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Chargers Playbook Confidential: 2012 Bye Week

Rolling up some numbers for the season so far, reviewing the Broncos debacle, and previewing the Cleveland debacle.

Christopher Hanewinckel-US PRESSWIRE

Does anybody remember someone making a big point about shotgun running right before the Denver game? Me either. The Chargers used shotgun running against the Broncos for what would have been devastating effect had Philip Rivers managed to maintain possession. Norv Turner called six shotgun run plays in week 6 for 10, 4, 5, 3, 6, and 4 yards. That yielded a 5.3 YPC for shotgun running vs a 2.7 non-shotgun YPC that day. Four of the six shotgun runs came while trailling, which shows Turner remaining somewhat patient and willing to make the defense stay honest. Below is the best example of shotgun running from week 6. Check out Von Miller getting sucked out wide in coverage. Mike Harris has an easy job taking an over eager pass rusher out of the play, and Tyronne Green has time to casually smack a DT before his true assignment of taking out a MLB. After that it's all Ryan Mathews being awesome in space. This shotgun running also has the side benefit of slowing down the defenses shotgun pass rush on actual passing plays. I really hope this aspect of the offense is used just as much, if not more as the season develops.


Then there's the other side of the coin to the running game. The play below is really puzzling in a lot of ways. At a high level, it was designed to run away from power to the weak side. This is the same idea as the shotgun run above; to give Mathews space with fewer bodies involved in the action of the play. Unfortunately somebody pulled a major boner on this one. Harris very deliberately ignores Dumervil, expecting him to be picked up (probably he thinks by FB Le'ron McClain?), while Green pulls away from the play to the strong side. One of those three mucked up this play. Not that it would have mattered, because the safety that Malcom Floyd was supposed to occupy would have made a no-gain tackle too. I'm looking for thoughts on this one in the comments. It's easy to pick on the UDFA rookie, but I'm not convinced he was at fault; Green and McClain are both blocking the same defender.


Onto The Bye Week Generalizations

The overall run pass breakdown by down is remarkably consistent with the 2011 full season numbers. This is a portrait of Norv Turner's play calling schedule. If anything has changed, 3rd down runs are down slightly. This would seem to stem from fewer "And1" opportunities. Jacob Hester excelled at 3rd and 1 conversions in 2011. So far this year that situation has only come up five times, and Turner has only called McClain's number once (he got stuffed for no gain).

Down # Plays Run Pass
1st 171 50% 50%
2nd 125 37% 63%
3rd 77 17% 83%
4th 1 100% 0%

The next table is an attempt to diagnose which down is under-performing this year and causing the offense to struggle. Both 2nd and 3rd downs have had a lower 1st down conversion rate than last year at the bye. Notice however, that 3rd downs have had further to go this year when compared to the full 2011 season. With this (obviously extremely limited) slice of data, it seems that 2nd down is converting less and gaining fewer yards than in seasons past. This puts 3rd down in a bad place, which then death spirals into an even more degraded conversion rate. 1st down seems to be right where the Norv Turner offense wants to be.

# Plays
Rate (2012)
Rate (2011 @ Bye)
Avg to Go (2012)
Avg to Go (2011)
1st 171 41 24% 22% 9.9 10.0
2nd 125 31 25% 30% 7.9 8.0
3rd 77 27 35% 52% 7.4 6.8

Let's take what we just learned about 2nd down and look at run vs pass based on whether the team was leading, tied, or behind. Compared to last season, there's a 20% shift from running towards passing while the games have been tied. There has also been a slightly less dramatic 15% shift towards passing while losing on the scoreboard. The team ran on only 7 of 36 (19%) 2nd down snaps while trailing. If you re-watch the 2nd half of the Denver game (pro tip: don't do that), you'll see a lot of great first down runs getting 3-5 yards as the game unraveled. 2nd down is where Norv has panicked, towards passing in 2012.

