In the Broncos’ collective mind, at least one thing offensively has gone according to plan this year: Running backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams have a similar workload.
Through 10 games, Gordon has 118 carries and 139 total touches in 344 snaps and Williams has 103 carries and 127 total touches in 296 snaps.
The Broncos (5-5) now hope the strategy of keeping both players fresh entering the season’s stretch run, which begins Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers, helps fuel their push toward the postseason.
“This is a league, the more backs you have and you can split (the work), it does help over the long-term,” coach Vic Fangio said before practice Thursday morning.
The Broncos are the only team to have two tailbacks with at least 500 rushing yards (Gordon 522, Williams 514) and one of two teams (Green Bay) with two 100-carry tailbacks.
Gordon has more attempts, yards and touchdowns, but Williams, the Broncos’ second-round pick, has been more eye-popping with his ability to break tackles and gain chunks of yards. Gordon, who has lost key fumbles in the last two home games, is expected to remain the starter this week.
The distribution of carries has been consistent. The widest disparity between the players was six carries in the Week 3 win over the New York Jets (18 for Gordon, 12 for Williams). In the other nine games, the difference was none, one (four games), two, three and four (two games) carries.
The two differences in production: Gordon has five touchdowns compared to one for Williams, but Williams has 12 explosive carries (gain of at least 12 yards) compared to seven for Gordon. Each has a 100-yard game (Gordon 101 at the Giants, Williams 111 at Dallas) and only once have they exceeded 19 attempts in a game (Gordon 21 at Dallas).
The Chargers could provide the ideal opponent to churn out rushing yards and keep quarterback Justin Herbert and Co., off the field.
Los Angeles (6-4) is last in the league stopping the run (145.1 yards per game) and have allowed at least 175 yards in six games. Last week, the Chargers jumped to a two-touchdown lead in the third quarter, limiting Pittsburgh’s run plan to 18 attempts for 55 yards.
“Since our bye, we’ve played four really good run teams (Baltimore, Philadelphia, Minnesota and the Steelers) so we’ve made the right adjustments and we’re getting people in the right places,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said in a conference call with Denver media. “We’ve been able to define things better for our group, we’ve tackled better and we’ve played more physical at the point of attack because I think our guys are a lot surer of what’s going on.
“I think we’ve just improved a lot and I’m really proud of our guys. The last four weeks, we’ve played at a high level.”
The external motivation also counts for something.
“We just got tired of all the noise, people saying (teams) can run all over us,” Chargers linebacker Uchenna Nwosu told reporters. “As a man, that just hurts your pride. … Everybody said enough was enough. We just really hammered in on the run game, coming off the ball and being very physical and aggressive.”
Said Fangio: “I think they’ve made a more conscious effort to play (the run) better. That’s part of their scheme, too, in that they will stay back in a two-shell (safety look). Their season statistics aren’t very good, but they’ve been better if you look at the last couple of weeks.”
A two-shell safety look takes a player away from the line of scrimmage, allowing for the offense to more easily account for every defender.
Two weeks ago, Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook gained 94 yards, but needed 24 carries, so the Broncos’ contention that Los Angeles is defending the run better is somewhat valid.
The Broncos are 4-0 when having at least 28 rushing attempts.
“We’ve done good things in the run game throughout the year,” Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur said. “(The Chargers have) got really good players. They can challenge you.”
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