Through three weeks of the preseason, Chargers first round pick, savior of the ground game, missing piece to the Super Bowl, and future Hall of Famer Melvin Gordon has missed one contest and totaled 45 yards on 20 carries in the two games he did play.
So, yeah, not great.
But before everyone hits the panic button and proclaims the Wisconsin product a bust, let's remember two things:
- This is the preseason. That's not to say that none of this matters, but it does mean that everything we do see should be looked at with a discerning eye and taken with a huge grain of salt.
- The stats really don't matter, especially when devoid of context.
Speaking of context, that's dive right into Melvin Gordon's performance against the Seattle Seahawks on Saturday and exactly why you shouldn't worry about the Chargers shiny new running back...yet.
2nd and 5 from the SD 20. 12:34 1Q. Shotgun, Ace formation, 11 Personnel
Gordon is lined up to Rivers' immediate right, with the receivers in trips right with Gates lined up on the LOS next to King Dunlap. When Gordon takes the hand off he makes a nice cut and heads through the hole, only to be clotheslined by Bobby Wagner. Gordon read the play right, showed good foot work and the hole was there. However, center Chris Watt failed to seal off Wagner when he came through the A Gap.
2nd and 4 from the SEA 39. 10:38 2Q. Shotgun, Ace formation, 11 Personnel
Same formation as above. This time Gordon is hit at the LOS by a diving Dion Bailey, who takes Gordon's legs out from underneath him. The play is blown dead, despite Gordon's elbows or knees not actually hitting the ground. In the box score this shows up as a run for no gain, but Gordon demonstrates strong balance and power on this play in absorbing the hit, staying on his feet and heading up field, for what should have been a first down run. This play could've gone for even more yards if Malcolm Floyd doesn't completely whiff on Bailey.
1st and 10 from the SD 38. 4:46 1Q. Under center, Ace formation, 11 Personnel
Gordon is the lone set back behind Rivers, who is under center. Gates is lined up to the right on the LOS next to Joe Barksdale. Floyd is out to the left with Allen in the slot and Johnson in motion. When the ball is snapped, Johnson heads to the right, presumably to seal off that side as there's no chance he is supposed to be the lead blocker up the middle on this, or any other play. Rather, what Frank Reich and Mike McCoy were probably hoping for was that the Seahawks' linebackers would over-commit and bite on Johnson's movement, leaving Gordon with room to run to the left. They didn't. At all. The line creates a fairly large hole for Gordon to run through, the only problem is that Bobby Wagner is in it when Gordon takes the handoff. He doesn't have much of a chance here and is tackled for a two-yard loss.
3rd and 1 from the SD 47. 3:26 1Q. I-Formation, 22 Personnel (2 RBs, 2 TEs, 1 WR)
The Chargers are in the Big I-Formation with LaDarius Green and John Phillips the tight ends flanking the Dunlap and Barksdale respectively. David Johnson and Gordon are lined up directly behind Rivers in the I. Seattle counters with five defenders on the line of scrimmage and eight men in the box. The Chargers line wins at the point of attack and opens up a hole on the left side for Gordon to run through and get the first down, exactly what you want to see on 3rd and short in an obvious running formation.
1st and 10 from the SEA 48. 2:48 1Q. Under enter, Ace formation, 11 Personnel
Allen and Johnson are out to the right, with Johnson in the slot. Green is the tight end to the left, with Floyd out on the perimeter, while Gordon is alone in the backfield behind Rivers, who is under center. The play is designed for Gordon to either bounce it outside or cut it through the alley that the left side of the line has hopefully created with him. Gordon does a good job of reading Dion Bailey - the Seattle defender who has edge contain - and puts his foot in the ground and cuts up field, rather than trying to bounce it outside. It ends up being a five yard gain on first down, which you'll take pretty much every time.
2nd and 5 from the SEA 43. 2:26 1Q. Under center, Ace formation, 21 Personnel.
This play, like the majority of instances when the Chargers try to run a toss, is an absolute train wreck. Allen is out to the left while Floyd and Green are bunched at the line to, with David Johnson lined up as an H-back. Gordon is the lone back behind Rivers, who is under center. At the snap D.J. Flukers is immediately beat at the line by David King, while LaDarius Green can't stop Cassius Marsh. Meanwhile Joe Barksdale can't fight anyone to block. Gordon really doesn't have a chance.
1st and 10 from the SD 20. 14:15 2Q. I-formation, 21 Personnel
Philip Rivers gets hammered after Gordon fails to pick up the blitzing linebacker. If you're going to be worried about one aspect of Gordon's game this is it. The Chargers went I-formation and tried to sell the run. The play didn't didn't even have the chance to work because Gordon doesn't make contact with the defender. In order for Gordon to grow as a runner, it is critical that he be able to contribute in the passing game both as a blocker and receiver. Otherwise Frank Reich is pretty much telegraphing that the Chargers are going to run the ball when No. 28 is in the game (which, if you've been paying attention, has been true so far this preseason and is one of the reasons Gordon's numbers are what they are.)
