Chargers Playbook Confidential: at New Orleans Saints, Week 5

Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE - Presswire

Which running back is the starter? Who's the workhorse? Can they get 2 yards rushing when they really need it? Norv doesn't know.

During the epic 2011 Chargers losing streak, we chronicled the slow, steady descent from successful balanced 50%/50% offense to 70%/30% and then 80%/20% passing ridiculousness. Norv Turner apparently learned nothing from that experience. This week, he thought a nice 73%/27% pass whacky offense against the league's worst rushing defense would do the trick. Not even the normally run-reliable 1st down was safe from the passing game's reach.

Down Run Pass Total
1st 12 22 34
2nd 5 17 22
3rd 1 10 11
Total 18 49 67

BFTB has already beat the snot out of the Ryan Mathews playing time and running game abandonment topics, so I'm not going to dwell on it here. There was however, one play I'd like to highlight with regards to 3rd down philosophy. Late in the 2nd quarter, the offense wound up with a 3rd and 2 at the New Orleans 28 yard line. They were knocking on the red zone, with three minutes left in the half (which is plenty of time). With an offense that on the day averaged 6.7 yards per carry against the WORST run defense in the league, Turner was afraid to run for two yards and opted for a seemingly riskier pass play. If you can't run for a 1st down on 3rd and 2, then you're just coaching out of fear. Philip Rivers had two open choices between Antonio Gates and Robert Meachem to get a first down, but was inexplicably looking deep to a side where there wasn't even a deep receiver. Randy McMichael gave up a sack after 3.5 seconds, which should have been long enough. This was the play that immediately preceded the hotly debated 55 yard field goal miss. Blame the refs all you want, but this team lacks a running game identity.

Chargers54

There was one nice break from tendencies later on in the 2nd quarter; a nifty 20 yard run by Ronnie Brown against a defense that was knew for sure that a pass was coming. The problem, is that the success of this play is actually pretty infuriating. Norv Turner simply doesn't take advantage of his massive tendencies nearly enough. Imagine if Turner had tried a shotgun 11 run just like this one (except using Mathews instead) on that absurd final drive. We'd probably all be a lot less grumpy this week. College teams run from the shotgun spread often enough, but it's some kind of crazy taboo in the NFL.

Chargers55_medium

Running Backs

Jackie Battle got the start, Mathews got most of the carries, but Brown got the majority of playing time. Is this a committee or is this confusion? It's good that Battle got some passing downs and the Brown got a couple of carries, so there is some tiny amount of surprise coming from the running backs. Brown had the best YPC (yards per carry) with a very small sample size, and the best YPS (yards per snap) because he gets to participate in all the Meachem and Malcom Floyd deep passing plays. Mathews' YPC dwarfed that of Battle for the 2nd straight week. Mathews lead the offense getting eight out of their 21 1st down earning plays. Brown got the next most 1st downs at five. I really hope we're done sending a message to Mathews.

Halfback Snaps Running Plays Passing Plays Run % YPC YPS
Battle 9 4 5 44% 2.5 6.1
Mathews 27 12 15 44% 7.1 6.5
Brown 33 2 31 6% 13 8

Personnel and Formations

Personnel stats showed heavy passing from the 11 grouping, despite leading for most of the game and never trailing by more than 7.

Jumbo 22 personnel (2RB and 2TE) made a stronger than normal appearance in the first three possessions. This personnel led to one big Floyd reception and several long Mathews runs (including his TD). It then disappeared midway through the third quarter. Norv saw something in film study that he was testing a lot in the early possessions of this game. Then, after that group wound up as pretty successful, he dropped it entirely. It really is baffling.

Personnel Run Pass Total
11 1 30 31
12 6 12 18
13 0 1 1
21 4 1 5
22 7 5 12

Ace and I were the neglected step children of formations this week. Jumbo's rise this week is tied directly to the 22 grouping discussed above. Shotgun running averaged 9.6 yards per carry, but the team consistently refuses to make good use of it (two of the five carries were of the long distance concession variety).

Formation Run Pass Total
Ace 2 5 7
I 4 1 5
Shotgun 5 38 43
Jumbo 6 5 11

This Week's Science Experiment

We've spent a lot of time focusing in on what the pre-snap look tells us about the called play so far in 2012, but now it's time to start examining outcomes. The most successful YPP (yards per play) categories this week were 22 personnel, Ace formation, and when the WR power side was opposite from the TE power side. Woofers were 21 personnel, I formation, and balanced WR formations. This is another feature that will be fun to look at across multiple games during the bye week.

Personnel Plays YPP
11 31 7.6
12 18 6.1
21 5 4.8
22 12 7.8

Formation Plays YPP
Ace 7 12.7
I 5 2.6
Jumbo 11 8.5
Shotgun 43 6.6

Power Plays YPP
Same 17 6.5
Opposite 23 8.1
Balance WR 16 5.3
Balance TE 13 8.1

Next Opponent

The Chargers offense continues to putter around in mediocrity. The passing game almost approaches average (two away from the #16 rank that would make them statistically average), but the running game is languishing only eight slots from the bottom. The Denver defense on the cusp of cracking the top third of the league, with remarkable consistency between run and pass defense.

Den Defense DVOA Rank Yards/Game Rank
Run -18.2% #10 120 #21
Pass 2.0%
#11 215 #11
Overall -8.0% #11 335 #13

SD Offense DVOA Rank Yards/Game Rank
Run -12.4% #24 103 #16
Pass 5.5% #18 231 #19
Overall -6.1% #20 335 #23

It's bad enough that Denver is equally strong against both the run and the pass. Unfortunately, their passing defense vs. skill player position slots (below) will also put strength against the San Diego offense strength. The Chargers best two skill players; Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews happen to be the two positions that Denver defends (the pass) the best. These numbers below would indicate that it's going to be a WR party on Monday night. Hopefully Floyd can maintain, Meachem can continue his ascension, and Eddie Royal can have his turn for a coming out party against his former team.

Position
Pass D DVOA
Rank
WR1 -2.9% #18
WR2 -6.0% #18
Other WR 8.7% #18
TE -23.7% #6
RB -18.6% #9

Keep in mind that for defense DVOA, negative is good, while negative is bad for offense DVOA. All VOA, DVOA, YAR and DYAR statistical values are developed, calculated and reported by Football Outsiders. Their explanation can be found here.

A Playbook Confidential intro can be found here.

The cumulative 2012 Chargers play calling log can be found here.

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