While I don't get too much into the hardcore X's and O's, I am always fascinated by the job an offensive coordinator does in terms of calling the plays. As much as the players make plays and you need talent to win, I think the the impact of how a coordinator (in our case our playcaller is the head coach) varies things and limits predictability is vastly underrated. Down, distance, and personnel can all reveal tendencies. How many game threads last season led off with people predicting LT up the middle for 1 or 2 yards on the first play of EVERY game? The pivotal play of the week 2 loss to Baltimore was blown up by Ray Lewis because his film study allowed him to predict the play. How many screen passes did Rivers throw away against the Jets because the Jets knew that Sproles in the backfield meant screen? A lot Charger fans felt they could predict the play that was coming all season. We've got two much discussed improvements for the Chargers heading into this season; more versatile personnel (reduction in 'tells' to the defense), and a vastly improved running game (better run/pass balance).
As an initial pass for developing some data, I looked at the Week 2 preseason game against the Cowboys using only the four Philip Rivers possessions. For now I'm going to focus on just the down, but in the future I plan to look at players and formations. The obvious caveats are that it's a very limited set of data with 'vanilla' play calling by Norv along with some player evaluation (see lots of Tolbert runs).
There were 38 offensive snaps with 21 called runs (55%) and 17 called passes (45%). We actually ran more than we passed, which was refreshing. Forcing the linebackers and safeties to respect the run is going to really open up opportunities for our passing game (whose receiving core has a lot to prove and can use all the help it can get).
On first down we ran 11 times and passed 4 times. 8 of those 11 carries were by Mathews. It's not exactly earth shattering football to run a lot on first down though. On second down there was better balance; 8 runs and 6 passes. Third down, as you might guess favored the pass, 6 passes to 2 runs. There was one fourth down play which was a pass to gates for a first. The 21 running plays went to Mathews(12), Tolbert, (5), Hester(1), Naane(1), Sproles(1) and Rivers(1). It will be interesting to see if Tolbert gets 25% of the called runs once the real football begins. I was suprised that Sproles had so few carries, but he did catch three balls.
Other tid bits:
-With a first and goal at the three we ran 3 times. Acee has reported that on the third down play, Rivers missed the playcall due to a helmet malfunction and called his own sneak. I'm betting on a pass play looking for Gates as the primary target if I'm playing D.
-Naane had a failed 1st down end around.
-First call of each possession was a run; two to Mathews, the Naane end around, and one for Tolbert.
So what did we learn? Norv opens possessions with a run, leans towards the run on first down, and passes on third. I think we can cancel the Large Hadron Collider now. There is no more knowledge left to obtain! Here's hoping that three quarters with New Orleans prove more interesting!