We are now in Week 4 of the 2018 NFL season, and the 49ers will be facing yet another prolific running back in Chargers’ Melvin Gordon. Since he entered the league in 2015, his rushing and receiving yardage has increased each year. Gordon is the rare running back who has the ability to excel in all aspects of an offense. Last year, he finished fifth in yards from scrimmage with 1,581.
Just like many of the top running backs in the league, Gordon possesses a great feel for the game and the vision to find the smallest openings in an opponent’s defense. He’s also great at putting moves together in order to find his way out of a bind.
In this play from last year’s game versus the Patriots, Gordon took the handoff to the right, and was almost met by defensive tackle Alan Branch (#97). Instead of running into him, he made a quick cut to the outside and then went into the gap that was created by Mike Williams’ (#81) block. Gordon went virtually untouched until Malcolm Butler (#21) catches up to him at the 5-yard line. The most impressive thing about the play is Gordon’s toughness. He'd been playing with turf toe, which is a very painful injury that makes it difficult to run and cut.
Here’s a different angle of the last play:
Speaking of Gordon’s toughness, he also fights for every yard he earns.
The Chargers’ offensive coordinator rarely takes him out in goal line situations because of his nose for the end zone. Take this next play, for example. The offense was lined up at the Jets’ 1-yard line when Gordon took the handoff. He got to the line of scrimmage and was met by ex-49er Xavier Cooper (#75), but kept fighting by spinning off the tackle, keeping his feet moving, and eventually fell into the end zone for a touchdown.
The 49ers, who lead the league in missed tackles through three weeks, will have to be better unless they want Gordon to have a field day. He's shown he doesn't give up on first contact.
And while he's a big back at 215 pounds, that doesn’t stop him from using his athleticism to make plays. This next play against the Raiders might've reminded Chargers fans of LaDainian Tomlinson’s athleticism.
In another play from inside the one, Gordon had a pile of defenders in front of him, so he chose to put his body on the line and jump over everyone. Luckily for him, he landed safely in the end zone and earned six points for his team. That wasn’t the only play last season where he jumped over defenders on his way to a touchdown.
Check this play out vs. the Broncos last year:
This play happened with a lot more open space.
Gordon comes out of the backfield and runs a beautiful angle route on linebacker Todd Davis (#51) before catching the pass from quarterback Philip Rivers (#17). Broncos’ strong safety Justin Simmons (#31) closes in on Gordon after the catch, but misses him. And once again, Gordon lands in the end zone for a touchdown.
So far this season, the 49ers have been able to prevent every running back they have faced from having a big game, and they look to continue the trend versus the Chargers. If the 49ers are able to shut down Gordon and dynamic backup Austin Ekeler, Rivers and the offense will be forced to air it out, and that game plan is prone to interceptions. Either way, the 49ers defense has a tough task at hand on Sunday.
Media courtesy Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times, NFL