clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Review: San Diego Chargers WR Keenan Allen's Rookie Year

Kyle uses his method to breakdown Keenan Allen's first year with the San Diego Chargers and frame expectations for the next.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Much like Shareece Wright's season and Johnnie Troutman's season, I wanted to take a closer look at the real rookie of the year wide receiver Keenan Allen. What I learned is stats never tell the whole story, so I'll rarely reference those during this.

What You'll See:

  • Allen's route breakdown from Weeks 3-16.
  • "Dummy" routes are not included. For example: If Allen runs a vertical route and never looks for the ball, it's not on here. No screens, either.
  • This isn't a study of "targets and receptions"; that's everywhere on the internet. This is as simple as, "was he open versus Player X on Route Z?". If you see 1/1, that means Allen was open. If you see 1/2, that means Allen was open once, and covered the other time.

*Click the links to see GIFs of plays

First Game Jitters?

Titans Curl Fade/Go Out Dig Drag Slant 5 yard In Man Zone
Jason McCourty 4/4 1/1 0/1 1/1 0/1 1/1 2/3 3/4
Alterraun Verner 0/2 1/1 1/1 0/4 1/1 2/5 0/3
Coty Sensabaugh 0/1
  • Week 3 was Allen's 1st start, and you could tell.
  • Verner was so good against Allen.
  • The Titans played a lot of "trail coverage", which is smart against a team that runs as many underneath/shallow routes as San Diego.
  • Surprisingly, Allen was successful on 'go' routes down the field. He was able to get on top of McCourty and win vertically a few times.
  • However, Allen didn't adjust his routes to this type of trail coverage and, due to Verner's smarts/coverage, it wasn't a very good game for Allen.

The Flashes

Cowboys Go 5 Yard In Dig Curl Out Slant Man Zone
Brandon Carr 1/1 2/2 1/2 2/2 2/2 6/7 3/4
Mo Claiborne 1/1 1/1 1/2 1/1 1/2 3/3 4/5 3/4
O. Scandrick

/1 1/1 2/2
  • This game was a complete 180 from the Titans game. Everything was sharp. The routes were more nuanced. Allen did a great job of selling his breaks and consistently turning the DBs around.
  • You can attribute this to the difference in talent he faced, the scheme, and Allen's adjustments. Like his teammates, Allen was open pretty much all game (81% of his routes.) Dallas played a very vanilla defense and paid for it.

This was the first route that made me take notice on Keenan. Notice the separation at the top of the route, then he drags his feet at secures the catch perfectly.

Hot & Cold

Raiders Comeback 5 yard In Slant Out Dig Go Curl Man Zone Contested Catch
DJ Hayden 0/1 3/4 2/2 3/4 3/3 1/2 2/2 8/9 7/7 1/2
Tracy Porter 1/1 1/1 1/1 1/1 2/2
Mike Jenkins 1/1 1/2 2/3 2/5 1/4 4/6 1/1
  • Allen went to work on Hayden this game. He ran 16 routes against him and was open 15 times. It was a nightmare of a match-up for Hayden.
  • Allen was able to turn him around on out-breaking routes and cross his face on in-breaking routes.
  • On the contrary, Allen struggled a bit when matched up with Jenkins. Why? Jenkins was able to get his hands on Allen and disrupt him early in the route.
  • This game showed Allen can really improve on recognizing coverages better. He was slow to react, and that showed in his routes.

The Coming Out Party

Colts Out Go 5 Yard In Dig Curl Slant Drag Man Zone Contested Slot
Greg Toler 1/1 4/4 2/2 5/5 1/1 1/1
Vontae Davis 2/2 1/5 6/6 0/1 1/2. 6/10 3/4 2/2
Darius Butler 1/1 1/1 1/1 1/1 3/3 1/1 1/1 4/4
  • Allen was matched up against one of the better corners in the NFL for most of the game, in Davis. He wasn't able to get vertical on him, but the 1 time he did, it was a touchdown.
  • It was really a great match-up. Davis was able to take away a few different routes from Allen, but when it comes to getting separation at the top of his route, whether Allen is breaking in or out, he's special.
  • This was the first game you could truly see that. He was a perfect 15/15 on outs/ins. He does a great job at not wasting any movements at the top of his route.


Is Speed an Issue?

Jaguars Curl 5 Yard In Dig Go Out Slant Man Zone Contested
Will Blackmon 1/1 0/1 0/2 0/2 0/4 1/2
Alan Ball 1/1 3/3 2/2 1/1 1/1 5/5 3/3 1/1
Slot (In Base) 2/2 2/2
  • This was another game where Allen had most of his success against 1 player. Ball was no match for him.
  • Allen's ability to win at the line of scrimmage was the key in this game. If you can win at the top of your route, you can play in this league a long time.
  • While it wasn't a great statistical game, Allen was very comfortable at sitting down in zones and finding the open areas.


