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Playbook Confidential: Chargers vs Vikings

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Mike Tolbert is accumulating a lot of responsibilities. New this week is his role as the "two minute drill" RB.
Mike Tolbert is accumulating a lot of responsibilities. New this week is his role as the "two minute drill" RB.

In week one, the Chargers ran an exhausting 76 plays, with a total of 24 runs to 52 passes.  The more I stare at the log, the more I appreciate that this was a beautifully called game by Norv Turner.  This is because the obvious tendencies of the pre season were less present, there was just enough new stuff to leave plenty of room to progress throughout the season, and the running game was not stubbornly imposed as often. 

After the all too familiar run-for-one-yard, run-for-one-yard, in-completion three and out to open the game, the offense didn't have a dud possession the rest of the game.  Philip Rivers spent over half the game in shotgun formation (40 plays), but Norv departed from pre season form by running out of shotgun five times (for 8.4 YPC!).  Another new wrinkle that we didn't see in the pre season was the use of three TE personnel on four plays.  I think everyone paying close attention already recognizes that the emphasis for attacking the conservative Tampa 2 defense was to complete a lot of passes to RB's and TE's.

Here's the link for the week 1 play log.  Hopefully this is the start of a full season's worth of data.  Please dig around and see if you can find something interesting that I haven't pointed out. New features added since the pre season include an indicator for which plays led to 1st downs, and whether San Diego was Leading (L), Behind (B), or Tied(T). (Personnel explanation here)

Norv was actually fairly balanced on first down, but leaned very pass heavy for every other down.  It turns out, of 25 first downs earned, 21 were the result of passing plays.

1st Down 18 19 37
2nd Down 6 20 26
3rd Down 0 12 12
4th Down 0 1 1
Total 24 52 76

Turning our attention to personnel, we can see that Norv used Hester and "12" formation a lot on first down, and uses "11" for his ace card on third down (even in a few short yardage situations).  Jacob Hester was in on nine shotgun formation plays (only on first or second down); something he did not do much in the pre season.

11 12 13 21 22
1st Down 4 14 2 10 7
2nd Down 2 9 2 10 3
3rd Down 9 3 0 0 0
4th Down 1 0 0 0 0
Total 16 26 4 20 10


As far as run/pass for each personnel group, we saw "21" personnel oddly pass heavy.  "22" was run heavy as normal, and "11" and "12" were pass whacky as usual.

Personnel Run Pass Total
11 1 15 16
12 6 20 26
13 2 2 4
21 7 13 20
22 8 2 10


Mathews wasn't used on third down (just once), but got a third (13 out of 40) of the shotgun plays.  Mathews was also used much more in the passing game (18 passing plays to Tolbert's 34) than in the pre season.  Actual carries were split down the middle with twelve apiece for  Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert.  Add one more job description to Tolbert (already has third down, shotgun, and goal line): two minute drill back.  In the final drive before the half, he was in on all nine plays.  Norv had some interesting variations how he used the two.  The last two possessions (5th and 6th overall) of the first half were given exclusively to Tolbert.  The 8th possession had all but one snap go to Mathews.  Every other posession had them alternating constantly.  Mathews saw only one third down play, unfortunately for him it was the Jared Allen interception.  That will probably make Norv averse to using Mathews on third down again, even if it wasn't his fault.  I found one fluky looking statistic in the handling of Mathews and Tolbert; they were used fairly evenly in the Chargers own territory, but Tolbert was used much more in opposing territory (28 plays for Tolbert to Mathew's 12 beyond the 50 yard line).

Mathews in Game Tolbert in Game
1st Down 16 21
2nd Down 13 13
3rd Down 1 11
4th Down 0 1
Total 30 46


Hat tip to Marver for solving the Rivers yelling at Norv lip reading contest:

To player: ‘I didn’t point to him’.
To Norv: ‘I didn’t point to him. Norv!’ [Shaking his head] ‘No I didn’t.’

Perhaps one of the receivers misinterpreted a hot route/audible which is why no one was near the ball?

Lastly, we have what I think was a bit of a love note from Norv to Bill Belicheck.  For two consecutive plays in the 2nd quarter, there were fake actions to wide receivers (once to Goodman, once to VJ).  Now the Patriots have to spend this week thinking about this: