Eye-Opening Stat Revealed Showing one Crucial Difference Between RBs Melvin Gordon & Phillip Lindsay
The Denver Broncos struggled mightily on third down last season. A shocker, right? Perhaps not, considering that three different quarterbacks started at least three games for Denver.
It's next-to-impossible to establish consistency as an offense with a veritable musical chairs at the most important position on the field. The Broncos finally saw some light at the end of the third-down tunnel when the rookie Drew Lock took over in Week 13.
But the Broncos still finished No. 30 in the NFL in third-down efficiency, converting a paltry 31.7% of their attempts on the money down. I shudder to think where Denver's third-down ranking would have ended up, had Lock not taken over down the stretch.
As it was, only the New York Jets and Washington Redskins finished with worse third-down efficiency. After taking a few weeks off at season's end, the Broncos' brass, led by head coach Vic Fangio, took a hard look at the team's offensive metrics and film and decided a change was needed at offensive coordinator in order to turn the ship around.
Out went Rich Scangarello and in came Pat Shurmur. With Shurmur in the fold, Coach Fangio believed the Broncos were in a better position schematically to improve over last year's offensive unit but there were a couple more hurdles to overcome.
Graham Glasgow was signed in free agency with the Broncos planning on plugging him in at right guard, replacing the departed Ronald Leary. Next, the Broncos pursued a running back that Fangio and Shurmur believed could really help unlock the unit's third-down problem.
Enter Melvin Gordon. Phillip Lindsay, on the heels of back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing campaigns, would have to make room for Gordon as a primary ball-carrier.
In a recent article, ESPN's Jeff Legwold revealed a very telling Gordon stat, perhaps shedding light on the exact metrics Fangio and Shurmur were looking at in their evaluation process ahead of free agency.
Even with a sluggish start to his season after a contract holdout, Gordon converted 60% of his third-down rushes into first downs overall. Lindsey converted 20% of his third-down chances.
That's a marked difference — a 60% success rate on third down compared to 20%. Now, it's not necessarily a sole reflection on each back, and likely is a number influenced greatly by offensive line play and Xs and Os design.
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The Broncos' O-line was solid last year, arguably a middle-of-the-pack unit. But, boy, did they struggled moving the pile and opening up holes in short-yardage situations.
Meanwhile, one of the most maddening aspects of watching the Broncos' offense last year was Scangarello's head-scratching calls on third down. Adding Shurmur alone, in this writer's estimation, will help Lindsay's success rate when touching the ball on third-down by a mile.
You'll see more innovative play-calls that get the Broncos' playmakers in space. But having a heavy-bodied back like Gordon with a nose for the sticks will help tremendously, to say nothing of his pass-catching ability out of the backfield.
It's also worth noting that Gordon is viewed as one of the NFL's touchdown machines. While, yes, he did increasingly relinquish touches to Austin Ekeler over his last couple years in L.A., Gordon left the Chargers with 47 career touchdowns. 36 rushing, 11 receiving.
Gordon had nine touchdowns last year and he only played three-quarters of the season, due to his early holdout. This Broncos offense is absolutely dying for that kind of production in the red area and on the goal-line, all due respect to Lindsay, who himself has posted 17 total touchdowns in two NFL seasons.
From a per-season basis, Gordon has averaged 9.4 combined touchdowns since entering the NFL as the No. 15 overall draft pick back in 2015. Meanwhile, Lindsay, who didn't hear his name called on draft day, has averaged 8.4 touchdowns through two seasons.
Now, the Broncos have multiple ways to skin that cat in the backfield. The oft-used 'one-two punch' trope is coming into focus and should get Broncos fans excited for what the future holds.
Coach Fangio admitted in his conference call with local media on Tuesday that Gordon's third-down prowess was a factor in the Broncos' pursuit of him. That attribute jumped off the screen when Fangio turned on the film.
“I think it was part of the equation of the decision," Fangio said. "I always thought that Melvin Gordon was a good back. If you remember, his first game back this year this past season from his holdout was against us in Game 5 out there in L.A. One of the things I did was look back and watch all of his touches against the Broncos in the two games in 2018. It was reaffirmed. I was impressed with that."
At the end of the day, the Broncos will have their critics for paying near top dollar to acquire the 27-year-old Gordon but there's no question his arrival upgrade the depth and talent of the running back room. It will be interesting to see how the touch-share dynamic plays out between Lindsay and Gordon, but the Broncos got themselves an explosive, two-time Pro Bowl back.
"Any time you can add a good football player to your team, especially one who will touch the ball, if that works financially and works with the structure of your team, it’s always a good thing to do," Fangio said.