On the other hand, Blackmon's length seemed to affect Allen a little bit. He had help on the outs, but ran with him easily on deep routes. I think this would be the 1st time you questioned can he get open by pure 'speed.'

The Confirmation Game

If the Colts game was a coming out party, the Washington game was a confirmation that the Monday Night showing was no fluke. This is the game you might recall that Allen was flagged for one of the worst offensive pass interferences I can recall.

Washington Go Curl Dig Out Drag 5 Yard In Zone Man Contested
DeAngelo Hall 1/2 4/4 1/1 3/4 3/3
David Amerson 2/2 3/3 8/11 5/7 2/2 3/3 9/10 13/18 0/1
  • This was far and away Allen's most active game. Up until the 4th quarter, Allen was as close to perfect as it gets.
  • It took until then for Amerson to realize that Allen isn't going deep, so he began to sit on his routes (which I'm surprised doesn't happen more), and cause some disruption.
  • Once Keenan countered Amerson's adjustment, he simply couldn't hang. Allen would give a false step in a specific direction along with a head nod to create separation, and it was masterful.


Missed Opportunities

The 1st game versus Denver didn't involve a ton of opportunities for the perimeter receivers due to San Diego's 'keep away from Peyton Manning' strategy.

Denver Slant Comeback Dig Go 5 Yard In Curl Man Zone Contested
Kayvon Webster 1/1 1/1 1/1 1/1 1/1 5/5
D. Rodgers-Cromartie 1/2 0/1 2/2 0/1
Chris Harris 0/1 1/1 1/1
Q. Jammer 0/1 1/1 1/1 0/1 0/1

2 big first half misses turned into 2 field goals. The first miss came at the end of the first quarter. San Diego ran the route combination referred to as "smash" to both sides. To the top of the screen it's Vincent Brown and Antonio Gates, and to the bottom of the screen it's Eddie Royal in the slot, with Allen out wide.


Rivers wanted to go to Brown on the curl route, but there was nowhere to throw. Gates is still in his route so he's not an option. With Troutman almost in his lap, Rivers was forced to leave the pocket and scramble for 3 yards.

Or was he?


This is right as Rivers realizes Brown is covered, before Gates is into his double move, and prior to Troutman in his lap. El Captain had the opportunity to come off of his inital read across the formation and hit Allen in stride for a definite 1st down & possible touchdown. Even as he scrambled, he had an opportunity to hit Allen for a for sure touchdown.


Did this lose the game? Of course not. However, Rivers came up 2 yards short of the 1st down. The next play was 3rd & 2 and Ronnie Brown was stuffed for a 1 yard loss.

The 2nd miss came again when Rivers was under pressure. Rivers dropped his eyes a second too soon, and that's all it took for this 3rd down sack. San Diego has a great call on. Lined up in a stack formation, Allen has the curl over the middle and it opens up beautifully.



If Rivers anticipates this, it's a 1st down and the drive keeps moving.


You can see Allen in the bottom left corner. This is when Rivers eye level drops, and the sack happens.

Mental Lapses?

Miami Curl Comeback Corner Slant 5 Yard In Go Dig Man Zone Contested Catch
Dimitri Patterson 2/3 0/1 0/1 1/4 1/1
Brent Grimes 2/2 0/1 2/3 1/1
Nolan Carroll 1/2 2/3 1/1 0/1 3/6 1/1
  • Allen only ran 7 real routes in the 1st half. This game featured a lot of quick stuff to the tight ends and running backs.
  • The lack of targets really seemed to affect Allen. He just didn't look very engaged. His routes reverted back to the first week, where he wasn't making adjustments. The routes weren't crisp like the recent games he had played.
  • The corners he faced weren't really doing anything special, Allen just couldn't shake loose.

They changed this in the 3rd quarter, as Allen was targeted 4 times on the 1st drive of the 3rd quarter, getting good separation on 3 of those routes. Still, 2 big double teams on 3rd down, one which leading to a sack. I'd say it was his worst game. I can't really speak on mental lapses, because I'm not there, but once Keenan didn't get the rock early, he just sort of checked out. This was also the game he left early with an injury. An all-around off-game for him.

The Bounce Back

If Miami was Allen's worst game, you could make a strong argument that week 12 was his finest.

Chiefs Out Slant Curl(&Go) Drag Dig Go 5 Yard In Man Zone CC Slot
Marcus Cooper 1/1 1/1 1/2 4/5 1/1 1/2 1/1 7/10 3/3 1/1 4/4
Steve Smith 2/3 1/1 1/1 1/1 1/3 0/3 4/9 2/3 1/1 1/1
Brandon Flowers 1/2 2/3 1/1 2/3 2/3 0/1 (drop) 3/3
H. Abdullah 2/2 2/2 2/2

While Allen was near perfect in the 1st half, he did cost the team 2 drives where he came up short of the 1st down markers on 3rd down. He ran routes a yard shy of the marker. Can't do that, have to be aware of your surroundings. This next GIF shows you how the difference of waiting 1 second, and how hard being a quarterback really is.


