It's time I dig into this issue and get my fingernails dirty. Guessing why Norv Turner prefers a balanced offense to a spread-out, pass-happy offense is not going to get us anywhere. Sure, with one of the greatest RBs of all-time (and one known to almost never fumble the ball), there's temptation to keep handing him the rock and sending him up the middle (since he can't make it outside as easily anymore). However, I'm going to make the argument that switch to a more spread-out, pass-happy offense would benefit the Chargers and make them a more dynamic team.
1. Play to your personnel. Any good Head Coach/General Manager relationship should revolve around this statement. The GM's job is to find good players at bargain prices and hand them to the coach. The coach's job is to build a team that plays to the strengths of his roster. Here are the strengths of the Chargers roster:
- Hands - Who on this offense can't catch a ball? You could argue that Vincent Jackson occasionally doesn't make the easy catch, but every other catch is generally made. Malcom Floyd, Legedu Naanee, Chris Chambers, Antonio Gates, LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles all have glue on their hands. Michael Bennett, Jacob Hester, Mike Tolbert, Buster Davis, Brandon Manumaleuna, Kassim Osgood and Kris Wilson are all somewhere between "Good" and "Fantastic".
- Speed - Need burners? We got 'em. I think VJ and Naanee are probably the two fastest WRs, with Floyd, Chambers and Buster not far behind. Gates may be the fastest TE in football. Sproles is probably the fastest RB in football. This is a team Urban Meyer would drool over.
- The Captain of the Ship - So you just made Philip Rivers the highest-paid player on your team. Considering he's also signed to be here just as long as anyone else on the roster, this is his team. Chances are in 5 years from now the team will look very different, but Rivers will still be behind Center. Why not build the team around his strengths? He's the leader, he's accurate and he's smart. In his entire career, only 2.5% of his passes have been intercepted. In his career he's average 7.5 yards per pass attempt and 12 yards per completed pass. Compare that to Tomlinson's 4.2 yards per carry last year and you can see how this may be a more effective way to move the offense downfield.
- The Offensive Line - In 2006 and 2007, Kris Dielman was maybe the best Guard in the entire NFL. At that same time, Lorenzo Neal was maybe the best Fullback in football. Those two guys worked magic and cleared some massive holes to help LT break those records. However, Dielman isn't the incredible run-blocker he once was. Nick Hardwick can't seem to stay healthy and the starting Right Guard for the Chargers has very little experience as a run blocker. This is an offensive line that is currently better suited to pass-block than they are run-block.
- Jacob Hester - NFL offenses are quite simple in some ways. Do you have a big, bruising RB that can break tackles? He may or may not need a lead blocker to clear the way. Do you have a small RB that can make something happen if you give him space? He needs a lead blocker that can clear the way. For as much as I praise Hester for the progress he's made as a blocker, he will never be Lorenzo Neal. He will never knock LBs five yards back when he hits them. His hands, ability to run the football and intelligence make him a more valuable weapon in a passing offense than in a power running offense.
- LT/Sproles - As I just stated, for these guys to succeed they need a big, bruising offensive line and a powerful lead blocker. They don't currently have that, but that doesn't mean they cannot be effective. If you spread the defense out and force them to play with 5 or 6 defensive backs, that will make both LT and Sproles more effective than if you line up 2 TEs and a FB in front of them and send them up the middle against 8 guys. Also, with LT/Sproles constantly being lined up against LBs and Safeties you'd have clear-cut mismatches on every play.
See the rest of my argument for the Chargers to run a spread-out, pass-happy offense after the jump.
2. It's a proven success for winning. In the past 50 years, there have been plenty of teams that have tried to win through the air rather than on the ground. Some have had more success than others. The key is defense. If you have even an average defense, you can outscore your opponents. Teams like the 2008 Cardinals, 2007 Patriots, 2006 Colts, 2004 Eagles, 2002 Raiders and 2001 Rams (all teams that have made the super bowl) have all had great offenses without having much of a running attack. These teams made it further than any recent Chargers team by spreading the defense out 3, 4 and sometimes even 5 wide.
3. It makes the defense better. The teams mentioned above each had defenses that were able to be much more aggressive than other teams because they were typically playing from ahead. I once heard an interview with the late Eagles Defensive Coordinator Jim Johnson, a man who Ron Rivera considers a mentor, in which he half-jokingly said something to the effect of "My play-calling is suicide unless we're playing with a lead." Any coach that loves to blitz will tell you that getting an early lead is the key to running an aggressive defense.
4. It slows down the opponent's running game. If the Oakland game showed us anything, it is the the Chargers front seven can get pushed around. Considering the Bolts are facing the AFC North and NFC East this season, meaning they will play at least a handful of teams the win with running and defense, this may be the only option. Do the Chargers really think they can win against the Giants, Ravens or Steelers with the same offense they ran against the Raiders? The way to beat those teams is to make them abandon their gameplan and force them to start playing away from their strengths. I think that quickly getting up by 10 or 14 points by spreading them out, then sending heavy blitzing at their QBs while covering their none-too-impressive receivers, would certainly give the Bolts a better chance at victory. Balance be damned.
5. Rivers or LT. I know LT is the bigger name and the one that shows up in the commercials. I know that when he's on the sideline, I rarely get to see the action on the field. I've made a million cases for taking some of the workload away from LT to save his legs, so I'm not going into that again. However, here is my point: Philip Rivers led the Chargers to 5 come-from-behind victories in 2008. He already has one come-from-behind victory in 2009. When it gets to the 4th quarter and the Bolts are losing, the fans and the team seems very confident that Rivers is going to come through and win the game. Why? Because he's a great player, that's why. So my question is, if it's become painfully obvious to everybody who pays attention to the team that Rivers has become the best player on the team, why would you wait until you're losing in the 4th quarter to hand him the reins of the offense? Wouldn't it make more sense to build a lead with Philip throwing the ball all over the place, then let LT get his carries and burn the clock in the second half while the defense blitzes the hell out of the opposing QB?