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Chargers offense gets back to the basics

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Kyle breaks down the reasons for the success of the offense this past Sunday against the Rams.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

There hasn't been much offense to talk about the last couple games, but that side of the ball sure did come to play Sunday against the Rams. St. Louis entered the game with the 6th best run defense per DVOA. Making matters worse for the Chargers, the Rams have the 3rd best defensive line. With the likes of Robert Quinn rushing from the edge and uber-talented rookie Aaron Donald providing interior pass rush, the Chargers were in for quite the challenge. So how did the team manage to rack up over 400 yards of offense at 6.8 yards a clip?

Complimentary Football

While the offense didn't execute as crisply as they would've liked to (4 3-and-outs and 5 penalties), there was a great game plan to attack this defense. The Rams are incredibly athletic and have premier speed at multiple positions. How do you combat that? You run right at them and that's exactly what San Diego did. There was only one designed perimeter run. Up until this game, the offensive line had struggled to create yards up the middle. They're actually dead last in the NFL and almost a full yard below league average. Sunday, that wasn't the case. 13 carries for 87 yards right up the middle. Funny the type of success you can have when you play your 5 "best" lineman and are able to feature a talented back like Ryan Mathews.

Up Front

The right side of the line was especially (surprisingly?) effective at creating holes, working in tandem on combo blocks, and getting to the second level. I never got the "move D.J. Fluker inside talk" and I certainly don't after this one. He played about as well as you can ask. As for the penalties you'll see in the chart below, those weren't really his fault. Chris Watt looked like he was the best lineman at times, he exceeded any expectations and had some huge drive blocks. It would be faulty if I didn't praise Ladarius Green for his run blocking in this game. This is the reason I thought we would see him take snaps away from Antonio Gates. I don't want to say that these holes have been there the whole season, because that's not entirely true, and I don't want to seem like I'm slighting Branden Oliver, but I do think the last couple weeks Mathews has been fantastic at maximizing what's there. When the holes weren't there, Mathews showed off his strength by fighting and clawing for extra yards, or it was his athleticism and burst helping him get outside when there was otherwise nothing. 40 yards after contact and 4 broken tackles. That's what's been missing from the run game.

Player

Blown Block(R)

Blown Block(P)

QB Hit

Sack

Penalty

Dunlap

0.5

3

2



Rinehart

1

4

1



Watt

0.5




1

Troutman

3

3


1


Fluker

1

1



2

Gates

2





Short Passing Game

Looking at the chart above it appears that the line had a rough day in the passing game. 11 blown blocks, 3 QB hits and a sack. The difference between Sunday and the previous weeks was that Rivers was getting rid of the ball so quickly that when Chad Rinehart was beat before Philip Rivers could finish his drop, it didn't matter. Step and throw. Screen. 3-step-drop and throw. Everything was quick, quick, quick. Let's look at Rivers' throwing chart.

a

  • Green Triangle(all triangles are completions) - ball delivered on the *money* in stride

  • Blue Triangle - Ball is thrown *behind* receiver

  • Teal X (all X's are incompletions) - *Throw aways*

  • Black X - *Batted* pass

  • Red minus lines are interceptions

  • Powder Blue "+" signs are TDs

Note: No YAC is included - this is where the ball was caught or thrown to

There was only 1 true "deep" pass and that was the 3rd and short pass to Green in the 4th quarter. Only 3 true attempts over 10 yards. It's incredible that the offense had that much success when Rivers rarely had to throw the ball beyond the 1st down marker. They stayed away from long developing play-action plays, where Rivers was 2-3 for 20 yards. They ran a season high 6 screens and attempted 7 other passes at or behind the line of scrimmage.

All of this might imply that Rivers didn't have much of an impact, but make no mistake, it was him checking to these play calls, leading the no huddle, getting everyone where they need to be and letting the skill players make plays. They did that, breaking/forcing 14 missed tackles. That's why it's hard to put too much stock into QB grades for PFF; you can't quantify when a QB checks in and out of plays. Another example: When Rivers threw the ball away on the last play of the 2nd half instead of holding on to it and possibly taking a sack. These are smart plays that you can't put a number grade on. I thought he played a remarkable game. This is the offense that fans are clamoring for. Even with the schedule how it is coming up, if the offense takes the gimme throws and layups, they'll be in a great position to succeed.

Other Takeaways

Back to Chris Watt. He's been fine all year and I thought it was negligent of the Chargers to keep trotting Rich Ohrnberger out there when he: A) was clearly not as effective and B) was clearly not well enough to play. Watt brings more athleticism, awareness and strength to the position. My big takeaway was noticing Watt get into skirmishes on 3 separate occasions this game. That's the type of attitude you want to see in your linemen. Rams' defenders really tried to go at Watt after the play (Jeff Fisher team being dirty, shocking, I know) and not only did he not back down, but he held his own. Hopefully, the other 2 interior spots can feed off him moving forward. In this regard, he reminded me of another Kris.

I thought last week was the worst I've seen Keenan Allen this season. Against the Rams, that was the best I've seen him. This kind of goes against everything you read on social media. I read that "he's really struggling this season" and that he had a terrible game and I don't know if I was watching a different game or what. The play where he fumbled entering the red zone was a result of bad ball security. That's a bad play on his part. Fumble luck like that happens in football. He was getting blamed for the punt return muff and I'm scratching my head wondering what is he supposed to do there? Return men are taught to yell "Peter Peter" or whatever code word the team chooses if said return man isn't going to catch the ball. You don't scream "Peter" as you're signaling for a fair catch and locating the ball - that's not his job. It's up to the gunner to locate the ball. That's just a fluke play, but it's hard to blame the return man on that one.

Finally, the interception. This was another one that lead to some strong takes regarding the 2nd year receiver; mostly, "he needs to get stronger at the top of his route." Here's the play from the slot, where Allen is running a "pivot" route. It's a route that on which he'd been successful earlier in the game and would be later in the game. Allen gets vertical to whatever depth the route calls for, sells as if he's running an out-breaking route, then breaks back towards the inside. If the ball is thrown inside and low, it's a TD, and no one is talking about this. Instead, Rivers sees a linebacker in his line of sight, tries to adjust the throw by throwing it high and away instead of low and in. This allows the CB to to make a play on the ball. Here's the play:

A split second sooner, even, and it's a touchdown. Here's another look:

Do me a favor. Go outside and have someone throw something at you while you're running full speed, one-way and in the opposite direction, and see what happens. This wasn't one of those "Keenan slipped again" instances. The ball went where he wasn't expecting so, naturally, as he tries to change directions, he loses his balance.

Next up: Tomorrow I'll touch on the not so good. 3rd downs and red zone offense.