While the Chargers certainly had plenty of opportunites to win the game on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, let's take a look at the final four plays in the red area where the team came up just short.
I'll try to avoid any sort of revisionist history during these four plays. For what it's worth, I would've thrown one of the WR screens on 1st down. On 2nd down I would've thrown a back shoulder fade to Ladarius Green or Antonio Gates. On 3rd down I would've run inside zone. Finally, on 4th down I'd spread the defense out and tried to high-low them over the middle of the field with some sort of crossing routes. The Chargers did one of these things, so it's easy after the fact to second guess the play-calling. On a second watch you realize it's less about the play-calling and more about the execution.
1st and Goal from the 3
Inside Zone to Danny Woodhead for a gain of 1
A little surprised Philip Rivers checked in, or didn't check out, of this run play. I'm no math whiz but the Packers had more in the box that the Chargers could account for.
I legit thought that this would be one of those quick screen passes out to the receiver, especially based on the numbers in the box. Back to the play.
The defensive tackle lined up over the right tackle Joe Barksdale slants hard and crosses Barksdale's face. This not only prevents D.J. Fluker from climbing to the second level but forces Danny Woodhead to bounce an inside run to the outside. On an inside zone play like this you're not going to block the backside pursuit guy, which is #52, Clay Matthews, who is on the far right. Ideally he shouldn't have a chance to make the play so you'll just block the defender to your inside gap and Woodhead reads it from there.
As you can see, that's not what happened here. Barksdale can't prevent his man from slanting hard and the double negative is left guard Kenny Wiggins gives up the gap to his inside as well. This play is so Chargers because this is one of the rare run plays where both Trevor Robinson (who ends up pancaking his man out of the screen) and Fluker work well to the 2nd level as a tandem. Here's the play full speed:
Just as far as the look the team got, probably not the right time to run it. Still, the team has a chance to punch it in if the execution is better.
Jerome's Take: You have to run at least one time down there. Your logic is wrong if you're one who thought/thinks that San Diego should have passed four times in a row. I am in favor of this call by Frank Reich. They had the numbers advantage and it's a quick hitting play. Up front, San Diego's Offensive Line successfully got a hat on a hat and I think Danny Woodhead may have cut this too far back.
At the mesh point, you saw the Chargers' Center run his free track to the Inside Linebacker. At the plant, you saw Right Guard D.J. Fluker climbing to the second level. Danny Woodhead saw danger in the Playside A Gap, so by rule, he is to bounce it. No argument from me there. I just think Danny's best cutback path is between the Center and Right Guard, not off tackle where LB Clay Matthews was waiting for him.
2nd and goal from the 2
Pass incomplete to Gates
I'm guessing when he watched this play yesterday Rivers let about 21 "dagummit's" fly. He has to be kicking himself after this one. The idea here was to get your two best playmakers on the field in a situation where you had a chance to high-low one of the defenders. Nice design by Frank Reich all-around and the Chargers get the look that they want.
Unfortunately, Rivers predetermined he was going to get the ball to Gates. The DB right behind Woodhead is already starting to sink. That doesn't give Rivers anywhere to put the pass. Woodhead was wide open out of his break. This is a tough one to swallow for El Captain, I'm sure. Many will notice the other options here, too. With the game on the line, let's face it, he's not looking to the bottom of the screen where Dontrelle Inman is. If that's Keenan Allen, sure. Games on the line you're going to stick to what you know. Which leads me to the final thing. What Rivers knows is throwing the ball. You see all that space in front of him? Yeah, I can guarantee you he never once thought about tucking it to score.
You can be picky about a few things in this picture but running it shouldn't be one of them. The pass ended up sailing out of bounds.
Jerome's Take:The Flat/Flag combo to the right is the obvious read here. Rivers' just has to read that Packers Cornerback. The problem here is he kind of had his mind made up on taking the flag route given he could see TE Antonio Gates was going to get a free release.
Give the Packers defensive back a ton of credit here, they put him on an island with two responsibilities. He read and played the play as good as you could ask for. Again, I liked this call by Reich. It's a concept they got Pittsburgh with a few times just last week.
Another note: We all the obvious miss here but when you watch the pre-snap communication, you'll notice WR Malcom Floyd identifying a creeping Green Bay defensive back to Philip Rivers. This is another miss. Floyd came across the middle and had good positioning, as the DB was on his back (route highlighted in blue), this might have been six as well and maybe an easier read for the quarterback. But, again, the design calls for a read to the right, so...
3rd and goal from the 2
Inside zone to Danny Woodhead
If the 1st down run was a questionable decision, this was the easiest decision to make. It's 3rd down from the 2 yard line and you have a timeout left. Run the ball. Even better, the Chargers can account for everyone in the box.
The difference this time around is that both safeties have to account for receivers in coverage. It's perfect. Remember, we're not accounting for the backside linebacker on inside zone. By the looks of it this Woodhead should waltz in for an easy touchdown. Jokes on you for thinking anything San Diego does goes according to the plan.
Fluker drops his head and lunges, two big no-no's, which leads to him getting beat instantaneously off the snap. His man makes the tackle for negative 1.
