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Putting Melvin Gordon's rookie season into perspective

The blame for Gordon's struggles lies with many parties, but none more than himself.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It feels like we talk about Melvin Gordon quite a bit as a Charger community. It also feels like we don't talk about him enough. When his play is brought up, it's either "he sucks" or "the offensive line sucks." What we refuse to take into account is that both of these things can be true. The offensive line can play poorly, while Gordon can fail to create on his own. There will be times, like against Jacksonville, where I counted Gordon forced 10 missed tackles. When that happens, you get excited and think that he gets it. Then there are times, like versus the Chiefs, where you can't tell if he's running blindfolded.


One thing that, in my opinion, has held Gordon back is his indecisiveness in the backfield. He's just inconsistent. While it's easy to point at him being a rookie, this is a position he's played seemingly for the last 10 years of his life. This should be natural for him by now. Yet, the majority of Gordon's runs start off with him stutter stepping in the backfield. Again, this is independent of whats going on in front of him as far as blocking is concerned. I would compare Gordon to a bad improv actor. When he has a script, and is on schedule, things are fine. When the director is just rolling the film, he has no clue what to do. None.

There are runs when Gordon just goes. No hesitation in the backfield. The line looks better because they're not having to hold for that extra half count. In the example below he doesn't like what he sees to the play-side and immediately cuts back against the grain and makes something happen.

The reason I'm fine with this isn't because it was a gain of 5. I'm fine with this run because it was a bang-bang decision. As I mentioned, this should be natural for Gordon. He needs to be playing this fast on every down. He's shown he can, but again, it's just so few and far between it's hard to see if he's actually developing with every touch.

You don't like what you see? No problem, put your foot in the ground, get north and south, and get 7 yards. That's the Gordon the team so desperately needs.

Fast forward to Sunday against the Chiefs. This is the 1st carry of the game. There's no good reason for Gordon to be stopping his feet here. He can either continue straight ahead and try and get skinny through the hole and pick up 5-6 -- which he's showed he's capable of doing -- or, see the gaping hole over the centers left shoulder and have a 1-on-1 situation with the safety about 8 yards downfield. If he makes him miss, it's a TD at best, a 30-40 yard gain at worst. Instead......

This. This is the result. The only thing more the offensive line could've done is pointed Gordon in the correct direction. This trait, or lack thereof, is the most frustrating part about watching the rookie running back. This is what we see far too often with Gordon. Which leads to where he really lacks.


The feel for the game. The ability to process what the defense is or is going to do and react quick enough. This is where I can see the "he's just a rookie" card being thrown out the most, but the examples where Gordon proves that he has zero feel for the game are runs where you have to watch over and over again and ask yourself what in the world made him do this.

If I was sitting down with Melvin and he told me "I don't trust my blockers" there is no way I'd argue with him about that. I wouldn't, either. The problem is Gordon isn't trusting anything. Whether it's his blockers, himself, or the play itself. These screenshots are designed runs that we all beg for. Get Gordon to the outside. This is an outside zone as you can see the left side of the line take outside steps in attempt to reach their man.


Gordon's path on the play should be right between 77 and 74. 88 will take care of 55 and Gordon should be clean, in theory.


Everything goes as planned. Instead of staying within the structure of the play, Gordon goes against the grain, and his blockers, and cuts it back to where he has no help.


The result is a gain of 3. Everyone is accounted for to the outside. I can't think of a reason why he cut this back. Let's look at it live.

Even if he felt like 88 wasn't going to make a block on 55 -- which is fair because 88 is atrocious -- 55 is keying 88. Linebackers key fullbacks. Gordon knows this. He should also know he has the speed to beat 55 to the sideline. Ladarius Green is the end man on the line of scrimmage and he has the corner sealed, there's no one else out there. Just puzzling.

These are the plays that are frustrating as a fan because sure, the offensive line is a mess, but yards are being left on the field. 2nd and 7's are supposed to be 2nd and 3's, at worst. Like in the example below, he's turning down 1-on-1 opportunities that could be gains of 5, and, if you make a man miss, possibly 30+ yards.


Instead, he keeps going right here, and it ends up as a 3 yard gain. The feel for the game just isn't there and this is after 201 touches.

This is a fun one. Look at this picture below, how many yards would you guess were gained here? 7? 10? 12?


This was another situation where Green and the CB are the last guys out here. If you guessed 3 yards then meet me after you finish reading for a prize. 3. Three. Yards. As soon as the linebacker in front of him dives at the oncoming lineman, Gordon redirects towards the middle of the field instead of running toward the sideline. This is just bizarre. This isn't on the line. It's not Frank Reich's fault. There's just a lack of confidence going on here. Gordon ran a 4.52, which is plenty fast for a running back in the NFL. In fact, his entire combine was impressive. Athleticism isn't an issue.

Creating for yourself

The reason why athleticism isn't an issue is because Gordon has shown that he can regularly break tackles. Whether it's in the backfield or at the second level, he's done it. Per PFF's elusive rating, Gordon has the 9th highest rating in the league of any RB. They only count missed tackles where the defender makes contact so he isn't even getting full credit here.

Look at that. That's a football player being decisive at full speed. That's the Gordon the team needs. Decisions and moves at full speed, not one or the other.

Here's the problem. When he's getting 1-on-1 opportunities, he's getting tackled. I know, that sounds hypocritical. That sounds like I'm being too nit-picky. There are plays, especially in the passing game, where there are just too many yards being left on the field.

You can't draw up a better situation than that for Gordon. Those are plays that he has to make. It goes back to stopping his feet. Thinking too much. Whatever it may be. Gordon gets isolated with a DB, which happens more than we talk about, and then can't make him miss. It all comes back to being decisive.

I'm with you guys, I know the line isn't great. The play-calling is sketchy to be polite, and the decision to bench Gordon after every fumble is asinine and can crush a players confidence. That said, Gordon isn't maximizing the yards that are available. These things are not mutually exclusive. All parties involved can be bad or struggling, and that's what's happening now. If Gordon wants to be a 1200 yard rusher like the team expects him to be, he'll have to figure out moving forward that he's going to have to trust himself first and foremost. So when he sees a 1-on-1 opportunity, he's going to have to take it. He's going to have to win that matchup. The still pictures I've showed above are gaping holes. Those can't continue to be glossed over.

I'm hoping this is just an adjustment period because the biggest concern at the moment is Gordon's feel for the game. With more reps you hope that he learns to see the field and know when to attack more consistently. There's been 201 touches for Gordon and, speaking on his play independent of everything else, I would've liked to see more at this point. Let's hope he finishes the year on a strong note.