Melvin Gordon’s return helps more than just the rushing attack
Melvin Gordon is a premier back! In fact he thinks he is worth about 13 million a year in value, but that’s neither here nor there. Gordon was activated last week for the Dolphins game but has yet to see any game action. This week however against the division rival Denver Broncos he will be slotted in as the starting back and rightfully so. The rushing game has been one of the strong points of this team despite Gordon’s absence. However Gordon brings more to the team than just yards from scrimmage.
Being a premier running back means you can do it all, and by all I mean any and everything you could possibly ask from the position. While Austin Ekeler has been doing a fantastic job filling and carrying the load the fact remains that there are more things that the simple box score doesn’t show. That one simple thing happens to be a running backs ability to pass block on crucial passing downs. Now given the state of the Chargers offensive line, an extra quality blocker in the backfield is actually a low key big deal. Now that Melvin Gordon is returning it will be a huge upgrade in this particular department. In fact Gordon’s pass blocking grade for the entirety of the 2018 season was an impressive 89.6 overall. In order to put the comparison in perspective so far through four weeks of the current season Austin Ekeler came in with a 53.4 pass blocking efficiency grade while Justin Jackson’s pass blocking grade was a miserable 20.7. With that being said it is also of note that the Chargers running backs may not be asked to chip and or pass block as much as say a running back on a different team. I say this because the Chargers typically run more outside plays such as screen dump offs and or text book sweep tosses. This actually seems to more of the case this season as I believe having a high number of plays that require the offensive lineman off the line of scrimmage so they can block in space helps to mask the blocking issues. At the end of the day it’s how a team executes the little things that accumulates to make a difference come the end of the game.
The other big aspect that comes upon Melvin’s return is more versatility on the offensive side. More specifically it would give the offense the flexibility to slide Ekeler out into the slot position if they choose to do so. Seeing as how slot receiver Travis Benjamin is dealing with a hamstring issue and carries a 33% dropped pass rate they may want to consider other options. In fact the Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt utilized Danny Woodhead in a similar fashion during his first stint with the team. Ekeler is a much stronger and versatile version of the fan favorite Woodhead. The team has already been fairly successful when targeting Ekeler on wheel routes down the sideline. With Gordon in the backfield the team could afford to slide Ekeler out in the slot and ask him to take part in intermediate routes. Even if that isn’t the case they could also utilize Ekeler as a motion flanker or a “wing”. You see this more often at the college level more so in hopes to create movement and misdirection. Even so as the NFL continues to adopt more and more college style play this would not be so far fetch. In fact the team has already ran a few of these similar style flanker motion plays. They have even done so to allow Keenan Allen a few rushing carries.
All in all Gordon will have a limited role in week 5. The team wants to ease him back in apparently. Seeing as how well Austin Ekeler has been holding down the position the team can afford to do so. I would however keep an eye on how many more passing downs Gordon is asked to block for. The blessing in disguise here is that Gordon is going to have fresh legs, which bodes well once the season makes it to the tail end final stretch.