In all honesty, I am among those who was critical of the Chargers trading up to select Wisconsin RB Melvin Gordon, mostly because I still believe the Chargers had other pressing needs (OL, DL, OLB) which should have been addressed before running back, and because I didn't believe at the time Gordon had a chance of becoming a top-shelf NFL running back.
Last Sunday, Gordon provided some good evidence he might well become a running back worthy of a 1st round selection. So, let's take a look at one of his best plays - his 27 yard gain in the 2nd Quarter which helped set up a scoring drive.
The Play: 13:30 remaining in the 2nd Quarter. Chargers 2nd and 11 at the Chargers' 36 yard line.
The Chargers are in "11" personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Formation is shotgun, trips left.
The Chargers' Offense, from left to right.
- WR Keenan Allen (13).
- WR Malcom Floyd (80).
- WR Stevie Johnson (11).
- RB Melvin Gordon (28).
- TE Ladarius Green (89).
The Bengals' Defense (from the defense's right to left).
- Up Front: DE Michael Johnson (90), DT Domata Peko (94), DT Pat Sims (92), DE Carlos Dunlap (96).
- In the Middle: LB Rey Maualuga (58), LB Vincent Rey (57).
- In the Secondary: CB Adam Jones (24), CB Leon Hall (29), SS George Iloka (43), FS Reggie Nelson (20), CB Dre Kirkpatrick (27)
- The Bengals are running a 4-2-5 defense by personnel.
Elements of the Play
Figure 1 shows the pre-snap business. As Jones comes up to the line of scrimmage against Allen, the Bengals are giving QB Philip Rivers a 2 deep zone look. With Gordon on Rivers' right hand side, Rivers comes up to the line and changes the play. As result of the play change, Gordon moves from Rivers right side to his left. LB Rey Maualuga shifts slightly to his right - he started the play between the hashes, which indicates that if the play is a pass, Gordon is his responsibility.
At the snap, Figure 2 shows the Bengals using a conventional 4 man rush. When you look at the field side of the play, you can see that the Chargers have their 3 WRs in position to block the 3 defenders closest to the play. The 2 unaccounted for players (at the moment) are LB Vincent Rey, and SS George Iloka.
At this point in Figure 3, let's look at the line action. The Benagls were better for most of the game, but the Chargers offensive line wins on this play. DE Carlos Dunlap and DT Pat Sims run a stunt against TE Ladarius Green, RT Joe Barksdale, and RG Chris Hairston, but it's handled perfectly. Green blocks Dunlap initially, while Barksdale and Hairston combine to block Sims. Once Dunalp moves behind Sims, Hairston comes off the double-team and picks up Dunlap.
On the other side, C Chris Watt and LG Orlando Franklin initially double-team on DT Domata Peko. Once blocked, Franklin slides off and picks up the block on Rey, eliminating the nearest unaccounted for defender. Meanwhile, LT King Dunlap takes advantage of DE Michael Johnson trying an outside-in move, and blocks him to the inside, opening a huge running lane to the left for Gordon.
Note: Gordon has two choices - the hole between Hairston and Watt, or running to Dunlap's left. The difference is a decent gain by going up the middle, or...
In Figure 4, the Chargers' WRs have done a terrific job blocking the three nearest defenders. WR Stevie Johnson picks up Maualuga, while WR Malcom Floyd blocks CB Leon Hall, and WR Keenan Allen blocks CB Adam Jones. This leaves Gordon 1-on-1 against Iloka, who coming up to make the play. Iloka, however, takes a bad angle to the play and...
Figure 5 - Allen, right at the perfect moment, disengages his block with Jones, and picks up Iloka, which allows Gordon to turn the corner and get free down the sideline. Except for the great hustle of CB Dre Kirkpatrick, who comes all the way across the formation to make the tackle at the Bengals' 38 yard-line, Gordon would have gained at least another 10 yards before having only to beat FS Reggie Nelson for a 64-yard touchdown.
Here's a GIF of the play:
Melvin Gordon has demonstrated in only 2 games that he is a very dangerous runner in space. On this play, he showed good decision making in reading Dunlap's block and taking the play outside, where the extra blocking was. Further, there's few things better than watching WRs who play unselfish football, and are willing to make blocks on running plays. Keenan Allen may have had a rough day catching the ball, but his blocking on this play was terrific.
Going forward, this is a play design which would also lend itself very well to a quick RB screen pass as a potential blitz beater, and as a means of getting Gordon the ball in space and the opportunity to generate explosive plays.