Melvin Gordon can upstage fellow elite running back Todd Gurley when the Los Angeles Chargers meet the L.A. Rams in Week 3.
Football’s pass-happy modern era means NFL fans aren’t often treated to a duel between two elite running backs. Fortunately, Week 3 will provide a meeting of two terrific, ground-based playmakers, Melvin Gordon and Todd Gurley.
Both are the dual-threat workhorses two of the league’s best offenses are built around:
Gurley has the 2-0 Los Angeles Rams purring after scoring four touchdowns and amassing 270 all-purpose yards.
He’s the oil in the engine for the Rams’ high-powered offense, but Gurley may find himself upstaged by Gordon. The latter has a lightning bolt on his helmet, but the L.A. Chargers’ versatile workhorse is set to steal Gurley’s thunder.
Gordon is the Chargers’ ticket to an upset road win because of his flair for both phases of offense. The fourth-year pro’s development into a prolific receiver is quantified by Ricky Henne of the team’s official website:
Thus far, Gordon ranks fourth in the league, and first in the AFC, in both receptions (15), targets (20) and receiving yards (140.0).
However, that only tells part of the story as a deeper dive shows just how impactful he is as a receiver.
Gordon’s 117 yards after the catch are far and away the most of any running back as the next closest is Joe Mixon with 77. Meanwhile, nine of his 15 catches have gone for first downs, which is tied with Christian McCaffrey and Chris Thompson for tops among all running backs. He is also the only player at his position with multiple touchdown receptions on the year.
Those numbers should worry Rams defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Running backs operating in space against linebackers can undermine Phillips’ schemes.
Moving Gordon out of the backfield will present Philip Rivers with quick throws to avoid a ferocious pass rush led by Aaron Donald.
The Chargers won’t win if Gordon only makes hay as a receiver, though. No. 28 still needs to earn his crust on the ground.
Phillips’ defense appears stingy against the run, allowing a meagre 74.5 yards per game. It’s the fifth-best number in the league, but the Chargers shouldn’t be deceived by it.
The Rams are tied for 15th when it comes to yielding 3.9 yards per carry. They’ve also benefited from playing struggling ground attacks.
A past-it Marshawn Lynch wasn’t able to get the Oakland Raiders going in Week 1. David Johnson couldn’t get on track for the Arizona Cardinals last week, but the multipurpose weapon is being wasted behind the power-blocking and pass-first play-calling favored by offensive coordinator Mike McCoy.
Gordon will be the first home-run hitter back the Rams have faced. His own average of 3.8 a carry could use some work. So could the gameplans that call for him to have only nine attempts the way he did during Week 2’s blowout win over the Buffalo Bills.
The Chargers can’t be stupid enough to leave the ball in Rivers’ hands against the Donald-led pass rush and a secondary bossed by Marcus Peters and Aqib Talib.
It’s time for head coach Anthony Lynn, a longtime former running backs coach, to let Gordon be The Man.
You can bet Lynn’s own defense will be keying on Gurley. It doesn’t matter how well Jared Goff and receivers as skilled as Robert Woods play, the Rams only go as far as Gurley takes them.
Two star backs don’t get to try and outdo one another in the same game much these days. Week 2’s clash between Saquon Barkley’s New York Giants and Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys proved a damp squib.
The Gordon and Gurley meeting can be on a par with Emmitt Smith’s showdown with Barry Sanders from 1994. They put on a show to make any rushing aficionado drool on a Monday night at Texas Stadium, per Profootballhof.com:
Sanders piled up 194 yards on 40 carries, while Smith, the three-time defending NFL rushing champion, countered with 143 yards on 29 attempts and another 49 yards via seven pass receptions.
Gordon and Gurley both practiced after leaving their respective games with knocks last week. Here’s hoping they’re healthy enough to deliver something special in California.
It’s a star-studded duel Gordon can win.