One thing that's been painfully obvious this Chargers season is that the run game hasn't quite, shall we say, developed.
Not the way the head coach and coordinator hoped it would by the midpoint of the season. Not the way the general manager envisioned it after moving up in the first round of the 2015 draft to select running back Melvin Gordon with the 15th pick.
Through seven games, the Chargers rank fifth-worst in the NFL in rushing yards (610) and fourth-worst in yards per game (87.1). They average 3.7 yards per carry.
Here's two reasons why the ground game has been restricted:
1. The offensive line has been battered and patched together. Since Week One of the season, the offensive line has been decimated with injuries to most of its starters, causing reserves -- and backup-backup-reserves -- to hear their name called, many of them being asked to play unfamiliar positions across the line. Though offensive line coach Joe D'Alessandris moves mountains to get all his players up to speed at every position -- knowing full well that injuries will occur, and guys will be asked to fill whatever void is necessary -- there's still a learning curve to guys shuffling throughout the line.
For a successful run game, you've got to be able to jell and learn the tendencies of the guys next to you -- really learn them, so much so that muscle memory takes over the thought process. The Chargers really haven't had their five best offensive linemen on the field for the majority of the season. They haven't had time to jell. The reserves have been playing musical chairs. They haven't had time either. And certainly, the rookie Gordon could benefit from seeing the same five blocking for him when it comes to creating a rhythm and understanding how his linemen operate.
Here's the good news: The offensive line has been getting healthier; in fact, at the time of this writing, only left guard Orlando Franklin was a casualty of the injury report.
2. The Chargers have been playing from behind. The team has barely led this season; rather, the pattern has been to fall behind early -- (they've been outscored 108-59 in the first half so far) -- and then have to abandon the ground game in favor of the passing attack to make up the two or three score deficit. Plus, quarterback Philip Rivers is good at throwing the ball. Great, actually. And he has weapons around him.
Headed into the 2015 season, head coach Mike McCoy and offensive coordinator Frank Reich emphasized the need for a run game and a balanced attack. The goal was to rush at least 50-percent of the time and gain at least 4.0 yards per carry. During training camp, Rivers could often be seen taking snaps under center.
It hasn't happened. Yet.
The Denver Broncos and New England Patriots are two teams that are undefeated but rank worse than the Chargers in rushing yards through seven games; however, they are the exception, not the rule. For the most part, a team needs to rely on their rushers, especially if they want to go deep into the postseason.
The Chargers still don't know what their ground game looks like. They don't really know what Gordon can do, or how he could help this team if given the opportunity.
It seems imperative they find out sooner than later.