Antonio Gates, when healthy, is the perfect player for this kind of offense. Rangy, athletic, experienced, and possessing short area quickness, Gates
The Play: 00:35 left in the 2nd Quarter. 3rd and 3 Chargers at the Chargers' 27 yard line.
The Chargers use "11" (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) personnel. Here's a diagram of the play.
The Chargers' Offense (from left to right)
- WR Malcom Floyd (80) runs a Hitch.
- WR Eddie Royal (11) runs a Seam Route.
- TE Antonio Gates (85) runs a Angled Hitch.
- RB Ronnie Brown (30) chips on OLB Justin Houston, then runs a Flat Route.
- WR Keenan Allen (13) runs a medium Slant Route.
The Chiefs' Defense (from the defense's right to left)
- Up Front: OLB Tamba Hali (91), DT Dontari Poe (92), DT Allen Bailey (97), OLB Justin Houston (50).
- In the Middle: LB Josh Mauga (90)
- In the Secondary: CB Marcus Cooper (31), CB Phillip Gaines, SS Ron Parker (38), DB Kurt Coleman (27), FS Husain Abdullah (39), Jamell Fleming (30)
- The Chiefs are running a Dime (6 DBs) defense. BY personnel, the Chiefs are running a 2-3-6 defense.
Elements of the Play
In Figure 1 (and as we've seen in the past), the Chargers send Brown in motion from the right side back to the backfield to get the Chiefs to show their defense. Abdullah mirrors Brown out to the right, briefly switches coverage with Fleming against Allen, then mirrors Brown as Brown moves back to Rivers' right side. This usually indicates some form of man coverage.
In Figure 2, Hali moves away from Gates, and closer toward Dunlap. This increases the likelihood that Hali will not drop into pass coverage as part of a zone blitz. And as the ball is snapped, the Chiefs rush four.
In Figure 3, we see the Chiefs coverage. The Chiefs are running an interesting coverage here. It looks like a combination of man-to-man (Fleming on Allen), Off-Man (Abdullah on Brown, Mauga on Gates, Gaines on Royal, Cooper on Floyd), with a Cover 2 shell (Parker, Coleman). Also note that Parker and Coleman are 15 and 12 yards downfield, respectively. Given that there's less than 1 minute remaining in the half, the Chiefs are clearly more concerned with not giving up a big play downfield than with giving up a 1st down.
Author's Note: Cooper plays so far off Floyd, that it's also possible the Chiefs are playing "Cover 6", a hybrid shell with Quarters on the field (defense's right on this play) side, and Cover 2 on the boundary (defense's left)side.
Figure 4 shows that once Rivers reaches the top of his drop, 3 of the 5 routes are run within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and Rivers has 2 clear options. Floyd is wide open after running a hitch at the sticks. Gates has found the hole in coverage directly in front of Rivers, just past the sticks. If he wanted, Rivers could also go to Brown in the flat, but he'd have to outrun Abdullah for the 1st down. The routes run by Allen and Royal haven't developed by the time Rivers is ready to throw.
The end zone view in Figure 5 shows that Rivers received decent protection on this play. Bailey tries to split Troutman and Ohrnberger, and Troutman holds on just long enough for Ohrnberger to help (get in the way) when Poe tries to go around and behind Bailey. Fluker and Dunlap hold up outside with no help. That said, the fact that the drop was fast and the pass was fast makes it nearly impossible for Rivers to get sacked on this play. Gates runs right in front of Rivers, sits down at the marker, and makes a nice catch for the 1st down.
Here's a GIF of the play:
This is the kind of passing play the Chargers' offense is built around. Quick, easy throws which produce 1st downs, keeping the heat off Rivers, and not asking the Offensive Line to do too much. Over the last few weeks, the Chargers' offense (some combination of Rivers and Reich) has gotten away from these types of plays, and tried to get too much too fast.
For the Chargers to beat the Broncos, they'll have to keep Peyton Manning off the field, and plays like this are the best way to accomplish that task.