Chargers Playbook Confidential: Busting the Titans' Zone Coverage

My self appointed task for this week was to try to break down the Charger's first possession scripting and try to figure out what adjustments Norv Turner made later on in the game. It seems to me as though the Titans defense did exactly the thing I would do when being scripted against, which was to show a little shill defense on that first possession. The Titans played a lot of man defense on the first Chargers possession, then went zone for the rest of the game. The Charger passing game was happy to take advantage of whatever the Titans were showing. Let's start with the first big completion to Malcom Floyd on that first drive (one of the few passing plays against man defense):

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This was a simple case of Rivers lobbing it up to the most open receiver in the face of a seven man blitz. Fortunately for Rivers and Floyd, the single high safety opened up his hips towards the strong receiver sideat just the right time. It was a big gain where Norv simply wanted to see how Tennessee was going to line up against Ace Spread. The main adjustment this week was to not use 11 personnel in the 2nd half. It was used 17 times in the 1st half, but only twice in the 2nd. The majority of 2nd half pass plays went came from 12 personnel. The high level analysis here, is that even without Gates in the line up, Turner liked his tight ends against the Titan linebackers.

Possession Down Distance Ball On Personnel Backfield Formation Receiver Formation
1 1 10 29 21 I Spread
1 2 7 32 12 Shotgun Base
1 3 7 32 11 Shotgun Spread
1 1 10 39 12 Ace Spread
1 1 10 66 12 Ace Double
1 2 10 66 11 Wildcat Spread
1 3 8 68 11 Shotgun Spread
1 1 5 87 21 I Base
1 2 1 91 21 I Base
1 1 7 93 22 Jumbo Single
1 2 7 93 22 Jumbo Single
1 3 11 89 11 Shotgun Spread

Norv's formations on this first drive show a really deliberate scripting pattern. He opens up with a fullback, then goes to two different shotgun variations, then the same pair of receiver formations with ace instead of shotgun, drops in a wildcat for laughs, gets his second look at I with different receivers, then finds himself calling goal line specific material.

So let's talk about that wildcat before we move on:

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This couldn't have been anything more than an attempt to make the Falcons waste an hour preparing for it this week. The point of the wildcat is to get the snap to a running threat that is playing 11-on-11 (instead of the normal 10-on-11 when a quarterback hands off and doesn't add much to a run play). This play did the opposite. With Rivers getting completely ignored by the defense, and Spurlock not much of a threat to run, it was really 9-on-11 in the Titan's favor.

The offense from the second drive on was a text book onslaught of zone busting:

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Zone busting technique #1, Eddie Royal clears a zone out for Floyd to fill.

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Zone busting technique #2, overload a side and wait for the D to mess up (two defenders jump the fullback, leaving Floyd open)

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Zone busting technique #3, play fake a linebacker with zone responsibility (AJM had a different take on this play in "That's not very athletic this week"). Let's take a closer look at this last Rosario touchdown. This beauty came from Ace Spread. Quoting yourself can be a lot of fun as long as you only mention things you were right about (aka Will Witherspoon should read more Bolts from the Blue):

For example, Ace is a coin flip, but Ace Spread probably means pass.

Now that we've blown a lot of vertical story space with the GIF fun, let's rip into the data.

Drive Run Pass Total Yards Result
1 4 8 12 68 TD
2 3 3 6 31 TD
3 4 4 8 50 FG
4 1 3 4 22 Punt
5 0 3 3 0 Interception
6 1 2 3 4 Punt
7 2 1 3 -5 Punt
8 1 3 4 9 Punt
9 3 5 8 94 TD
10 7 4 11 80 TD
11 12 1 13 69 TD

The drive chart shows early success, a big struggle in the 2nd and 3rd quarters, and some powerful closing by Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle. The aforementioned 11 personnel was a big feature of those drives that failed to score touchdowns (11 of 25 plays in those non-TD drives were with 11 personnel versus 8 of out 58 plays in the five TD scoring drives). Playbook confidential has long chronicled 11 personnel as highly successful, so this is a big break from the typical Chargers offense.

Halfback Snaps Running Plays Passing Plays Run % YPC
Brinkley 39 20 19 51% 2.9
Brown 22 4 18 18% 2
Battle 14 14 0 100% 5.1

The running back playing time favored Brinkley much more over the Week 1 fill-in starter Ronnie Brown. It was nice to see Brinkley get some more passing down action. At this point Brown and Battle are ultra one dimensional. I mentioned in this week's Bolts and Dolts story that I think it would be fun to intentionally save Battle for the 4th quarter every week and use him like an baseball closer against a battered D-line. Let's not get too excited about Battle's YPC though; he was clearly battering a beaten defense at a time when the game had already been decided. Brown was essentially benched at half time, with 20 plays to open the game, and only two snaps after the half. We'll close on the backs with this nifty Sproles-style shake and bake by Brinkley.

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Down Run Pass Total
1st 19 14 33
2nd 12 12 24
3rd 6 11 17
Total 37 37 74

The overall run/pass balance shows the 50%/50% we love to see in the dominant wins.

Formation Run Pass Total
Ace 5 10 15
I 10 4 14
Shotgun 4 20 24
Jumbo 18 3 21
Wildcat 1 0 1

Receivers Run Pass Total
None 6 0 6
Single 12 3 15
Base 14 7 21
Double 0 4 4
Spread 6 18 24
Trips 0 3 3
2x2 0 1 1
2x3 0 1 1

There was a much higher diversity of receiver looks this week, with None, 2x3, and Trips making their first appearances of 2012. Big breaks from last week were as follows: Base formation showed a much higher run tendency. This was something we saw in the pre-season, but disappeared against the Raiders. Double flipped the opposite way; it was run-centric against the raiders but was only used in the passing game against the Titans.

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