Melvin Gordon production a touchy subject for Chargers

Chargers running back Melvin Gordon, holding his helmet in front of him, hasn’t rushed for more than 42 yards in a game since Nov. 25.
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon hasn’t rushed for more than 42 yards in a game since Nov. 25.
(Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

Melvin Gordon is, by definition, a running back.

One of the problems for the Chargers has been Gordon’s lack of actual running. The two-time Pro Bowler hasn’t rushed for more than 42 yards in a game since Nov. 25.

Gordon has struggled just getting opportunities over the last two weeks after sitting out September because of a contract dispute.

In consecutive home losses to Denver and Pittsburgh, the Chargers’ running game was sabotaged by gaping early deficits and a young, pieced-together offensive line that has been inconsistent.

Gordon carried only 20 times for 49 yards in those defeats and had no run longer than seven yards. Philip Rivers and his 37-year-old legs have two rushes that have netted more than seven yards this season.


“Playing from behind really makes you one dimensional,” Gordon said. “No team in the NFL wants to play like that. You become too predictable. It’s been frustrating. But it’s part of the game.”

Entering their Sunday game at Tennessee, the Chargers will be looking to avoid another crippling start and somehow reestablish the notion that Gordon is worthy of the lucrative contract extension he seeks.

It has been awhile for the team’s No. 1 back. In chronological order, here are Gordon’s rushing yardage totals over his last six games: 41, 42, 40, 15, 31 and 18.

Keenan Allen, after three wildly productive games to start the season, has faded dramatically over the next three as the Chargers have struggled to get him the ball.

Oct. 18, 2019

To be fair, he has carried more than 12 times in only one of those games, and that one worked out quite well, the Chargers beating Baltimore 23-17 on wild-card weekend in early January.

“More touches,” Gordon said when asked for a solution to his personal woes. “As a running back, the more touches the better. You can get a better feel of the game. We got behind quick” the last two weeks. “Got down 14 … I was like, ‘OK, I know how this game is gonna be.’ ”


That playoff victory over the Ravens was the most recent time that Gordon enjoyed the rush of playing with a lead.

In his last three games, the Chargers fell behind 38-7, 17-0 and 24-0 before their offense showed even a glimpse of awakening.

They lost one vital dimension before Gordon or fellow running back Austin Ekeler loosened their respective hamstrings.

“Obviously, you can’t run the ball how you think,” Gordon said of trailing early. “There’s no rhythm you can get into with eight carries. I don’t care what running back you are. I get stronger down the line.

“With the more carries you get, you run the play, ‘OK, this is how they’re playing it. When they play it again, I know how I’m going to treat it.’ When you get eight carries, it’s like you’re seeing the same play for the first time every time.”

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Gordon also has had little space so far this season. Making matters worse, in the last two games, Ekeler’s opportunities to run the ball have nearly disappeared as the Chargers have been forced to try to come back via the air.

The overwhelming discombobulation of the offense was exposed on one play last weekend. On his team’s second possession. Rivers was under such instant duress that he threw a pass backward and over Gordon’s head for a fumble.

The Steelers turned the miscue into a defensive touchdown. Rivers called the play “too bad.” Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt chose “unfortunate.” Coach Anthony Lynn said simply, “That was just a bad play.”

“It’s been one of those types of years so far,” Gordon said. “Crazy stuff happening. But there’s still time to turn things around.”

A great place to start Sunday for the Chargers would be the start. They haven’t led a game since their 30-10 victory over Miami at the end of September.

They have trailed for nearly 112 of the past 120 minutes of scoreboard time.

“We know we’ve got to get out to a good start,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “But even if we don’t, if they go down and score first, we’ve got to respond. We’ve got to come right back and make something happen.”

Chargers’ Russell Okung says he will be “back to football as early as Week 7.” He’s been out since June after suffering a pulmonary embolism.

Oct. 17, 2019

In the Titans, the Chargers are facing an opponent that was shut out last weekend and has scored seven or fewer points in three of its last four games.

Things are so bad that Tennessee is now turning to backup quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose time with Miami was marked by too few victories and an infamous “Hard Knocks” confession that he thought Kansas City was in the NFC.

Both these teams are on 1-4 slides and teetering on having their seasons go to pieces.

After back-to-back false starts, the Chargers should be desperate to change the narrative regarding their early implosions.

“You’d rather it not happen two weeks in a row … or three,” Gordon said. “The plan is not to get in that situation again.”

That’s the plan. But, as the Chargers are well aware, the plan can go bad fast.