Whenever something bad happens, there has to be someone to blame. Fans want to point the finger at somebody. When the defense has performed the way it has the last 2 weeks against 2 of the best offenses in the league and your offense puts up 2 stinkers, the blame falls on the offensive coordinator. In recent days, we've seen people call for Frank Reich to be fired. Has the offense taken a step back from Ken Whisenhunt a year ago? Absolutely. Can you tell this is Reich's 1st year as a play-caller? You sure can. Do the recent failures of the offense solely fall on Reich's shoulders? Of course not.
Let's try and get to the bottom to see if any 1 person is to blame. I'll make arguments for and against Reich, and let you decide how much Reich is to fault.
The last 2 weeks, from a DVOA standpoint, the offense has put out it's 2nd and 4th worst performances of the season respectively. Look at the advantages Whisenhunt had:
- One of the best centers in the league
- Arguably the best pass catching RB in the league who also excelled at blitz pickup
- A rookie phenom WR whom no team had tape on so they weren't sure how to stop
- 14 games of an every down RB who put you in the position of 3rd and manageable for your offense to succeed.
Whisenhunt's biggest challenges were to scheme around one very poor offensive lineman (which he did) and figure out a way to be productive with one true perimeter threat (which he did.) Good coordinators adjust to their personnel and Whisenhunt did exactly that.
Reich's been dealt a bad hand up front. The team chose to roll with Johnnie Troutman as the starting guard, who I thought made it pretty clear last year he was a swing/backup player, and Chad Rinehart at the other guard, who was serviceable a year ago, but not great. Both replacement level players. The real hit is he's forced by injuries to play a player at center who was supposed to be the an upgrade at the guard position.
Run Game Diversity
Reich Needs to Adjust
A year ago the running game was 12th in DVOA, this year it's fallen all the way to 27th. Ryan Mathews is a very good player and means a lot to this offense, but there's no way the drop off should be that big with him out. There are times when it seems like Reich is just "running the ball to run the ball." Not showing a commitment to the run, like we saw a year ago. If you want to run the ball, RUN IT. You're tired of it, I'm tired of it, the play where they get in shotgun, run a draw up the middle, and the run goes for a gain of 1, at best. In the last two weeks, when the team runs up the middle out of shotgun they have 38 yards on 13 carries. 2.9 yards per carry. We've seen at least 2-3 runs that have been successful when they run stretch zone outside of the tackles, or when they run some sort of counter play. Reich doesn't seem committed to the run when 24 isn't back there. It's pass happy and he'll throw in a dive "to keep you honest." The mindset should be to run the ball so much you force the defense to put an extra guy in the box and that'll open the passing game up for you. Even more frustrating is Mike McCoy is a genius when it comes to running the ball. Why doesn't he intervene?
What is Reich supposed to do
Reich can only call the plays. He can't magically make the offensive line execute. He can't all the sudden make the running backs run through tackles. Seriously, what else is he supposed to do? Here's some examples. Below is a simple inside zone run. Chris Watt does a great job of combo blocking the DT then working to the 2nd level to seal off the LB. Because Chad Rinehart gets beaten so badly, the play goes for no gain when it could've been double digits before Oliver was even touched.
Here's a stretch zone where it looks like all the defenders are blocked perfectly up until Donald Brown decides to cut it upfield.
Brown slips on his own here, how, I have no idea. But Reich can't predict that when he's calling plays. This is another potential explosive run that only nets 7 yards.
Sunday was a rough game for both Troutman and Rinehart. Both blew 6 blocks. Not combined. 6 blown blocks each. It's not like the 2 are being asked to make extraordinary blocks. Below, Rinehart misses a simple reach block.
Not to be outdone by Troutman, who continues to have the balance of a 10-month-old just learning to walk.
Most fans focus remains on moving D.J. Fluker to guard. Fluker isn't the issue, it's these two up the middle. They are making life miserable for the running backs and Reich as a play caller. Which is unfortunate because both tackles and Watt were outstanding this game.
This is chess not checkers
The passing attack is the definition of insanity
Right now, it really is. How many times do you see trips to one side with Antonio Gates isolated to the other side and the same route combinations. Keenan Allen will run a drag, Royal will run the 2nd level crosser, and Floyd the deep route with Gates coming from the other side or running an out route on his side. Every. Time. Reich is doing the same thing expecting different results, but the last 2 weeks defenses with top level talent have put their top 5 CB on your number 1 WR, double teamed Gates, and left a LB about 3-4 yards off the ball to cut off any crossing route his way.
Here's what it looks like.
The first image you see the blue square has Gates doubled with the yellow circle playing "robber" taking any crossing route away. The 2nd picture you have the blue circles doubling Gates, 1 at the line of scrimmage. With the yellow figure playing the same role. Both defenses basically daring you to beat them beyond 10 yards or outside the numbers. The problem is, there hasn't been adjustments. We're seeing the same concepts. Why not more play-action? You don't need to be effective running the ball to be successful at play-action. What happen to the screens from weeks past? What about the double moves that have gone for touchdowns? Has Reich gone into a shell and forgotten what's worked?
It's the Jimmy's and the Joe's not the X's and the O's
Reich can call all the play-action he wants. If you condition your QB all week that you want him getting rid of the ball quick, he's going to go with his 1st read that he sees open, not look to the 2nd and 3rd levels, like on this throw.
Reich can't help if Rivers locks in on Gates on his interception and misses Floyd underneath for a TD.
Can't blame Reich for drifting upfield on a route that led to an interception, or receivers not making contested catches. Hard to blame the offensive coordinator when the defense guards 2 WRs for most of the game 1-on-1 against lesser CBs and they can't win their matchups. Now that his best receiver is out, I'm sure fans will really get the pitchforks out for Reich.
For me, it's simple. You have a coordinator that is trying to do his best to figure out what this team is good at even though he isn't at full strength. He knows they struggle to run the ball, so he, for example, throws the dog a bone every now and then, to slow down the pass rush. He doesn't think that the line can protect Rivers long enough so he's sticking to route combinations that he knows. He knows the interior line isn't great on the move so he's limited to what he can call in the run game. Reich isn't free of blame, by any stretch. He needs to make adjustments. He needs to figure out what works. Stay committed to the run. Don't be afraid to throw it outside the numbers. Use play-action to get defenders out of position and in an advantageous position for the offense.
I think fans are frustrated because we've seen these players operate at a high level this season. We want to see the team get back to that level. We want to see Rivers playing at a high level again. Reich's hand will be forced now without Allen this week to get even more creative. He'll have his work cut out for him, but it's now or never if the team wants to be playing in 3 weeks. Bottom line is, everyone needs to be better, period.