Playbook Confidential: What Category do the Chargers lead the league in?

First off, if you haven't read Orz's bye week Playbook Confidential, you MUST.  He does a great job covering the trends that have popped up in the season leading up to the bye and what conclusions can be drawn from them.  

Many of us have been quite down on the Chargers offense lately with their inability to score points (more like Touchdowns) in the red-zone.  When I was looking over stats in the bye week, I came upon several statistics that most of us probably wouldn't have guessed.  The Chargers lead the league in several important offensive categories that I think deserve some extra attention after the jump.

The Chargers lead the league in 3rd down efficiency.  Do you believe that?  Check it out.  Okay, so they're tied with New Orleans, but even with the offensive troubles the Bolts have been having, they have the highest 3rd down conversion percentage in the league at 56% (which is insanely high, most teams strive for the mid-forties).

Want to know another stat the Chargers lead the league in?  Fewest penalties.  The Chargers have committed the fewest penalties in the league this season.  Also a significant stat that contributes to extending drives and keeping the ball in your hands, and not your opponent's.

So we have two stats that should lead to increased time with the ball, and guess what?... the Chargers also lead the league in Time of Possession (TOP).  The Chargers hold the Ball on average 35:17 per game...that's over more 10 minutes than their opponent.  That gives the Chargers a very significant advantage over their opponent and I feel is a big reason that the Chargers are 4-1 and off to their best start under Norv Turner.  

I decided that was enough for basic offensive statistics, and decided to head on over to our buddies at Football Outsiders and see if their stats supported the ones listed above.  In their drive stats page I found the following:

 

  • The Chargers are ranked second in the league in Offensive Drive Success Rate (Behind New England, and ahead of Green Bay and New Orleans).
  • The Chargers are ranked second in Offensive Yards per Drive (42.73 yards per drive).
  • The Chargers are ranked second in Punts per Drive (.235 Punts per Drive, or 1 punt every 4.25 drives)
  • The Defensive Drive Success Rate (DSR) isn't so hot, where the Chargers are ranked just above the middle of the pack, at 13th, however...
  • When combining Offensive and Defensive DSR, the Chargers are tops in the league. Numero Uno. First place.  Chargers also top the league in Net Yards per Drive, gaining 13 yards more per drive than their opponent.
I was surprised to see that the Football Outsiders statistics backed up what I was seeing in the basic statistics.  I should add, however, that their DVOA statistics do not have the Chargers listed as high, indicating that perhaps they feel we haven't faced very good defenses so far and the turnovers by Rivers can't help either.

 

There is a lot to be said for teams that stay out of their own way by avoiding costly, drive-killing penalties and maintaining manageable third downs.  These are categories that you would not expect the Chargers to lead the league in when we think about the Chargers the last few years.  We think of a team that has an explosive offense, that puts up a lot of points, but mostly through big plays and not a team that typically wins the time of possession battle. (although did you know that the Chargers led the league in TOP last season, too? They did.)

Apparently that's not the case so far this season.  The Chargers are a team that has had a resurgence in the running game that helps to extend drives and provide support for their QB that has been struggling with turning the ball over.

For a comparison, the Chargers were 4th in the league in 3rd down conversion percentage last year, with 45%.  A 56% completion rate of 3rd downs in absolutely insane, and I would be surprised if the Chargers maintained that rate for the rest of the season.

So the next question is why the Chargers are so successful on 3rd down...let's dive a bit into that and take a look at what the Chargers do on 3rd downs:

 

  • Referencing Orz's bye week post, the Chargers have run 11 times and passed 60 times on 3rd down, for a run/pass ratio of 15/85...which oddly enough is the same as the 11 personnel overall run/pass ratio.
  • Additionally, on 3rd downs, the two most commonly used personnel groupings are 11 and 12 personnel, with 11 getting 66% of the snaps and 12 getting nearly 20% of the snaps.  Orz and I have both covered the incredible success of 11 personnel, and I think the success of 11 personnel has led to the success on 3rd down.  I would like to see more running from 11 personnel, particularly from the Shotgun...I'm thinking that sooner or later the NFL will catch up with college and learn how to run effectively from the Shotgun formation.
  • It would be interesting to see how the Chargers rank on yardage produced on first down, as I think a major part of their increase in 3rd down conversions is due to "staying ahead of the sticks", or gaining decent yardage on first down to make more manageable second and third downs.  So I jumped on over to Orz's spreadsheet and here is what I found:

  1. Average yards to go on first down: 9.9 yards.  Average yards gained on first down: 5.9 yards.  (I counted every incompletion and interception as 0 yards gained)
  2. Average yards to go on second down: 7.4 yards.  Average yards gained on 2nd down: 5.4 yards.
  3. Average yards to go on third down: 6.1 yards. Average yards gained on 3rd down: 7.2 yards.

  • These are impressive numbers, particularly those 1st down and 3rd down numbers.  Gaining nearly 6 yards per first down and 7 yards per 3rd down (1 more yard than you need on average), will lead to a lot of success.

 

So are you impressed with the Chargers offense yet so far this season?  It seems that they have turned into a clock-chewing, 3rd-down-converting, efficient monster on offense without the focus on the explosive offensive plays that they have become known for.  I would expect that we will start to see these explosive plays return to the offense with better health from Floyd and Jackson...and hopefully Gates.

As usual, let me know what you think in the comments!
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