BRONCOS

At the goal line, stats show that Melvin Gordon remains the Broncos’ best option

Sep 27, 2022, 3:14 AM | Updated: 3:37 am
Melvin Gordon...
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jamie Schwaberow/Getty Images)

DENVER — The question arises time and again in the public sphere: Why did Melvin Gordon get the call last Sunday near the goal line? Why not Javonte Williams?

There is an answer, and there are numbers to explain that.

First, one must compare their effectiveness near the goal line.

Since Williams joined the Broncos last year, he has nine rushing attempts from the opponent’s 3-yard line or closer. Gordon has 10. Williams has two touchdowns, yielding a success rate of 22 percent. Meanwhile, Gordon has 5, resulting in a 50-percent success rate. And overall as a Bronco — which includes the 2020 season — Gordon has 9 touchdowns in 16 attempts from the 3-yard line or closer, bumping him to 56 percent, per data compiled from pro-football-reference.com.

Gordon’s work in this area is above-average. The league-wide success figure on runs from the 3-yard line or closer since 2020 is 48.4 percent. But despite Gordon’s work, the Broncos are tied for 24th in success rate in that range since 2020. That’s because everyone else — Williams included — scored on just 5 of 17 runs from the 3 or closer — 29.4 percent.

This is also consistent with what Gordon did with the Chargers. In his five seasons there, Gordon scored on 22 of 42 attempts from the 3-yard line or closer — 52 percent.

There is enough of a sample size to know that he is an effective goal-line runner. This is who and what he is as a pro. This is part of why the Broncos signed him in the first place in 2020.

Second, Gordon’s stuff rate is lower than that of Williams. That’s the percentage of runs that result in no gain or a loss of yardage. Williams’ stuff rate is 20.0 percent over the last two seasons — one every 5.0 attempts. Gordon’s is 15.6 percent — one every 6.4 attempts.

Does fumble rate matter? Yes. But both of Williams’ fumbles as a pro came on plays snapped at the 3-yard line or closer, including the goal-line fumble against the Seahawks in Week 1. At that area of the field, space is scarce. Punches at the ball are plentiful. And Williams, at this point in his career, has as many lost fumbles as touchdowns on run plays from the 3 or closer.

That’s part of why the Broncos’ call for No. 25 at the 1-yard line in the fourth quarter Sunday shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

“You’ve gotta persevere, and you’ve gotta push,” Gordon said. “Your back is against the wall; you’ve gotta show what type of man you are.”

With blocks from teammates such as Garett Bolles and Andrew Beck, who led the way out of the I-formation, Gordon powered over the goal line with what proved to be the game-deciding points.

In perhaps the most taut and tense game at Empower Field at Mile High since the season-opening Super Bowl 50 rematch six years earlier, Gordon’s goal-line run was the difference on the scoreboard.

Earlier in the game, his blitz pickup was also the difference in giving Russell Wilson time to complete a 34-yard pass to Courtland Sutton. Without Gordon’s alert, adept blocking, Denver might have been staring at a safety and a game spiraling out of control as the first quarter concluded.

Gordon’s pass-protection work is why he found himself in action on third downs throughout the game, too.

Still, two Sunday night fumbles — one that he recovered, another corralled by Wilson — gnawed at the eight-year veteran.

“It’s just unfortunate for me, man, because I try so hard, I work at it every day, as far as the fumbling,” Gordon said. “I know what a lot of people say, but I try so hard when I’m out there to fight for extra yards and make a play.

:I’m just trying to show and prove to everybody that I’m still a good enough back to play in this league and be that guy, and when you fight for extra yards — you know, I thought they’d blow the whistle (before one fumble), but it’s cool, because if I had gotten out of it, I wouldn’t be saying anything. But it is what it is. I’m glad we came out victorious. I feel a [heck] of a lot better, that’s for sure.”

As Gordon patiently answered questions, he probed his mind for solutions.

“I don’t ever want to put the team in a position to where we can lose the game,” he said. “You’ve got 80-something thousand fans out there. When you fumble, no one feels worse than the guy that fumbles. You know what I mean? I’ve got 80,000 people frowning on me. And then my teammates, most of all, but it’s just about not letting them down.

“I’m gonna do whatever I’ve gotta do. I’ve just gotta be more cautious, just because, at this point, I’m just trying to show that I can do what I can do. I’ve just gotta be more cautious, man. I needed that score though, for sure, for my morale.”

Gordon’s fumbles tend to fall into one of two categories: He’s engulfed by defenders just as he receives the football — as was the case last January against Kansas City — or he’s fighting for that one extra yard as foes crash upon him.

Some fumbles, such as the goal-line loss of the football in Week 1 at Seattle, fall into both categories.

“For any guy, whenever things like that are happening — sometimes they press, sometimes they want to try to do more, they want to make a play,” Broncos coach Nathaniel Hackett said. “That happens and I think that you just have to continually talk to them to make sure that they understand that the most important thing is the ball, and you can’t put it on the ground. It’s that simple.”

Of course, the work of Gordon and Williams to date this season yielded the same number of turnovers: 1 apiece. That’s because neither of Gordon’s fumbles Sunday were lost. That was a stroke of luck that, statistically speaking, was overdue to come; prior to Week 3, 11 consecutive Gordon fumbles resulted in turnovers. Considering that the fumbling team usually recovers just over 50 percent of all fumbles, that was a stroke of bad luck, too.

But in the cold calculus of pro football, turnovers increase your chances of defeat. Those numbers can undermine all the rest mentioned earlier.

And if you give away the ball too often, you’ll undermine all the other aspects of your play.

“That’s the number one stat that you win and lose football games with,” Hackett said. “So, we just have to keep talking about that and make sure that we’re not pressing and we’re just living within the system.

“[Gordon] got a lot of good runs and had some good plays, and we just have to keep that as the main thing.”

And that’s why Gordon is likely to continue receiving chances — especially in goal-to-go and on third down.

***

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At the goal line, stats show that Melvin Gordon remains the Broncos’ best option