The Chargers way
Jackson has shown he’s a very talented runner, displaying patience at the line of scrimmage to find gaps and hit them hard for big gains. Still, it hasn’t earned him more touches. The reason for this is the way the coaching staff likes to do things.
The historic usage of the running backs by head coach Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt shows they like to have their main back getting 70 percent of the touches, while the rest split the other 30 percent. This is a very normal split of touches around the league, but Lynn and Whisenhunt have done it like this no matter who is in the backfield.
It’s also very familiar for Chargers fans to have a lead back who is spelled from time to time by a receiving threat, or ‘satellite back’. Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, Mathews and Danny Woodhead, Gordon and Woodhead or Gordon and Ekeler have all been this same type of tandem fans have grown accustomed to.
During the 2016 season, when Mike McCoy was head coach, Whisenhunt divided touches in the usual way. Gordon garnered 68 percent of all running back touches (excluding fullback touches), while Kenneth Farrow, Ronnie Hillman, Woodhead and Andre Williams split the other 32 percent.
In 2017, Lynn’s first season as head coach, Gordon’s usage jumped to 73 percent, mainly due to him having his first and only full healthy season. In 2018 is where Whisenhunt and Lynn’s ways are revealed.
During the 2018 season, Gordon played and started 12 games. In his four missed games, Ekeler, Jackson and Detrez Newsome handled the ball. Ekeler himself missed the historic Week 15 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, leaving Jackson and Newsome as the only healthy backs for that game.
During Gordon’s 11 starts, excluding the game against the Arizona Cardinals where he went down with an injury, Gordon had 67 percent of all running back touches, keeping with the trend that has distinguished Lynn and Whisenhunt.
While this usage of a lead running back is not uncommon at all in the league, things get interesting during Gordon’s four missed games.
That’s when many expected a more even timeshare to cover for their Pro Bowl running back’s absence. The result was Ekeler handling 71 percent of the touches in the backfield, with Jackson getting the remaining 29 percent. Against the Chiefs, with Gordon and Ekeler nursing injuries, Jackson got 19 touches, and Newsome got eight. Again, this was an exact 70-30 split.