Run (2012) Pass (2012) Run (2011) Run (2011)
Leading 49% 51% 49% 51%
Tied 34% 66% 54% 46%
Behind 23% 77% 38% 62%

Running Backs and Running Game

I don't think we need to re-hash the Mathews collarbone injury or awkward Jackie Battle as starter stories here. Takeaways from the running back platoon are that through it all, Mathews has retained the top playing time spot, a beastly 4.7 YPC, and a satisfying participation in the passing game. Ronnie Brown is doing just enough in pass protection to keep Mathews off the field on 3rd down (especially when he's shotgun running against Denver). Brown's 6.7 YPS is aided by being on the field for all the Floyd deep passes. Battle is ultra one dimensional, with his healthy YPC aided by garbage time and one extra long garbage time carry. Curtis Brinkley has done just enough to warrant his roster spot; maintaining a run % and YPS similar to Mathews, but with the worst YPC of the group. One has to wonder if Mathews can creep into the 3rd down package. Does Mathews need to earn it, or does Turner need to be less stubborn about it?

Halfback Snaps Running Plays Passing Plays Run % Playing Time % YPC YPS
Mathews 132 59 73 45% 35% 4.7 5.1
Brown 115 14 101 12% 31% 3.7 6.7
Brinkley 71 33 38 46% 19% 2.5 5.2
Battle 55 39 16 71% 15% 4.5 5

Jeromey Clary haters are not going to be happy with the next table. Running to the right behind Clary and Louis Vasquez has been by far the best running direction with 5.5 YPC. With Jared Gaither at left tackle,the left side runs have gone 14 for 6.4 yards, while Harris at left tackle went 21 for 2.0 yards. Maybe we SHOULD blame that messed up GIF above on the rookie.

Direction Rushes Average
Left 35 3.8
Middle 80 3.6
Right 31 5.5

Personnel and Formations

While I observed that the majority of Philip Rivers interceptions this year came from 11, it also has the best yards-per-play (YPP) and YPP vs average-to-go ratio of all personnel groups. Live by chucking, die by chucking. 12 personnel has skewed slightly more towards passing this season as compared to last year. Fullback groups (21 and 22) have seen a slight increase in overall use, but much less so on 3rd down. As we're used to, a fullback in the game skews the offense toward the run. 21 has the worst ratio, but is used much more heavily on early downs; those plays aren't designed to get 1st downs, just make later downs more manageable.

In concert with 11 personnel, Shotgun formation has the best YPP and ratio of all formations. I formation has been a bit of a woofer so far this season. I think it might be nice to see some more Ace on 3rd downs as we go through the season.

Trips receivers has a special distinction of averaging more yards gained than to go, with a ratio of 1.66. Double has the next best receiver formation ratio at 0.68. I'm going to theorize the Chargers opponents play a lot of zone, and overloading the zone with Trips and Double has worked out quite nicely. Base receivers (one to each side) has seen heavy use, but is one of the worst performers. This fits the zone defense theory, as balancing out your receivers plays to a zone defenses strengths.

Personnel 1st 2nd 3rd Run Pass YPP Avg to Go Ratio
11 36 35 54 14% 86% 6.4 8.9 0.72
12 53 42 15 30% 70% 5.9 9.1 0.65
21 31 28 1 57% 43% 4.3 8.6 0.50
22 41 12 4 79% 21% 5.2 8.4 0.62

Backfield 1st 2nd 3rd Run Pass YPP Avg to Go Ratio
Ace 40 29 1 53% 47% 6.2 9 0.69
I 34 20 1 60% 40% 3.1 8.7 0.36
Shotgun 60 61 68 13% 87% 6.4 8.9 0.72
Jumbo 36 13 7 84% 16% 4.7 7.5 0.63