Hard to be mad at Reich for this one. Everyone is accounted for. If Fluker is even able to mirror his man by staying in front of him, Woodhead still might be able to sneak in the end zone with the way he runs so low. They had the numbers advantage. You don't account for your lineman getting beat that bad that quickly. In my opinion this was the best play call of the four final plays.
Jerome's Take: Ahhhhh! The one call you all hate and the one I totally understood and agree with.
You see, Frank Reich saw that they had numbers and had a hat on a hat with the same Inside Zone call just two plays earlier.
Once I got to the see play in its entirety, I liked the call even more because of what was tagged to it. There was a backside screen to the call. A really cool design. Tight End Antonio Gates motioned across the formation and originally I thought it was just window dressing but there was serious money out there. Again though, I don't blame the Quarterback for disregarding the screen, he had the numbers in the run game.
On to the real problem with this play.. Right Guard D.J. Fluker. The Chargers lineman was the last one out of the block and his assignment - GB DL Datone Jones, who made the tackle - blew right by him, stuffing the play before it could even get going. So, go ahead blame Reich. I, myself, am going to blame the Right Guard because just two plays earlier he executed the play pretty well. This play is one block away from six points. This isn't Reich's fault.
4th and goal from the 3
If at first you don't succeed
Someone in the booth saw what we saw. Someone saw that Woodhead was open. So they went back to it. The same play the Chargers ran two plays previously, they ran again with the game on the line. I'm a little torn here. On one hand, I'm always preaching "stick to what works", "make them stop you before you stop running it." On the other hand, you haven't attacked the wide side of the field or used Rivers' accuracy in a 1-on-1 situation yet.
This is not the same picture, I promise. Inman is still open. Woodhead is still open. This time, though, there's less room to run. Also, Gates, who is Rivers 1st read, is getting jammed. The other issue is the ball has to be out now. Here's a look at the play from the end zone angle.
Have to wonder where that ball placement is if Joe Barksdale doesn't let his man bullrush him into Rivers' lap.
Jerome's Take: The Green Bay defense smartened up this time. They knew what coming. If there is any call to be mad at, its this one. The Inside Linebacker that ran with the Seam Route that Ladarius Green ran on Second Down - vacating that middle that Floyd was naked in - rode Green for a second less this time and then peeled downhill to the defend the Malcom Floyd slant. Locked that down.
Green Bay gave its defensive back the same responsibilities he had on second down, the difference was what they did with Antonio Gates. Clay Matthews mugged the Chargers Tight End throughout the play - remember he had a free release on second down - and he never got a chance to plant his foot and break towards the pylon. You could tell Philip Rivers wanted him badly. At that moment, it's down to two options for Philip; Deliver the ball late to Woodhead or take the sack. Unfortunately, both options lead to San Diego being 2-4.
This was the worst call of the goal line series by Reich and it isn't close. Have to clean-up the Red Zone play calling and execution.
To piggyback off Bolts & Dolts, Denzel Perryman brings something to the table that Donald Butler doesn't. Aggression.
Perryman did things in 30 snaps that Butler hasn't done in 2 years. https://t.co/oF9szXhGjg— KP (@The_KP_Show) October 20, 2015
I understand it's barely over 50% of one game, but I'm more than happy to be wrong about someone. For what the defense needs, he's a perfect compliment to Manti Te'o with how he will attack blockers and keep Te'o free.
Playing the same position 1 game, 30 snaps: Perryman-8 tackles, 5 stops, 2 TFLs. 5 games, 222 snaps: Butler-17 tackles, 4.5 stops, 2 TFLs.— KP (@The_KP_Show) October 20, 2015
Offensively, these final 4 plays weren't indicative of Rivers performance by any means. He's was money. He was masterful. He was everything. Green Bay checked into a blitz? Cool, Rivers would check to a screen. Rivers saw Green Bay was in man coverage? Perfect, he'd hit Keenan Allen in 1-on-1 coverage. The Packers would sit back in zone? No problem, I'll wait for Gates to get open and hit him as he sits down. The best quarterback in the stadium on Sunday was wearing 17.
Speaking of Keenan, that was the best that I've seen him. That's saying something, because I'm quite the fan boy. There was a certain sharpness to his routes that hadn't been there. The Packers attempted to disrupt Allen's shorter routes by pressing him and, as you can see, the DBs ankles were routinely sacrificed.
But it wasn't just winning initally at the line of scrimmage, it was that second move to create separation that was missing.
Moral victories are for minor league coaches. It's hard to be mad at the outcome of this game, though. If anything, be mad at the missed opportunities and how the team didn't pull this one out. Plenty of positive takeaways from this past Sunday to combat the negative. For as poor as Butler has played, that's a month straight of Jerry Attaochu playing at a high level. That can't be ignored. If he's going to be the pass rusher the team desperately needs, so be it. Trevor Robinson somehow played worse than Chris Watt a week ago, but the Chris Hairston played about as well as you can ask and the unit as a whole gave up 4 sacks in 68 drops backs. That's pretty damn impressive.
You know what else is pretty damn impressive? Rivers. Not only was he a step ahead of the Packers moves defensively but he was on target for 85% of his throws. He's good at this sport.
Yes, the schedule is friendly coming up but I'm in more of a wait and see mode for a team that lost to Mike Vick. Whatever you do, don't lose to the Raiders.