EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 23: Mike Tolbert #35 of the San Diego Chargers scores a second quarter touchdown against the New York Jets at MetLife Stadium on October 23, 2011 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
For the second week in a row, the Chargers offense had an opportunity to exploit an opposing defense's weakness, but instead opted to challenge their opponent's well documented strength. Against the Broncos in week five, Norv Turner was rewarded for running his backs into the ground against the (at the time) 31st ranked passing defense in terms of DVOA. This week, Norv lost track of his backs, and passed 58% of the time against the 2nd ranked DVOA pass defense. The story before any play calling analysis was already a tale of two halves; 14 points on three drives in the 1st half, and 0 points on six possessions in the 2nd half. What's easy to notice is that the two successful drives featured either more, or an equal amount of runs to passes. The other SEVEN failed drives featured more called pass plays than run plays. Please don't mistake this for a RUN MOAR rant; I'm merely suggesting the team play to their opponent's weaknesses. The good news is that next week, Kansas City will bring both the 16th DVOA ranked run defense, and the 16th DVOA ranked pass defense. Norv can't go wrong in game planning this week. Or maybe he can't go right...we'll let you know when we have a final score.
The log for this week is located here. Let's dig in for more of the post mortem.
An even bigger bummer than the second half offensive fizzle, is that Norv brought something even blander than vanilla this week. He brought plain milk to New Jersey. There was nothing creative to be found: "20" was gone, "11" was underutilized and a guaranteed pass, "22" and "23" were guaranteed runs, outside runs were effective but underused, and there were only 4 play fakes the entire game. The offensive game plan this week brought a measured and subtle season long evolution to a grinding halt. Even the successful pair of red zone possessions featured little more than jumbo and super jumbo runs up the middle, only to be bailed out by Antonio Gates and Kris Dielman. The improved red zone performance (two for two) this week had far more to do with execution and stubbornness than creativity and deception.
In general, "12" was far more pass heavy than normal. This can be thought of as "11" with Gates in the slot. "23" featured three actual tight ends this week because Tyronne Greene was inactive. They ran the ball on 77% of the plays where Hester was in the game. Blah! Norv broke from his traditional early game scripting of checking various personnel groups and used "12" on the first five plays of the game in a row. It's fun to pretend that could be a wink to Playbook Confidential, but I'm guessing they were trying to figure out how Gates' foot was going to behave. There was also a puzzling opener to the 5th drive: Norv used "22" on his own 6 yard line to run up the middle for no gain. Using "22" so deep in their own territory kind of sabotaged that possession. All but two of the other "22" and "23 plays came in the red zone.
1st down saw the biggest loss of run plays from the usual stats. In the first half, there were 15 runs and 14 passes. The 2nd half saw only nine runs against 20 passes, while leading for 19 out of 29 2nd half plays. I can't characterize abandoning a working run game, with a lead, against the second best pass defense in the league, while wielding a turnover prone quarterback as anything other than low football IQ. Out of twenty called pass plays in the second half, there were three check downs to Mathews, a blown coverage by the Jets against Randy McMichael, one long pass to Gates, and those two utterly inexplicable dinky over-the-middle catches on the last drive to go with ten in-completions and two interceptions. It turns out that Revis guy really is pretty good, and that Rex Ryan guy does know how to coach pass defense.
Running back platoon usage takes a bit of a back seat to this week. I liked that Tolbert's run % was up this week, as it was the one thing that was remotely interesting. Ryan Mathews didn't seem horrible in the two minute drill (the final desperation "drive") that Mike Tolbert missed because of injury.
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As I mentioned above, outside runs were effective, if underused. Norv must have seen something he liked about Jeromey Clary and Louis Vasquez against the left side of the Jets D-line. It is possible that the injury to Marcus McNeill caused them to shy away from running left (although Brandyn Dombrowksi's pass protection seemed fine).