Running between the tackles is for tough-nosed backs.
When we imagine inside runs, it’s likely to remember behemoth backs like Jerome “The Bus” Bettis or even Broncos current running back Royce Freeman. Getting all that muscle moving in one direction, hitting the hole hard and in sync with offensive linemen’s blocks; it’s tough to stop.
That’s why, even though the Broncos went out and signed a big back — both in terms of physical size and contract size — in Melvin Gordon, Phillip Lindsay has been far and away better between the tackles.
Most yards per carry on inside attempts since 2016 (goal-line carries excluded):
1. Aaron Jones (5.6)
2. Alvin Kamara (5.4)
3. Christian McCaffrey (5.2)
4. Mark Ingram (5.1)
T5. Phillip Lindsay (5.0)
T5. Nick Chubb (5.0)
43. David Johnson (3.9)
51-of-57. Melvin Gordon (3.6)
— Graham Barfield (@GrahamBarfield) March 22, 2020
As we can see here, Lindsay is the fifth-best in the NFL, with a superb 5.0 yards per carry average, between the tackles. That’s extraordinary considering he’s one of the smaller players in the NFL, standing at only 5’8″ and 190 pounds.
Meanwhile, Gordon and his 6’1″ 215-pound frame has averaged only 3.6 yards per carry between the tackles going back to 2016. It should be noted that Gordon entered the league in 2015, meaning he has four years of data compiled into this number, while Lindsay has only two years.
What else could have led to the discrepancy which is out of the backs’ control? While the Broncos’ offensive line has been anything but elite lately, they were much better than Los Angeles’, at least in 2019. Pro Football Focus ranked the Chargers’ line at 29th in the league last year, with the Broncos coming in at 12th-best.
What about the backs themselves?
During his first two years in the league, Lindsay has showcased a style of running which gives him the upper hand by hitting the hole as quickly and physically as possible. That was seen even more in his rookie season than last year; Lindsay gets to the line of scrimmage and past the first line of defenders quicker than they can blink.
It helped him break off many 10-plus yard runs. During his rookie season, Lindsay broke off 30 runs of 10 or more yards, including a 65-yard touchdown against the Bengals. Also of note, his 32-yard run against the Bengals that year saw him hit 21.91 MPH, the fifth-fastest play that year. In 2019, Lindsay had 22 runs of 10 or more yards, including his three best runs (30, 32, 40) all up the middle.
With his fearless running style, Lindsay has been able to average 4.9 yards per carry during his two-year career. Meanwhile, Gordon has averaged 4.0 YPC during his five-year career, with a mere 3.8 YPC last season.
So, while Gordon was a sexy signing, these numbers continue to illustrate he was an unnecessary signing by the Broncos. Especially at $16 million over two years, with a $7 million cap hit this season.
The Broncos already had a stellar starting running back in Lindsay, who was underutilized by former offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello. Now, with Gordon in town, it’s likely we see even less of Lindsay, despite all the numbers saying he’s the back who should get the majority of the carries.