There are a lot of people who can take credit for Melvin Gordonâ€™s resurgence through the first six weeks of 2016.
Ken Whisenhuntâ€™s return as offensive coordinator has led to a significantly different approach through the early portion of the season in regards to the utilization of Gordonâ€™s skillset. San Diegoâ€™s offensive line has maintained stable health through the first six weeks and has been creating running lanes with consistency. And the presences of Derek Watt and Hunter Henry as capable blockers at fullback and tight end have made a tangible difference in getting Gordon into the second-level.
As a result, the second-year running back has put his abysmal rookie season in the rearview mirror and enters Week 7 tied for second in the league with six rushing scores to go with a receiving touchdown in Oakland.
Gordon himself deserves plenty of the credit for his second season being markedly better through six games than his first year, but the positions that heâ€™s been put in through the early stages of 2016 have done well to set him up for success.
But after Danny Woodhead went down with a season-ending injury in Week 2, the comfort zone that Whisenhunt had planned on keeping Gordon in was thrown out the window. No longer did the Chargers have Woodhead to throw out there on third down as either a short-yardage back or receiving option out of the backfield. Gordonâ€™s lack of pass-blocking experience couldnâ€™t be glossed over any longer. It was time for him to develop into the all-around back the Chargers pined for when they moved up to select him in the first round last year.
The ensuing three games were a whirlwind for Gordon and a series of nightmares for the Chargers, losing three second-half leads in three consecutive games to drop to 1-4. He wasnâ€™t able to repeat his 100-yard performance from Week 2, but Gordonâ€™s growth showed near the goal-line, scoring three touchdowns in short-yardage situations that wouldâ€™ve previously been chances given to Woodhead.
But where Gordonâ€™s displayed the greatest development is his ability to impact a play positively without it even being drawn up for him. San Diego has been a huge fan of the play-action offense for the entirety of Philip Riversâ€™ career, but it has been at its most-effective this season with San Diego boasting the down-field threats of Travis Benjamin and Tyrell Williams.
With Gordonâ€™s rushing ability being more respected by defenses, heâ€™s also been able to stay on the field in passing situations and provide chip blocks on edge rushers or supplementary blocking against interior pressure. With Gordonâ€™s improved play, the Chargers offense has been one of the leagueâ€™s most potent in the first three quarters.
But weâ€™ve still seen the Chargers show that when push comes to shove, they still donâ€™t fully trust Gordon, and thatâ€™s manifested itself in late-game situations.
Last week against the Broncos, San Diego continuously was able to put together long drives and get deep into Denver territory, with many of those drives culminating in field goals. Rather than go for the knockout blow on numerous fourth-and-short opportunities, Mike McCoy chose to add the three points, a decision that almost came back to bite him yet again in the fourth quarter. McCoy surely had Gordonâ€™s fumbles against Oakland and New Orleans in mind, and let that prevent him from going for Denverâ€™s jugular.
Denver may be the defending Super Bowl champs, but anyone watching that game knew that an offense with a quarterback in rhythm wouldâ€™ve been able to match the Chargers 21 points and put up even more. San Diegoâ€™s defense played admirably, but McCoyâ€™s insistence on trying to run the clock out on the game almost ended with another collapse.
This week against Atlanta and moving forward, the Chargers are going to need to both take more chances with those fourth-and-shorts — early and late in the gameÂ because field goals just arenâ€™t enough. Gordon hasnâ€™t fully realized his potential, and maintaining a steady path of development is vital to preventing him from peaking too early, but McCoy simply doesnâ€™t have Woodhead here to count on anymore in critical situations.
And when game situations call for aggressiveness and not timidness, the Chargers head coach is just going to have to learn to trust Gordon.