With the San Diego Chargers running a much different offense from a year ago, and with six new starters on defense, they will need to consistently execute throughout the game in order to beat a very talented and disciplined Houston Texans team.
I've come up with three "game day goals" on both sides of the ball that the Chargers will need to accomplish in order to give themselves a chance to win, let's start with the offense.
Chargers offense vs. Texans defense
The Texans do an incredible job of dictating what you do on offense. They stop the run on early downs and force opposing offenses into 2nd/3rd & long passing downs. That's where Wade Phillips is a master at disguising and drawing up blitzes to create 1-on-1 situations, constantly pressuring the quarterback and finishing the play with a sack. From there, they get off the field. The Texans were 2nd in the league in opponents 3rd down percentage a year ago.
It'll be imperative that the Chargers are able to get Ryan Mathews going, get ahead of the chains, and stay out of long down and distances, so that the Texans pass rush can't pin their ears back. I'd look for more 1st down completions, creating quick and easy throws for Phillip Rivers, to avoid these situations.
The communication along the offense line might be more important than anything else. The Texans do a great job of waiting until the last minute to show their blitz, with lineman stunting/slanting, and linebackers possibly coming from any gap, the pre-snap reads should be a main focus to keep Rivers upright.
Wade Phillips runs a "34 dogs" look on most obvious passing downs. It's the base 3-4 alignment, and the "dogs" are when both outside linebackers blitz. Here's a look at what I'm talking about. From there, the inside linebacker usually blitzes late, making it 6-on-6, which means 1-on-1 for JJ Watt, which means advantage: Houston.
The Texans run predominantly man coverage across the board, so there will be throwing lanes available for Rivers. Whisenhunt should be able to draw up the X's & O's, but the receivers need to win early in order for the offense to be successful and Rivers needs to find them.
One would think Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead should have very large roles against this defense. Though Gates is 2 steps slower than he was pre-injury, he still understands how to get open underneath. I think Woodhead needs to be everywhere; at fullback, in the slot, out wide. Just move him around to get him on a linebacker and create mismatches.
Malcom Floyd playing is also big for the Chargers, as he is one of the few receivers that can stretch the field. He should open it up for the receivers underneath. Also, the Texans safeties like to creep up towards the line of scrimmage, as well as bite on play action, leaving the middle of the field wide open. Floyd will have 2-3 opportunities this game to make a big play.
- No more than 1 turnover/3 sacks
- 40% or Higher on 3rd downs
- Over 4.4 yards per attempt rushing/7.0 yards per attempt passing (pre garbage time)
Chargers defense vs. Texans offense
The Texans are one of the best zone blocking teams in the NFL, if not the best. They execute the outside zone play to perfection. I'll leave it to Smart Football's Chris Brown to explain the Outside Zone. They can run it both ways equally effectively. They'll run it left, and you know it's coming, and you still can't stop it. This is because they have, in my opinion, the best left tackle in football, Duane Brown. I can't recall a tackle in recent memory who is as athletic or has feet as quick as Brown's. He really makes the run game go.
The reason the outside zone is so hard for teams to stop is because, if you stay in your lanes, offensive linemen are able to get "a hat on a hat," and Arian Foster is fast enough to find the seams and break runs for big gains. What the Texans do more than most other teams that run outside zone, is run different variations, and run them successfully. As mentioned in that Smart Football article above, they run the "pin down and pull" variation because their lineman are so athletic, they can get outside and to the second level effortlessly. Here's a quick look at the "pin down and pull" technique.
First, notice the tight end attempts to "pin down" the defensive end. The defensive end's responsibility on the play was to crash hard inside, so he took himself out of the play, but the idea is to seal him from getting outside leverage on the tackle.
Second, notice both the left tackle and guard pulling, in an attempt to take both the OLB (#50) and the "Mike" (#52) wherever the defenders' momentum takes them, in order to create a running lane for Foster.
What they do off of their outside zone, is run the same style of play, but with a cutback option, where they don't block the backside defensive end. Foster has hit this play big numerous times, so it'll be important for Dwight Freeney & Donald Butler to not over pursue, a tough task that the outside zone play presents.
Houston is a very good play action pass team as well, they run it off this zone, getting the linebackers to bite and creating massive holes in the middle of the defense for Andre Johnson and the tight end Owen Daniels.
I expect to see Eric Weddle manned up on Daniels quite a bit, which puts more pressure on the safeties behind him when it comes to knowing their assignments and making plays on the ball. All about discipline.
If there's a weakness on the offense, it's the quarterback, Matt Schaub.
There's really no sugar coating it; he is what he is, and that's a competent, yet under achieving quarterback. For all the flack Philip Rivers gets, he threw for 2 more TD's in 106 fewer attempts than Schaub. Schaub makes a couple throws each game that make you scratch your head. The defense will need to take advantage of every possible mistake. These mistakes usually occur when Schaub just doesn't have the arm strength to make the throw, and he still throws it.
In order to pull this game out, the Chargers will have to take advantage of the errant throws, as well as get off the field on 3rd down.
- 50% or less TDs in the Red Zone
- Force 2 turnovers
- Allow less than 37% 3rd down Conversions
San Diego can't afford to hurt themselves with any sort of special teams blunders. No blocked punts, blown kicked coverages, or missed tackles on the punt team.
It can also help itself out, there will be a new kick returner, so keep an eye on the starting field position. Also, to see if Eddie Royal or Keenan Allen can break a punt. All these hidden yards are important.
Nick Novak has to hit every field goal, even if it's 50+, and Mike Scrifres, well, we know what he can do and he'll do it.
It's hard to predict the game, knowing that there's been so much that's been held back from the preseason, on both sides. Everything is brand new, so I won't predict the game, but I have laid out some goals that San Diego will need in order to pull this game out. What are some other goals that the Chargers need to accomplish in order to win this one?
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