NFL Scheme: Big Day For Melvin Gordon?

The San Diego Chargers and Pittsburgh Steelers meet in NFL Week 5, and the Chargers sputtering run game has a chance to get back on track against the Steelers average run D. When reviewing the film, Mark Schofield noticed one way San Diego could set up a big day for Melvin Gordon.

When the Chargers and Steelers meet on Monday night, San Diego has a chance to right the ship with a win, and perhaps get their ground game working. Through four games the AFC West squad has been below-average on the ground this season, averaging 102 yards per game, ranking 20th in the league. But Pittsburgh, while traditionally stout against the run, is only 18th in the league through four games, surrendering 113.3 yards per contest.

While the Chargers use a lot of power concepts in their running game, in addition to a number of draws with both rookie Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead, they do mix in the zone running scheme at times. Based on the film to date, they might want to use more of that on Monday night.

Chargers Running The Bang Read

On this first example, Philip Rivers and the Chargers face a 1st down and 10 against the Cleveland Browns. Rivers stands in the pistol formation with Gordon behind him, and San Diego has 11 offensive personnel in the game. The offense has pro formation on the right, with slot alignment to the left. The Browns have their 4-2-5 sub package in the game, showing Cover 1 in the secondary and an over front along the defensive line.

The Chargers run the zone play to the left:NFLPreview5SDPlay1Still1

The line fires out to their left in unison. On the backside of this play, tight end Ladarius Green (#89) is responsible for the defensive end and, right tackle Joe Barksdale (#72) handles the defensive tackle. This allows right guard D.J. Fluker (#76) to attack the second level and linebacker Christian Kirksey (#58). Center Trevor Robinson (#60) and left guard Kenny Wiggins (#79) execute a combo block on the playside defensive tackle lined up in the A Gap, while left tackle Chris Hairston (#75) blocks the playside DE.

Gordon will take the snap and choose where to take the football. He can bounce this play to the outside, bend it back to the weakside, or make the bang read, angling inside on the left:NFLPreview5SDPlay1Still2

He makes the bang read:

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Gordon cuts inside the combination block from Robinson and Wiggins. At the decision point, this is what he sees:NFLPreview5SDPlay1Still3

The defensive end on the left has outside leverage on Hairston, and the playside linebacker is also flowing down toward the sideline. On the backside, again the DE has outside leverage, with a defensive back crashing inside. With both the “bounce” and “bend” angles taken away, Gordon takes his third choice, and knifes straight ahead for a big gain.

Steelers Defending The Bang Read

Here is an example of the AFC North‘s Steelers facing the same design, and the opposing running back making the same read. The St. Louis Rams line up with 11 offensive personnel on the field, with a pro formation on the right and quarterback Nick Foles under center. The Steelers have their 4-2-5 defense in the game, using an over front along the defensive line. The offense runs the outside zone play to the right:NFLPreview5SDPlay2Still1

Watch how the blocking comes together here, allowing Benny Cunningham to take the handoff and attack the defense with his bang read:

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The backside blocking here is incredible, as LT Greg Robinson (#73), LG Jamon Brown (#68) and center Tim Barnes (#61) execute perfect cut blocks simultaneously, bringing three defenders to the turf. Playside, RG Rodger Saffold executes a perfect reach block on the Stephon Tuitt (#91). The defensive end lines up in a 3 technique on this play, between Saffold and RT Rob Havenstein. The guard shows quickness off the snap, driving his body to the outside by pushing off his big left leg, and getting his helmet to the outside shoulder of the defender. From there, Saffold is able to win with upper body strength, getting his back toward the sideline and turning Tuitt away from the play. Because of the great block from Saffold, the RT is free to block out on the playside DE, opening up a huge hole for the RB:NFLPreview5SDPlay2Still3

With a hole that big, Cunningham’s read was easy.

Bend and Make the Defense Break

Pittsburgh has also given up big runs against zones plays when the running back chooses to cut backside on the bend read, something Gordon has also shown the ability to do early in his career. On this play the Chargers have Rivers under center, with 11 personnel with a TE trips on the left and a single receiver split to the right. The Cincinnati Bengals have their 4-2-5 package in the game.

San Diego runs outside zone here, with Gordon starting to the left:NFLPreview5SDPlay3Still1

Off the snap, DT Geno Atkins (#97) explodes into LG Orlando Franklin, driving the guard into the backfield:


Thankfully for the offense, the backside linemen have their defenders covered, opening up the bend read for the running back:

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Gordon sticks his left foot into the turf and cuts to the backside, finding nothing but daylight. He puts a tremendous juke on safety Reggie Nelson (#20) before finally being dragged down near midfield.

Breaking Pittsburgh

Joe Flacco is under center for the Baltimore Ravens, with their 11 package aligned TE trips  left and a single receiver split to the right. The Steelers have a 4-2-5 sub defense in the game, showing Cover 3 in the secondary and with safety Will Allen (#20) nearly on the line of scrimmage over the tight end:NFLPreview5SDPlay4Still1

The Ravens send running back Justin Forsett to the right side on the zone play:NFLPreview5SDPlay4Still2

Once more, penetration from a defender wearing #97 forces the running back to make a quick decision. Here, Cameron Heyward (#97) beats left guard Kelechi Osemele (#72) to the outside and knifes into the backfield:NFLPreview5SDPlay4Still4

But look at the rest of the blocking. TE Nick Boyle (#82) is easily handling Allen on the edge. As for James Harrison? The linebacker tries to angle around LT James Hurst (#74), but watch as the offensive tackle channels his inner Kevin McHale (or Anthony Davis – for the kids) low post player, and simply boxes out the linebacker from the hole:

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Forsett reads this play perfectly. With Heyward working upfield to the outside, and a big hole opened backside, the RB plants his right foot in the ground and cuts backside, into a massive lane. He races into Steelers territory for a gain of 33 on the run.

Pittsburgh has shown the tendency to give up big plays on the ground, particularly against the zone run scheme when the running back makes good a bend or bang decision. Chargers rookie Gordon has shown an ability to pick up big yards on the ground making those very same decisions. Do the math… and adjust your fantasy lineups accordingly.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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