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Playbook Confidential: Chargers @ Broncos

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When we wrote our offensive preview of the Chargers visit to Denver this week, we said that team stats showed a big opportunity for Norv Turner to really air it out this week, but he would probably stick to his run establishment routine.  Not only did he stick to the run against the Broncos, he actually favored it to the tune of 41 passes and only 36 called pass plays (53% run / 47% pass).  Norv was rewarded for his power running game plan; to the tune of 4.8 yards per carry overall, and 10 out of 21 first downs gained as a result of running plays.  Compare that to only 15% of their first downs coming from running plays through the first four games of 2011!  First down saw an almost maniacal focus on the run, with 2nd down becoming almost balanced, both of which are a break from previous weeks (Dolphins / Chiefs details).  All five third down runs were because of the usual suspects (and1, giving up on 3rd and ridiculous, game/clock killing).

Down Run Pass Total
1st 24 10 34
2nd 12 14 26
3rd 5 12 17
Total 41 36 77


Here is the link to the updated offensive play calling log for the week.  This is the part where it gets a little crazy: 

I don't have a problem with the red zone playcalls this week, and I'll tell you why after the jump.

There were a total of fourteen red zone plays this week.  All but one of those took place in the first half.  Yes - the only red zone play of the entire 2nd half was the very last, clock killing play of the game.  There were essentially four red zone shots in the first half.  In one respect, none of those red zone trips really worked out (three figgies and an improvised Rivers rushing TD) as designed.  In the opposite light, they never failed to score, and put up sixteen points (23 points overall in a first half is not shabby).  The four red zone chances broke down simply into two run/run/pass sequences and two run/pass/pass sequences; a balanced, if uncreative effort.  What caught my attention in planning out my rip job on Norv's red zone predictability, was that the first half running game was clicking with a 6.4 YPC and runs yielded a decent 3.8 YPC in the red zone.  How did red zone passing work out?  Six called pass plays: four incompletions, a checkdown to Mike Tolbert, and the Rivers TD for a total of 0.8 YPA (for my analysis, I'm counting the TD run as a pass attempt).  In the end, I found Norv to be more deliberate than uncreative.  With a run-emphasis game plan, a recent history of turnovers, Antonio Gates out, and Vincent Jackson limited, Norv's red zone play calls are actually pretty justifiable.  The only criticism I do have is the failure to incorporate Ryan Mathews, which can be partially blamed on injury this week.  Below is the entire list of red zone plays, please see for yourself if you can take away anything else from the sequences.

Possession Down Distance Ball On FB/Shotgun Halfback Personnel Call (LRMP) Carrier/Rec Result
1 1 10 86 N Tolbert 11 M Tolbert 5
1 2 5 91 F Mathews 21 R Mathews 1
1 3 4 92 S Tolbert 11 P Tolbert 2
3 1 9 91 F Tolbert 22 M Tolbert 2
3 2 7 93 S Mathews 21 P   Inc
3 3 14 86 S Tolbert 11 P McMichael Inc
4 2 3 80 N Hester 12 L Hester 16
4 1 4 96 N Hester 12 M Hester 2
4 2 2 98 F Tolbert 22 M Tolbert -1
4 3 3 97 S Tolbert 11 P Rivers 3
5 1 10 87 N Hester 11 R Hester 3
5 2 8 90 S Mathews 21 P Floyd Inc
5 3 8 90 S Hester 11 P   Inc
12 3 6 81 F Hester 22 M Hester 3


Looking at the drive chart, we can see that Norv's 2nd half offense either got really conservative with a big lead, or lost the halftime adjustments battle (looking for thoughts on this in the comments).  Take away the interception, and every first half possession was a winner.  Four out of six 2nd half possessions were total duds. At least there wasn't a single three and out series.  Note possession 7 to open the 2nd half, where they ran nine plays and netted a whopping thirteen yards.

Drive Run Pass Total Yards Result
1 5 3 8 46 Field Goal
2 1 1 2 2 Interception
3 5 4 9 66 Field Goal
4 4 3 7 80 Touchdown
5 3 5 8 56 Field Goal
6 2 2 4 55 Touchdown
7 4 5 9 13 Punt
8 3 3 6 29 Punt
9 5 3 8 30 Field Goal
10 2 2 4 10 Punt
11 2 2 4 10 Punt
12 5 3 8 64 Field Goal


Turning our attention to the running game, I noted that the slight evolution for this week was increased runs to the outside.  Against the Dolphins, the team rushed to the left or right only 30% of the time, this week it was closer to 46% of rushes going outside.  Marcus McNeill and Kris Dielman must have eaten their Wheaties this week, as the left side YPC blew the middle and right away.

Rushes Average
Left 9 10.1
Middle 22 2.4
Right 10 5.3


There isn't too much to make of the Halfback playing time and carry distribution with so many injuries taking players in and out.  I'll point out that it would have been easy for Norv to bail out on the running game and simply use Jacob Hester for pass protection, but he stuck to his game plan, and gave the ball to Hester a higher percentage of snaps than he did Tolbert.

Halfback Snaps Running Plays Passing Plays Run %
Mathews 42 24 18 57%
Tolbert 13 5 8 38%
Hester (as HB) 24 12 12 50%


Moving on to Personnel, we can see just how vanilla Norv approached the lowly Broncos.  There was no "10" (four wide) or "23" (three TE) this week.  There was simply the bread and butter "11", "12", "21", and "22" with two fairly vanilla Mathews/Tolbert combo (using "20") looks before injuries starting requiring simplicity.  There was one odd streak of five consecutive plays using "22" that caught my attention spanning drives 9 and 10.  Norv almost never runs so many plays in a row with the same group outside of the two minute drill.  They also used that weird reverse wishbone formation once again, with McMichael and Hester in front of Tolbert this time.

Personnel Run Pass Total
11 6 15 21
12 18 12 30
20 0 2 2
21 5 6 11
22 12 1 13
Total 41 36 77


"12" personnel was the heavy this week in general, and on 1st and 2nd down.  "11" continues to be the dominant choice when they need to get to the first down marker.  "22" made an odd trio of appearances on third down.

Down 11 12 20 21 22
1st 6 18 0 4 6
2nd 4 9 2 7 4
3rd 11 3 0