Norv's Brain : Chargers at Cowboys

Head coach Norv Turner of the San Diego Chargers during a preseason game against the Dallas Cowboy. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

It's time for a preseason edition of my offensive playcalling analysis.  For the Chargers at Cowboys game this week, I compiled the details for the entire first half, minus the meaningless end-of-half possession.  This includes all three Philip Rivers-led possessions, and one with Billy Volek leading the rest of the entire first team.  Before I get to some rollups and details, let's settle one thing: currently, Mike Tolbert is the new Darren Sproles on offense.  There were six third down snaps this week, and Tolbert was in the game for all six.  We can officially end Jordan-Todman-as-3rd-down-back watch. 

I'm much more interested however, in the fact that Ryan Mathews was not used on third down even once.  The surface conclusion is that Norv likes Tolbert's pass protection out of the shotgun better, but Mathews did see four shotgun snaps to Tolbert's nine, and nine passing plays overall against Tolbert's eleven.  Time will tell if this is a preseason or small data-set fluke.

One ground-rule for play calling analysis is that I tend to focus on what was planned before the snap, and less so on the outcome.  For example: a sack is counted as a planned passing play.

Norv's first half play calling and the first team offensive execution was on perfect schedule against the Cowboys.  The run (12 plays, 38%) was used to keep the pass (20 plays, 62%) defense honest, as we're used to, and as we hope to see throughout 2011. 





1st Down


9 (60%)

6 (40%)

2nd Down


5 (50%)

5 (50%)

3rd Down


6 (100%)

0 (0%)

4th Down


0 (0%)

1 (100%)



20 (62%)

12 (38%)


The interesting piece of Run vs Pass balance is that with the exception of two FB runs by Hester, all running plays came with 10 or more yards to go.  There were twelve plays run with less than 10 yards to go, and ten of them were pass plays.

There were eleven plays with a fullback (all Jacob Hester) in the backfield: eight (73%) were running plays, with only three (27%) being pass plays.  This will be something to keep an eye on for telling tendencies in the future.  On the other hand, 100% of the thirteen shotgun formation snaps were passing plays (this is shocking!)

Turning our attention back to the Mathews and Tolbert usage subject, Mathews was on the field for 18 (56%) plays to Tolbert's 14 (44%). Mathews had seven carries to Tolbert's three.  Does it feel like Tolbert only had three carries in that game? Tolbert was in the game on four out of five goal-to-go plays. There's your running back plan for 2011: Mathews is the lead back with the majority of 1st and 2nd down carries, while Tolbert is the 3rd down and goal-line back.

One footnote hinted at above: keep your eyes on Hester if there is one yard to go, he got the ball up the middle both times that distance came up.

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