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Film Study: Ryan Mathews' TD run

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The Chargers weren't particularly successful running the ball during Sunday's victory at Baltimore. But this running play was a terrific play call, well executed, and the start of an epic come-from-behind win.

Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

It was past time to discuss a running play. I admit I'm partial to passing offense - which I'm sure is a byproduct of being raised on Air Coryell. Personally, I've always thought running the ball is overrated and only matters under the following conditions:

  • You're trying to convert in short yardage or red zone situations.
  • You're doing it effectively enough to sell play-action.
  • You're trying to run out the clock.

As it happens, this play falls within the "red zone situations" point of emphasis. Further, it's a marvelous "constraint play", in the sense that it plays off how the Chargers had virtually abandoned the running game since the start of the 2nd half.

Most importantly, it's executed at a high level.

The Play: 13:18 remaining in the 4th Quarter. 1st and 10 Chargers at the Baltimore 14 yard line.

The Chargers use "11" personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR). Here's a diagram of the play.

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Play Diagram


The Chargers' Offense, from left to right.

  • WR Malcom Floyd (80).
  • TE Antonio Gates (85).
  • RB Ryan Mathews (24), flanking Rivers to the right.
  • WR Eddie Royal (11).
  • WR Keenan Allen (13).

The Ravens' Defense (from the defense's right to left).

  • Up Front: OLB Terrell Suggs (55), DE Chris Canty (99), DT Haloti Ngata (92), OLB Elvis Dumervil (58).
  • In the Middle: LB  C.J. Mosley (57), LB Daryl Smith (51), SS Matt Elam (26).
  • In the Secondary: CB Anthony Levine (41), S Jeromy Miles (36), S Will Hill (33), CB Lardarius Webb (21)
  • The Ravens are running a 2-4-5 nickel defense by personnel. However, with both Suggs and Dumervil lined up on the offensive line, the look is closer to a 4-2-5.

Elements of the Play

Figure 1 shows the pre-snap business. For a change, the Chargers don't use any motion to force the defense to indicate man or zone coverage. Conversely, Baltimore's defense doesn't show blitz or move their men around to indicate anything unusual. At this point, both the Chargers and Ravens are playing straight up.

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Figure 1

At the snap, Figure 2 shows the Chargers offensive line using an interesting combination of blocks. RT D.J. Fluker stays in place, simply to impede Dumervil from crashing down the line to make the tackle. RG Johnnie Troutman moves left to pick up Dt Haloti Ngata. C Trevor Robinson forms one part of a combination block on Canty with LT King Dunlap. Te Antonio Gates blocks against Suggs. Obviously, we've skipped LG Chad Rinehart. Rinehart is pulling left.

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Figure 2

At this point in Figure 3, you'll notice that Gates moves off of Suggs, and goes on to block Mosley. In essence, Gates is the lead blocker for Mathews. Coming over to pick up the block on Suggs is Rinehart, who pulled left from his LG position. Troutman has also moved off of Ngata and is picking up the block on Smith, to prevent Smith from chasing down Mathews from behind. Fluker, having allowed Dumervil to pass behind him, is now moving back towards the play. At this point, the only player who can make the tackle is Miles.

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Figure 3

In Figure 4, Floyd comes flying in from the outside. He has to choose which player to block - either  Miles or Levant. Since the play is staying inside, and Levant is the furthest of the two from the ball carrier, Floyd makes the correct choice and picks up the block on Miles. All Mathews has to do is make the cut upfield through the hole, and he's got plenty of running room to do so.

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Figure 4

Figure 5 shows that Rinehart just keeps Suggs occupied long enough for Mathews to get past, as Ngata isn't fast enough to reach Mathews, and Floyd has stopped Miles just long enough for Mathews to get past. Levant has overrun the play outside and would have to get through Floyd, Miles, Gates, and Mosley to even attempt the tackle. The last chance is Hill, who's too far away to catch Mathews in the open field. It's a clear run for six points for Mathews.

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Figure 5

Here's a GIF of the play

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Takeaways

Like I said above, I liked this play because it worked as a constraint play, a counter to the Chargers' second half strategy of spreading the defense and using the short passing game. Secondly, it was a good play call because it took advantage of the Ravens being caught defending a running play using pass personnel. Third, as much as the offensive line and running game has struggled this season, it was nice to see the Chargers score on a running play with this level of execution, in a part of the field which demands quality running offense.