Receivers 1st 2nd 3rd Run Pass YPP Avg to Go Ratio
Single 40 14 4 83% 17% 4.8 8.1 0.59
Base 52 35 5 47% 53% 4.5 8.7 0.52
Double 19 11 4 50% 50% 6.1 9 0.68
Spread 48 53 47 20% 80% 4.8 8.1 0.59
2x2 7 6 4 0% 100% 4.6 8.8 0.52
Trips 2 3 9 0% 100% 11.8 7.1 1.66

For the Beautiful Minds Out There

I wouldn't put a lot of stock in this one, but I'm never one to back down from throwing something out there and seeing if it sticks. Receivers to the left has gone really well in general, and double stacking receivers and TEs to the right has gone really really well so far. Both to the left means a pass is coming. Balanced receivers with TE's on the right is the biggest run tendency here. Balanced TE's also skews towards the run, except where the receivers are also balanced. Ok, you're right I should move on.

Receiver Power TE Power Run Pass YPP
Left Left 17% 83% 4.6
Left Balanced 50% 50% 6.2
Left Right 36% 64% 6.5
Balanced Left 29% 71% 4.6
Balanced Balanced 28% 72% 4.3
Balanced Right 56% 44% 4.3
Right Left 36% 64% 6.4
Right Balanced 50% 50% 3.9
Right Right 30% 70% 8

Other Notes

- There were 34 out of 374 plays with more than 10 yards to go. This can be caused by sacks, negative rushing, and/or penalties. This is a fairly consistent rate with the 2011 season at the bye. 17 of the 34 plays w/ more than 10 to go were on 2nd down, and 12 of the 34 were on 3rd down. This shows that once a whole gets dug, the possession is likely toast (most of the time a bad outlook on 2nd isn't fixed by 3rd down).

- Rivers has only play faked on 34 out of 374 plays (not a copy paste error from above!). There were 23 play fakes in 3 wins, and 11 play fakes in 3 losses. The vast majority of play fakes came from 12 personnel. This is odd because 12 personnel is a heavy passing favored down (70/30 passing). Wouldn't it be more productive to play fake when showing a run prone pre snap look?

- In six games, there have only been two good, sustained, scoring opening drives. Those two drives featured Brinkley and Battle. Mathews is 0/2 as a feature back on opening drives going anywhere.

- The longest TD so far has gone to Robert Meachem (45 yards); all other touchdowns have been 15 yards or less. It's not like we'll lose a lot of quick strike touchdown bombs if Turner takes the offense in a more conservative route to reduce turnovers. Touchdowns have come mostly from passing (10/14). Play fakes are way up on touchdown plays (20%) vs all plays (9%). Touchdown scoring is really spread out among the skill players, with Battle actually scoring the most (4/14).

- Clearly, if they just ran 12 Ace Trips with receivers to the left and Mathews in the backfield with a play fake on every play, San Diego 
would have the lowest turnover, highest yardage offense in the league.  

Next Opponent

There's nothing quite like a throwing your struggling #25 DVOA offense up against a struggling #25 DVOA defense. Cleveland is equally bad at defending the pass and the running game no matter how you measure it. The Chargers raw yardage stats paint a slightly rosier portrait than their DVOA truth.

CLE Defense DVOA Rank Yards/Game Rank
Run 1.5% #25 133 #24
Pass 17.0% #23 277 #26
Overall 10.2% #25 411 #27

SD Offense DVOA Rank Yards/Game Rank
Run -13.9% #25 101 #18
Pass -3.5% #26 229 #19
Overall -12.7% #25 330 #25

In a pure passing look at things, the Brownies do a good job of taking away TEs and WR2. They are really bad at defending pass catchers out of the backfield and lesser known receivers. This could be a quiet week for Gates and another obvious big surge opportunity for Mathews. Malcom Floyd should also continue his push for elite status.

CLE DVOA vs Skill Players Rank
WR1 14.8% #21
WR2 -10.7% #12
Other WR 19.9% #24
TE -29.5% #4
RB 31.6% #30

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.