One of my biggest fears when Danny Woodhead was lost for the season was that the Chargers has lost their only legitimate receiving threat from the backfield. Make no mistake, Woodhead's ability to make plays in the passing game was a significant factor to consider when opposing defenses were debating whether or not to blitz.
Now, it's only one game, but Branden Oliver offered serious hope that the Chargers may yet have a dangerous pass catcher from the backfield. To give him that opportunity, Offensive Coordinator Frank Reich reached into the 2013 playbook for some help.
The Play: 6:54 left in the 3rd quarter. 2nd and Goal Chargers at the Jets 9 yard line.
The Chargers come out in "11" personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Here's a diagram of the play design
Play Diagram from last Sunday v.s the Jets
The concept (i.e. route combination) on the right side of the formation is similar to a concept run by the Chargers in the past. If you check out the play diagram below (from the Grades post from last season against the Giants), you'll see the exact same concept (Corner, Texas, Shallow Cross) run by different players out of different personnel on the opposite side of the formation, with a different player in motion. Last year, Keenan Allen got the TD catch on the Corner route (see below). This is a textbook example of how the Erhardt - Perkins offense is designed to work.
Play Diagram from 2013 against the Giants
The Chargers' Offense (from left to right).
- WR Keenan Allen (13) on outside on the left. He runs a Post route.
- WR Eddie Royal (11) is in the left slot. He runs a Out and Up the space vacated by Allen.
- TE Antonio Gates (85) is lined up just off the Right Tackle. He runs a Corner route.
- WR Seyi Ajirotutu (16) is to the right of Gates. He runs a Shallow Cross behind Gates.
- RB Branden Oliver (43) is to the right of Ajirotutu. He motions back to River's right side, then runs a Texas route behind Gates and Ajirotutu.
- The line: LT King Dunlap (77), LG Chad Rinehart (78), C Doug Legursky (57), RG Chris Watt (65), RT Willie Smith (91).
The Jets' Defense (from the defense's right to left).
- Up Front: OLB Quinton Coples (98), DT Muhammad Wilkerson (96), DT Sheldon Richardson (91), and OLB Calvin Pace (97).
- In the Middle: CB Kyle Wilson (20), LB David Harris (52), and LB Demario Davis (56).
- In the Back: CB Dee Milliner (27), SS Dawan Landry (26), FS Calvin Pryor (25), and CB Philip Adams (24).
Elements of the Play:
Figure 1 shows Rivers bringing Oliver in motion from the outside of the formation, to the backfield. As we've seen regularly, this is a tactic used to try and get the defense to show what kind of coverage they're running.
Figure 2 shows Davis, Harris, Pryor, and Adams all moving to their right following Oliver's motion to the backfield. This strongly indicates some type of zone coverage from the Jets defense, whereas a single man following Oliver would indicate man-to-man coverage.
Figure 3 shows the snap. Contrary to what the Jets regularly do, there's no blitz, or no real disguise of any kind.
Figure 4 shows the line action a moment later. Richardson dives hard inside of Watt and into Legursky. Watt help-blocks him into the middle of the line, opening a large hole between himself and Smith, who's blocking Pryor's edge rush. Richardson's action is designed to create a stunt lane for Coples, who steps initially towards Dunlap, then turns left - parallel to the line of scrimmage. Ryan is attacking the Chargers' rookie RG, seeing if he will pick up the stunt.
Figure 5 shows - unfortunately for the Jets - their stunt creates a perfect throwing lane for Rivers. Both Gates' Corner and Ajirotutu's Shallow Cross open up space for Oliver's Texas. Gates draws Pryor, and Adams upfield and outside, while Ajirotutu draws Harris' attention into the middle of the defense. Davis is caught flat-footed, defending a vacated zone with Gates past him and Oliver inside. In the same way that Rex Ryan attacks a rookie, it's almost like Rivers and Reich are doing likewise - attacking Pryor and forcing him to choose: Gates or Oliver.
Figure 6 shows Oliver making the catch. Both Harris and Davis are out of position, and the only player who can make the stop is Pryor, who has barely started his break - thanks to Gates' Corner, and he doesn't meet Oliver until the 1 yard line. Oliver gets low, winning the leverage battle (as described by Trent Green during the broadcast) and pushes his way into the end zone.
Here's a GIF showing the play:
I really like seeing the Chargers' coaching staff recycling a successful concept (Corner, Shallow Cross, Texas) and getting more success out of it. Even more, I like seeing the routes which Woodhead ran to perfection are not going to be shelved by the coaching staff, simply because the player isn't available.
Best of all, I love the Chargers staff and Rivers trusting an undrafted rookie RB to execute at a high level in the Red Zone, and I love seeing Oliver justify their faith by executing the play to perfection.
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