2nd and 10 from the SD 20. 14:11 2Q. Under center, Ace formation, 12 Personnel (1 RB, 2 TE, 2 WR)
At the snap, Fluker gets blown off the ball while Chris Hairston allows his man to cross his face and head down the line of scrimmage and hit Gordon before he even gets into positive territory. Gordon, again, does a good job of fighting through contact and keeps his legs going despite Michael Bennett having wrapped him up. Bennett eventually falls off Gordon but two Seattle defenders are able to force Gordon out of bounds. A prime example that Gordon runs hard and doesn't go down easy.
2nd and 4 from the SD 43. 12:33 2Q. I-formation, 21 Personnel
Fluker again gets blown backwards off of the line, while Hairston, Dunlap, and Green fail to open a hole on the left side of the line. But, Gordon could have potentially followed Johnson through the B gap where there was more of a crease (though not much). Gordon could've definitely helped himself here in being more decisive and following his lead block.
1st and 10 from the SD 9. 11:00 2Q. Under center, Ace formation, 11 Personnel
The middle of the offensive line gets absolutely destroyed as Chris Watt gets blasted back to the five yard line where Gordon runs into him after receiving the hand off. Michael Bennett meanwhile, abuses Joe Barksdale. However, Gordon is able to rest himself and is for once able to show some acceleration as he turns what could have been a huge loss into a seven yard gain. It should be noted that Bruce Irvin was called for illegal hands to face against King Dunlap on this play, not that that excuses Watt for getting blown off of the ball.
1st and 10 from the SD 26. 7:12 2Q. Shotgun, Ace formation, 11 Personnel
Floyd, Allen and Johnson are lined up trips left while John Phillips is split out to the right - which means the ball is definitely going to Gordon in this case. Gordon is lined up to Rivers' right and heads to the flat where he catches the ball about five yards behind the LOS. He does a very good job of avoiding a host of tacklers and actually turning the play into a two-yard gain.
2nd and 8 from the SD 28. 6:32 2Q. Under center, Ace formation, 11 Personnel.
Same players as above, with Phillips lined up at tight end to the left, Floyd out to the left and Johnson in the slot. Allen is out to the right and Gordon behind Rivers. Fluker again loses the battle at the line as he really struggled throughout this game. He's not alone as there's not much doing as the play heads to the left and Gordon is brought down for no gain.
1st and 10 from the SEA 26. 3:16 2Q. Under center, Ace formation, 13 Personnel (1 RB, 3 TEs, 1 WR)
Allen is the lone receiver out to the left, with Phillips, Johnson and Green all lined up at tight end to the right. The Chargers do a great job of opening up a hole for Gordon as Johnson and Philip's seal off the inside and Green takes on the safety to the right, leaving Gordon with a one-on-one matchup against Richard Sherman. Sherman comes up to meet Gordon in the hole and he hesitates as to whether cut inside or bounce the run inside. He ultimately chooses the latter and is stopped for a two-yard gain. Gordon has a chance for a big play and fails to take care of his guy.
2nd and 8 from the SEA 24. 2:36 2Q. Under center, Ace formation, 13 Personnel.
Exact same formation as before except the tight ends are to the left and Allen is out to the right. Rivers gives to Gordon and things go much better. King Dunlap and the tight ends create a seal out to the left, Chris Watt takes care of his guy, leaving Chris Hairston free to the next level. Gordon gets a little too wild in his footwork and misses a chance to cut back to the middle of the field. However it all comes back as Hairston is called for holding because of course it was.
1st and 10 from the SEA 12. 1:53 2Q. Under center, Ace formation, 13 Personnel
Three tight ends to the right, Allen to the left. When the ball is snapped, Johnson pulls and takes on the edge linebacker. All of the lineman block down, creating an alley for Gordon. However, it takes just too long to develop and Gordon hesitates when he first gets the ball.
If, you skipped the behemoth above, that's okay. If you're still reading, even better. What you should take away from Gordon's preseason performance is that this is going to take time. Time for him to get used to the NFL, time for him to get used to the offensive line, the offensive line to get used to him, and the offensive line to get used to each other - because there are absolutely some concerning issues there.
For the record, I don't think starting Branden Oliver and letting Melvin Gordon work in is the way to go. Gordon needs to be into the flow of the game from start to finish. He needs to be able to build a rhythm in both the run and pass game. As the "starter" he'll already be subbing out with Danny Woodhead fairly regularly, having him come into the game in certain situations for Oliver - who is more limited back than Gordon - is not how I think he becomes what I think he showed in spurts this preseason - which is a better back than the stats would lead you to believe.