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Breaking Down the "Committee": Evaluating the San Diego Chargers Running Backs

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Sunday marked the first time Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, and Branden Oliver took the field together in a game that actually counted. Check out how the trio fared on Sunday.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Somewhat overshadowed in the wake of Philip Rivers' virtuoso performance was the solid debut of the Chargers running back committee, now featuring Melvin Gordon, Danny Woodhead, and Branden Oliver.

You'll notice Donald Brown, he of the 3-year, $10.5 million deal, is not in the committee. Good. He's not one of the three best running backs on the roster and it's important that the Chargers didn't have him suit up just because of how much money he is going to make.

A quick glance at the stat sheet and it's easy to see the Chargers' running backs might be a bit under the radar after Sunday's 33-28 win over the Lions. After all, when the quarterback completes his final 20 pass and throws for over 400 yards and your leading receiver hauls in the most receptions of any player on an Opening Day since 1970, a combined 28 carry, 97 yard performance out of the running backs isn't the sexiest topic to talk about.

My initial reaction upon seeing that the Chargers only rushed for 95 yards on 30 carries (Philip Rivers' two kneel downs at the end were the extra two rushing attempts) on a paltry 3.2 yards per attempt was surprised.

It honestly felt like more than that. It certainly felt better than the 3.4 yards per carry the Chargers averaged in 2014. That 3.2 average is a tad weighed down by offensive coordinator Frank Reich's insistence on running a particular play about 10,000 times per game. (That's a topic for a different article, but suffice to say that I view the Chargers' reliance on the dive out of the gun as a necessary, well "evil" is too strong of a word).

So exactly how did the Chargers running backs fare against what was the NFL's best run defense in 2014, albeit one that played without DeAndre Levy and Ndamukong Suh.

Melvin Gordon

Stat line: 14 attempts, 51 yards. 3 receptions 16 yards.

Snap Count: 37

After a tepid preseason, Gordon showed that he can be at minimum a capable lead back in his first action as a professional football player. Now, 14 carries for 51 yards isn't going to blow anyone away and a critical fumble as the team is putting a drive together down 21-13 midway through the third quarter is a big No-No. I don't want to excuse Gordon's error but rookie running backs almost all universally have fumbling issues. He's going to fumble. Just don't overreact too much when it does happen. (I know you're not going to listen to me).

Still, we did get a glimpse of what Gordon can do, even if always didn't count:

The kid has all the physical tools. What was also impressive about Gordon (although a decidedly understated degree than the above) is how well he fights through contact on runs that don't drop your jaw. On Sunday, he was almost never brought down by the first defender and gained an extra handful of yards because of that.

Equally encouraging is that Gordon was a factor in the passing game. He hauled in three receptions for 16 yards and performed well when asked to pass protect. All in all, a very promising first outing for Gordon.

2nd and 5 at SD 24

(10:06) M.Gordon up the middle to SD 22 for -2 yards (E.Ansah).

1st and 10 at SD 13

(7:24) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short left to M.Gordon to SD 22 for 9 yards (S.Tulloch).

2nd and 1 at SD 22

(6:58) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to SD 27 for 5 yards (T.Walker, H.Ngata).

1st and 10 at SD 27

(6:17) (Shotgun) M.Gordon left end to SD 25 for -2 yards (J.Jones).

1st and 10 at SD 41

(4:28) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short right to M.Gordon to SD 43 for 2 yards (D.Tapp).

2nd and 8 at SD 43

(3:51) M.Gordon up the middle to DET 43 for 14 yards (J.Wilson, G.Quin).

2nd and 9 at DET 21

(1:15) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to DET 14 for 7 yards (G.Quin).

1st and 10 at SD 22

(14:00) (Shotgun) M.Gordon left end to SD 28 for 6 yards (T.Walker).

1st and 10 at SD 17

(3:00) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to SD 23 for 6 yards (D.Taylor).

2nd and 4 at SD 23

(2:22) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to SD 23 for no gain (J.Wilson).

2nd and 3 at DET 41

(13:19) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to DET 36 for 5 yards (S.Tulloch, D.Taylor).

1st and 10 at DET 36

(12:37) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short right to M.Gordon to DET 31 for 5 yards (J.Bynes, J.Ihedigbo).

1st and 10 at DET 44

(7:14) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to DET 39 for 5 yards (J.Wilson).

2nd and 5 at DET 39

(6:54) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to DET 35 for 4 yards (J.Jones). FUMBLES (J.Jones), RECOVERED by DET-S.Tulloch at DET 35. S.Tulloch to DET 35 for no gain (M.Gordon).

1st and 10 at SD 47

(15:00) (Shotgun) M.Gordon right tackle to 50 for 3 yards (J.Bynes).

1st and 10 at SD 32

(7:46) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to SD 33 for 1 yard (J.Bynes).

