to be a challenge."

Gurley, an MVP candidate in just his third NFL season, led the NFL with 2,093 combined yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. He topped the league with 786 yards before first contact, a tribute to his speed and the blocking from his stout offensive line. And his 1,305 rushing yards were second in the league behind Kansas City rookie Kareem Hunt (1,327).

Falcons coach Dan Quinn is well-aware of Gurley, a player he admitted the Falcons considered in the 2015 draft, when they selected pass-rusher Vic Beasley Jr. eighth overall. Gurley was the 10th overall selection.

"We knew the physicality and style we wanted to play, so I definitely had an eye on him and looked at him and evaluated him," Quinn said of Gurley. "For a guy who had his size (6-foot-1, 227 pounds), he had exceptional ability to like put his foot in the ground and accelerate out. He had kind of the combination of the make-you-miss and the ability to kind of size you up and run you over.

"What I didn't know is how good a pass-catcher he is. And that part of his game has really come through, especially this year when you see him at over 60 catches [64 with six touchdown receptions]. He's really proved he can handle the load in a big way."

An interesting storyline going into Saturday's game could be the battle of versatile top running backs, with two-time Pro Bowler Devonta Freeman on the Falcons' side and Gurley with the Rams.

"Todd's my brother," Freeman said. "We always talk. We get with each other when I go out to L.A. Last time I was out there, we hung out a little bit. He's having a lot of success right now. I'm excited and happy for him."

Falcons linebacker Deion Jones, who, like Jarrett, faced Gurley in college, said he has developed a bond with Gurley over social media.

"He's a solid dude," Jones said. "He's a baller."

Friendships aside, the Falcons know stopping Gurley and the Rams' run game will be one of the keys to pulling off the road win. The Falcons are 7-1 this season when they hold opponents under 100 yards rushing and haven't allowed a team to reach 100 rushing yards over the last four games. And the Rams are 6-0 this season when Gurley rushes for 100 or more yards.

Something has to give.