This play is something we haven't really seen much of from the Chargers offense this season. This TD was the result of a packaged play.
In short, packaged plays are plays with multiple options built into the play design. These types of plays are also often referred to as "read option" plays, because the QB reads the defense, and then exercises his option to A) hand the ball off or b) keep it himself. Coaches such as Chip Kelly, Gus Malzahn, Dan Mullen, and Rich Rodriguez have built their entire offenses around a handful of packaged plays, although the college coaches tend to use a running QB. Packaged plays are also becoming more common in the NFL - they're used periodically by Cam Newton, Aaron Rodgers, and even Peyton Manning.
The number one fallacy of read option offenses is that it requires a mobile QB. While having a mobile QB helps stress the defense, it's not a requirement for the read option to work. In reality, it requires a QB who can quickly read the defense, and then make the best decision on where to go with the ball. As you'll see below, this play from the Chargers has multiple options built into it - it's up to Rivers to make the correct decision with the football.
The Play: 14:13 remaining in the 1st Quarter. 2nd and 10 Chargers at the Oakland 22 yard line.
The Chargers use "11" personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Here's a diagram of the play.
The Chargers' Offense, from left to right.
- WR Keenan Allen (13) runs a Post Route.
- RB Ryan Mathews (24) is flanking Rivers' right. He is Option 1 - a draw play. He runs a Flat Route to the left following his draw action.
- TE Antonio Gates (89) runs a Wheel Route up the numbers.
- WR Malcom Floyd (80) runs a Wheel Route up the sideline.
- WR Eddie Royal (11) runs a Screen Route.
The Raiders' Defense (from the defense's right to left).
- Up Front: OLB Khalil Mack (52), DT Justin Ellis (78), DT Antonio Smith (94), DE Justin Tuck (91).
- In the Middle: LB Miles Burris (56), LB Sio Moore (55).
- In the Secondary: CB Tarell Brown (23), SS Brandian Ross (29), FS Charles Woodson (24), CB T.J. Carrie (38), CB D.J. Hayden (25)
- The Raiders are running a standard 3-3-5 nickel defense by personnel. However, with Mack lined up so close to the Line of Scrimmage, the look is closer to a 4-2-5.
Elements of the Play
Figure 1 shows the pre-snap business. Rivers shifts the position of Royal and Floyd, and Mathews moves from Rivers' left to his right. On the Raiders' side, Carrie and Hayden don't move with their men, meaning they've either switched assignments, or are playing zone. Following the shift, Rivers doesn't send Mathews or anyone else in motion to force the Raiders to indicate whether they're in man or zone coverage. However, with most of the defenders within 5 yards of the Line of Scrimmage (LOS), the Raiders are already indicating a strong likelihood of man coverage, possibly combined with some kind of blitz.
At the snap, Figure 2 shows the Raiders using a 4 man rush. The coverage is classic Cover 1 Robber - a mix of man-to-man and zone. Brown vs. Allen, Burris vs. Mathews, Woodson vs. Gates, Carrie vs. Floyd, and Hayden vs. Royal are the man coverage match ups.
LB Sio Moore has underneath zone coverage, designed to take away any quick throws underneath to Gates or Floyd - he's the Robber. Ross is playing Cover 1, and he needs to help if anyone gets beat deep.
At this point in Figure 3, only a split second has passed. Rivers has already decided against his first "option" in this packaged play - a draw to Mathews. Note the offensive line has already cleared a path for Mathews should he get the ball, but Burris is standing in the hole, waiting for any handoff. Rivers saw Burris, and is already looking towards his second option.
In Figure 4, Rivers has just come off his 1st option (the draw to Mathews), and is now looking towards his 2nd option, the screen to Royal. Rivers probably sees that the screen to Royal runs a high risk of being intercepted or stopped for no gain by Hayden, who has tight coverage. From here, it's an easy look over to his 3rd option - Floyd running the wheel route up the sideline, with a lot of space to use against Carrie.
Also, note Rivers' feet - at the 28-29 yard line.
Figure 5 shows that Rivers has "re-hitched" (i.e. reset his drop and feet) about a yard further back, and he's shifted his focus up the field, instead of towards the flat - Rivers' heels are lined up perfectly with his new anticipated target area. Floyd has about 3-4 yards of space to use against Carrie, along with a 5 inch difference in height.
You'll also see Ross is still in the middle of the field, and although he's moving to his left, he's too late to break up a potential pass to Floyd. Rivers' 3rd option on this packaged play is the best option, and thanks to solid blocking from the line, he has the time to set his feet and make the throw. This is stealing.
Here's a GIF of the play
Despite the problems the Chargers offense had consistently moving the ball, this play showed that the offensive staff is looking at ideas from other places, and in this case, using them effectively. Packaged plays are a good way to give offenses multiple options on a single play, and allow the QB to make quick decisions without relying on his players to make the same "read" (like a route adjustment or blitz pickup). It allows the players to play fast, and takes advantage of having a smart, veteran QB like Philip Rivers.