In the 2nd half, KC made obvious adjustments. Whether hitting him early, or doubling Allen, they weren't going to let him beat them. I counted 12 targets in the 1st half. Without question the best half as far as winning 1-on-1. He was open on 10 of the targets (1 was in trail coverage where he was bracketed.) The Chiefs long, lengthy corners on the outside just weren't quick enough at the LOS, or at the top of the route, to guard Allen.

Will the Veteran Secondary Have an Answer?

Vs Cincy Dig Go Skinny Post Slant Drag Curl Out 5 Yard In Man Zone Slot Contested Catch
Adam Jones 4/4 1/1 1/1 2/2 0/1 2/2 10/12 3/3
Chris Crocker 1/1 1/1 3/3 1/1 4/4 2/2
Terence Newman 0/3 0/1 1/1 2/3 1/1 1/1 4/9
  • Ironically in the 1st half, the two times he wasn't "open" is when he got 2 of his 3 catches. The 3rd was a screen, which I didn't count.
  • Newman pressed Allen twice, and both times he couldn't get open. Newman seemed to be squatting on the routes, which was smart.
  • The Bengals did double Allen on a couple 3rd downs. Forcing the other group of receivers to get open...and they couldn't.
  • This will be the game Allen is remembered for fumbling, but I can't tell you enough how impressive his ability to get open at the top of his route is. Allen gave Jones big time fits this game.

The Blowout

Giants 5 Yard In Go Slant Curl Out Skinny Post Man Zone
Prince Amukamara 1/3 1/1 1/1 1/1 3/5 1/1
Terrell Thomas 1/1 1/1
Jayron Hosley 2/2 1/1 2/2 1/1
  • Even though he scored 2 TDs in the 1st half, this was a relatively slow half compared to recent games.
  • SD was just able to run the ball at will versus NYG.
  • These are the games that happen when you jump out to a 24-0 lead. Lots of runs and quick passes. Not much action for the perimeter WRs.
  • Allen did make the most of his opportunities and once again showed his ability to win at the line of scrimmage.


Another Primetime Show

Broncos Dig Drag 5 Yard In Skinny Post Out Curl Go Man Zone Slot
DRC 1/1 2/2 4/4 1/4 0/2 7/12 1/1 1/1
Omar Bolden 0/1 0/1
Mike Adams 0/1 0/1
Chris Harris 1/1 0/1 1/2 1/1
Kayvon Webster 1/1 1/1 1/1
  • I'm always interested in how teams will play somebody the 2nd time around.
  • Denver chose to shadow Allen most of the game with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who in my mind, is one of the better CBs in the league.
  • On in-breaking routes, Allen had no issues creating separation. The problem was elsewhere, when DRC was able to stick with him.
  • Still a very productive/successful game even though he was held to 2 catches.

Will Jenkins Handle Allen Again?

Vs Oak Curl 5 Yard In Out Dig Go Man Zone Slot
DJ Hayden 2/2 2/2
Jenkins 1/1 2/2 3/3
Porter 2/2 1/1 2/2 1/1
Chimdi Chekwa 1/2 1/2 1/1 2/2 3/5 2/2 1/1
  • Another game where it's interesting to see how the team counters the 2nd time through.
  • In the 1st match-up, Mike Jenkins surprisingly gave Allen fits.
  • Jenkins did give up the TD to Allen, but Allen only lined up against him three times.
  • Allen was both missed on a wide open target, and also (in my opinion) dropped a touchdown.

Season Usage & Moving Forward

Route Success/Attempts Success Rate
Curl Routes 33/44 75%
5 Yard In 32/37 86%
Out/Comeback (10-15 Yards downfield) 30/44 66%
Dig Route (12-15-yard In route) 39/57 68%
Go/Vertical Route 18/32 56%
Slants/Posts 18/22 81%
Drag Routes 16/19 89%
Routes Versus Man Coverage 136/176 77%
Routes Versus Zone Coverage 67/85 78%

As you can see, the closer to the line of scrimmage Allen is, the more automatic he is. The dig/out routes don't include the times he was double teamed or when teams rolled coverage towards him. On pure vertical routes, he doesn't have the speed to just run by defenders, and that shows.

Moving forward Allen will need to get more and more creative in his route running if he's going to be the primary intermediate-to-short target. The fact that he was open as often as he was this early in his career should leave no doubts in fans minds that we have a potential star on our hands. Because he's already shown he can make in-game adjustments, it's hard to imagine any kind of "sophomore slump."

I would like to see Allen get better at winning downfield, and cut out some minor mental lapses in his game. I believe Frank Reich's offense will help that, and we'll be previewing that soon. What adjustments would you like to see from Allen moving forward?