Once Seattle got a lead, they would turn and hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and make tired defenders tackle the bruising runner in the fourth quarter.
“It’s what I’ve been saying since I got here,” Okung said. “I tell Mel every day, ‘Hey, you could be special, man. Just buy in and understand what we’re trying to do.’ And it makes complete sense when he goes out there why he’s having the sort of games he’s having.
“He’s a guy that understands the offense really well. He sets us up to have success up front. And when he gets past the defensive line — watch out.”
One of the reasons the Chargers (4-2) are riding a three-game winning streak is the play of Gordon. The Wisconsin product is third in the league in rushing with 466 yards, and fourth in yards from scrimmage with 745. He has scored nine touchdowns.
Gordon grounded out 132 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a win over the Cleveland Browns last week.
But what has been most impressive is Gordon’s ability to churn out yards when the defense knows the Chargers are going to run the football — on first down and in the fourth quarter.
“I think he’s kind of been [trending up] his whole career, little by little and just becoming more of a complete back,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “Gosh, he’s just hard to tackle. He’s running hard and he has worked at it. I think it’s shown. I think he had a heck of a season last year, but he’s definitely running well.”
Gordon averages 5.3 yards per rush on first down — 2 yards better than the 3.3 yards per carry he averaged on first down last year. And he’s averaging a robust 8 yards per carry in the fourth quarter this season, helping the Chargers close out games late by keeping the chains moving.
“He has been driven to get his game to another level, and I think we’re seeing the benefit to that,” Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “He’s worked hard. He’s studied it.”
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn was looking for a workhorse running back who could finish games when he took the job in January of last year, and Gordon has developed into that for the Chargers.
“I love the way he’s running,” Lynn said. “He’s inspiring our entire sideline, the way he runs when he gets violent.”
One of the reasons for Gordon’s success this season has been the addition of Mike Pouncey. The Pro Bowl center has brought a nastiness to the offensive line in the running game.
“When you have the athleticism and the power, you can run inside with Pouncey and you can the perimeter with Pouncey,” Lynn said. “And I love his mindset, his mentality. I think that’s contagious.”
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Gordon played a full, 16-game season for the first time last year, finishing with 342 touches in 2017, No. 4 in the NFL. Gordon finished without a touchdown his rookie season, but since the start of the 2016 season he now has scored 33 — only Todd Gurley (34) has more.
“It’s just my mindset and the guys around me as well,” said Gordon, when asked about the frequency he’s getting in the end zone. “Those boys are willing to make it happen for me, so hats off to those guys for bringing me in there.”
Gordon is not worried about overuse, believing that he and third-down back Austin Ekeler can carry the running back load for the Chargers.
An undrafted rookie out of Western State Colorado, Ekeler has combined with Gordon to give the Chargers an explosive, 1-2 combo at running back.
Ekeler (470) and Gordon have 1,215 yards from scrimmage, and are pace to break last year’s NFL combined yards from scrimmage record for a running back duo of 3,094 yards set by Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram of the New Orleans Saints.
“Any time you have a back like Melvin, a big force doing what he does, he’s a hard guy to bring down,” Okung said. “You keep doing that over and over, guys start missing tackles. And before you know it, it’s a tough two, a tough three and then a big seven, a big 20. Mel is incredible.”