1st and 10 at DET 33

(6:15) M.Gordon right guard to DET 33 for no gain (D.Tapp). PENALTY on SD-C.Watt, Offensive Holding, 10 yards, enforced at DET 33 - No Play.

2nd and 18 at DET 41

(5:04) (Shotgun) M.Gordon up the middle to DET 42 for -1 yards (D.Tapp, T.Walker).

Danny Woodhead

Stat line: 12 attempts, 42 yards, 2 touchdowns. 4 receptions 20 yards, 7 targets

Snap Count: 43

Honestly, Woodhead could've ran the ball 10 times for 5 yards and I still would've been thrilled to see him back on the football field. It's been a long time (357 days to be exact) since 39 played a meaningful down for the Chargers. How I missed him.

It took a little bit to get Danny back into the mix, as the offense as a whole struggled early. Rivers completed only one of his first four passes to Woodhead, with two of those incompletions coming on third down.

Fittingly though, the Chargers first touchdown of the year came via a vintage Danny Woodhead run from 9 yards out.

Beautiful. Here's to a speedy recovery D.J. Fluker.

The staff also elected to go with Woodhead as the guy in the backfield with Rivers when the Chargers reached the red zone in the 4th quarter up 26-21. I don't see this as a condemnation of Gordon by any means. I think Woodhead would've been the guy in even if Gordon hadn't fumbled earlier in the game (he did carry the ball twice on that drive). He's the veteran of the unit and should be the guy the staff has the most trust in right now.

2nd and 12 at SD 25

(5:48) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to SD 35 for 10 yards (J.Wilson, J.Bynes).

1st and 10 at DET 43

(3:06) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead right tackle to DET 43 for no gain (J.Bynes).

1st and 10 at DET 22

(1:54) P.Rivers pass short left to D.Woodhead to DET 21 for 1 yard (R.Mathis).

3rd and 2 at DET 14

(:31) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short left to D.Woodhead [T.Walker].

3rd and 16 at SD 14

(11:38) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short right to D.Woodhead.

1st and 10 at DET 23

(6:43) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to DET 16 for 7 yards (S.Tulloch).

2nd and 3 at DET 16

(6:13) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead right guard to DET 14 for 2 yards (J.Bynes).

1st and Goal at DET 9

Danny Woodhead 9 Yard Rush J.Lambo extra point is GOOD, Center-M.Windt, Holder-M.Scifres.

1st and 10 at SD 28

(2:00) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to SD 29 for 1 yard (H.Ngata, J.Jones).

3rd and 6 at DET 16

(:18) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short middle to D.Woodhead to DET 9 for 7 yards (T.Whitehead).

1st and 10 at SD 20

(15:00) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass incomplete short left to D.Woodhead.

2nd and 5 at DET 31

(11:55) P.Rivers pass short left to D.Woodhead to DET 16 for 15 yards (G.Quin, D.Slay).

1st and 10 at DET 16

(11:22) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to DET 14 for 2 yards (G.Wright).

1st and 10 at DET 16

(5:15) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to DET 13 for 3 yards (H.Ngata). SD-D.Fluker was injured during the play.

2nd and 7 at DET 13

(4:46) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to DET 12 for 1 yard (D.Tapp).

2nd and 7 at 50

(14:28) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short right to D.Woodhead to SD 47 for -3 yards (P.Hunt).

1st and 10 at DET 38

(13:13) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead right tackle to DET 34 for 4 yards (J.Jones).

1st and 10 at DET 22

(3:29) (Shotgun) D.Woodhead up the middle to DET 20 for 2 yards (S.Tulloch).

1st and Goal at DET 1

Danny Woodhead 1 Yard Rush J.Lambo extra point is GOOD, Center-M.Windt, Holder-M.Scifres.

Branden Oliver

Stat line: 2 attempts, 4 yards. 1 reception 17 yards

Snap Count: 5

Now I don't expect Oliver to only play 80 snaps this year, just like how I don't expect Malcom Floyd to only have 16 receptions and 32 targets. These games are going to happen. It's one of the benefits of having so many weapons.

The problem for Oliver is that when he does get on the field, teams are going to expect the ball to go to him. It's going to be a tough balancing act for McCoy and Reich as you want the to get Oliver the ball without the defense knowing the ball is going to him. The Lions keyed in on that on Sunday, which is why Oliver ends up with 2 carries for 4 yards.

1st and 10 at SD 20

(8:49) (Shotgun) B.Oliver up the middle to SD 21 for 1 yard (P.Hunt, J.Cudjo).

1st and 10 at DET 45

(7:52) (Shotgun) B.Oliver up the middle to DET 42 for 3 yards (P.Hunt, J.Bynes).

1st and 10 at SD 30

(:41) (Shotgun) P.Rivers pass short right to B.Oliver to SD 47 for 17 yards (D.Taylor).