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Do the San Diego Chargers run too much shotgun?

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Mike McCoy said that the San Diego Chargers would run less plays out of the shotgun formation this season, but that was before his offensive line was decimated.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I regret to inform you that this blog is more about questions than it is about answers. Let's just get that out of the way right now.

Okay, onto the "fun".

Yesterday, during the Squadcast, I explained to Ben Higgins that Frank Reich's offense was reminding me a lot of Steve Spurrier's former offense at the University of Florida. The same offense that got him quickly crushed as the head coach of the Washington Redskins.

Spurrier's offense included a lot of route options for his receivers, was based heavily on timing, and ran exclusively out of the shotgun. From there, the team could pass, run a draw play, or run a fake draw play as their play-action.

One benefit to this style was that the offensive line blocked the same way on just about every play. That also ended up being a bit of a downside in the long run, as pass-blocking on every play results in more injuries on the offensive line and also makes it a little easier for opposing players to pin their ears back and come at the QB.

Anyway, listen to the podcast yourself for a slightly more in depth explanation, and feel free to do some research of your own as we dig deeper into this.

Too much shotgun?

After doing the Squadcast, I finally got around to watching the San Diego Chargers defeat the Cleveland Browns. One thing I noticed? The Chargers were in shotgun on just about every play. The run plays were typically draws, and the fake draw was used as the play-action.

"That's too much shotgun," I thought to myself. Well, actually, I said it out loud to those people that were watching video of me watching the game.

Why was it too much shotgun? How much shotgun is too much? I have no idea. It just feels like there has to be a reason that NFL teams don't run every play out of the shotgun formation, right?

Then, I found this.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers took the third-most shotgun snaps last season at 752 (75 percent), trailing only the Philadelphia Eagles (941 snaps) and the Miami Dolphins (873 snaps).

In an effort to create more balance on offense and expand the running game, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said quarterback Philip Rivers will be under center more this season.

The Chargers averaged just 3.43 yards per carry in 2014, second-worst in the NFL.

In San Diego's first preseason game against the Dallas Cowboys, the Chargers were under center for 35 of the team's 61 offensive snaps (57 percent).

"We lived in the shotgun last year, and it was something we said in the offseason that we wanted to play more under center," McCoy said. "It's not as easy for the defense, and there's only so much you can do in the gun running-game wise. You have a lot more flexibility, and they can't tell as much what direction you're going when you're under center."

Source

Huh.

First of all, the obvious first thing that popped out at me is that the Chargers, Eagles, and Dolphins have all had tough starts to the season due to terrible play and health on their offensive line.

Second, I don't think the Chargers' plan of running less plays from shotgun this year is working. In fact, to the naked eye, it appears they're running more plays from shotgun than last year. I've yet to find any place on the internet that keeps track of this stuff, though.

Third, it's interesting to hear McCoy talk honestly about it for a second. It's easier for the defense when the offense is in shotgun. It hurts the running game. You have less flexibility. They can tell what direction you're going.

I think I was thinking of it in terms of generalities. Too much of anything in the NFL is a bad thing, because it makes you predictable. However, McCoy is saying here that there are actual drawbacks from being in the shotgun than being behind center.

So, what now?

This is by no means a call for the team to adjust and run less plays out of the shotgun.

I understand why the team did it so much last year (poor offensive line play) and why the team is doing it so much this year (poor offensive line play). They're trying to keep Philip Rivers alive.

I even believe Mike McCoy's quote from above, because against the Detroit Lions in Week 1 we did see a lot more run-blocking and a little less shotgun. It's like McCoy really wants the Chargers to be a "run it down your throat" type of offense, but has no idea how to really go about it, and probably feels like every time he tries the offensive line gets a little more injured.

I have no idea where the team should go from here or will go from here, but there's an underlying message to all of this that terrifies me a bit and here it is:

The Chargers don't want to run as many plays from the shotgun and they've essentially been forced into doing exactly that, despite the fact that they know they don't stand as good of a chance as winning once they start doing so.

This is the type of sentence that doesn't look that bad on the surface until you realize that this is how you become the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Oakland Raiders. Those teams always end up doing things the way they don't want to do them. They know what they're doing won't work, and they're doing it anyway because they feel "It's the only chance we've got."

Even worse than being stuck in the middleground, where the team wins 8-9 games a year and never has a draft pick high enough to change course and lift them to the point of playoff contention, is being stuck in the lower realm. The lower realm is where smart men go crazy and good fans die heartbroken. I'm not entirely sure which plane the Chargers are on right now, but we'll likely figure it out over the next two weeks.