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How the San Diego Chargers Lost the Bye Week

There are three pillars to "winning" the bye week: rest, preparation and installation. The Chargers did not win their bye week. We'll take a look at how each may have affected the game against the Washington Redskins, and also see how bye week performances indicate future success for head coaches in the NFL.

Rob Carr

As the one and only breather that exists in the grueling 16 game schedule, the bye week allows coaches to let some players recover, shore up areas of weakness and add a new wrinkle to the playbook on both sides of the ball. Good coaches take advantage of this. Mike McCoy has only had one bye week, and if early returns are any indication, he did not manage his team's bye well. Some of the problems that have existed throughout the season: red zone play calling, lack of playmakers being on the field, a horrific defensive gameplan that outright ignores what opponents are trying to do against it and shrugs when it is beaten by the other team's best players, etc. ALL raised their ugly head in the San Diego Chargers loss to the Washington Redskins.

Bye Weeks, Coaches and History

In the past five seasons combined (2008-12), NFL teams are 85-72-3 (.541 winning percentage) in the first game following their bye week, with the group never posting a losing record in any of those individual years. While that seems obvious, to more accurately assess how a bye week can be affected by simply having a great coaching staff, we're taking a look at current NFL coaches record against the point spread, which indicates how well they fared when games have been handicapped for an even playing field.*

Here are the top 32 coaches against the spread (ATS) after a bye week (a few have been eliminated from the field due to small sample sizes):

Coach Team ATS Record Percent
Mike McCarthy Packers
John Harbaugh Ravens
Andy Reid Chiefs
Mike Shanahan Redskins
John Fox Broncos
Mike Smith Falcons
Tom Coughlin Giants
Jeff Fisher Rams
Sean Payton Saints
Mike Tomlin Steelers
Jim Schwartz Lions
Gary Kubiak Texans
Bill Belichick Patriots
Marvin Lewis Bengals
Rex Ryan Jets
Pete Carroll Seahawks

Installing New Packages

With a full week off, the bye week is a great time for coaches to install a new play, player or wrinkle into the game plan. Mike McCoy is actually famous for doing this in Denver, when he overhauled the offense to "feature" Tim Tebow during his bye week of the 2011 season, and the team went 5-1 in the following 6 games. McCoy was also able to do this for Denver in 2012, where receiver Demaryius Thomas became a featured player after the bye (as pointed out by BFTB's own Jerome Watson)

Demaryius before the bye (6 games): 5.3 catches per game, 90.3 rec yds per game, 0.5 TDs per game

Demaryius after the bye (10 games): 6.2 catches per game, 89.2 rec yds per game, 0.7 TDs per game after bye AND 7.3 catches per game, 116.3 rec yds per game, and 0.3 TDs per game in the first three weeks immediately following that bye.

Elsewhere around the league, the Texans and Colts both came off of their 2013 bye weeks with drastically different looks on offense. The Colts finally adjusted for Reggie Wayne's absence, with T.Y. Hilton catching more balls than he had all year (7) for 121 yards and 3 touchdowns.

Texans rookie QB Case Keenum threw for 330 yards, with zero interceptions while taking only one sack. The stats don't tell even half of the story there, with Houston mixing in new plays (the deep ball and the read-option, namely) to take advantage of Keenum's strong arm and quick feet when compared to former QB Matt Schaub.

Gameplanning against the next opponent

It stands to reason that having two weeks to prepare for an opponent is better than one. It gives you more time to scout the opponent for weaknesses, and gameplan to exploit the matchups that will create problems for them.

In general, nearly all "impact" NFL players have better statistics after a bye week, which I will attribute to their coaches having more time to prepare a gameplan that effectively deploys them. For example, from 2008 to 2012, quarterbacks as a whole enjoyed an 8.0% boost in production the week following the bye, while receivers increased by 6.2% and running backs by 3.2%.

Meanwhile, the Chargers offense threw an interception due to miscommunication and another due to missing fundamentals (when Keenan Allen didn't come back to catch the ball).

What does this mean for the Chargers?

According to the UT, the Chargers had the entire week after the Jacksonville game off. They didn't hold a single practice, and most of the players and coaches took time off / flew home to enjoy themselves. I suppose that may have helped them to "get healthy," but it allowed for a complete and utter failure on both sides of the ball when it came to the other areas.

New players: The Chargers have Lardarius Green, a very large, fast and imposing TE that presents a matchup nightmare for opponents. Green caught 1 ball against Washington and played only 4 snaps on offense. That's not using your bye week to get your best players ready.

Gameplan: On defense, we saw Derek Cox get benched for not being able to cover Pierre Garcon 1 on 1. Unfortunately, Cox has shown week in and week out that he can't cover another team's #1 option at wide receiver. Did this mean the Chargers would change strategies against Washington? Nah, the team had the the week off and couldn't be bothered.

The Redskins run a zone-based spread option attack. This often involves a "triple option" where the QB is tasked with reading an inside zone run or keeping the ball, and then is presented with the option of pitching the ball to another deep player. The Chargers were totally unprepared for this, and had no defender designated to the pitch man. The play was run at least 5 times for more than 60 yards.

Besides the defense, the Charger's biggest Achilles heel this year has been their red zone offense. The team has struggled with converting short "and goal" situations throughout the year. McCoy and Whisenhunt addressed this, saying the red zone was "an area of focus" during the bye week. We all know how that turned out.

All in all, I have a hard time seeing a situation in which the team improved during the bye week. That's a very troubling thing for rookie coach Mike McCoy, and will bear closer scrutiny as he accumulates additional years of tenure as a head coach.

*I acknowledge that point spreads are created for Vegas to make money and not necessarily to create a totally even playing field, however, a coaches record against the spread seems to be a decent indicator of their past and even future performance, for example, Jim and John Harbaugh, Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin and Mike McCarthy all own top-10 ATS marks in their careers.