Welcome to this edition of small sample theatre.
When Frank Reich took over as the Offensive Coordinator he had some big shoes to fill replacing Ken Whisenhunt as the man behind the Offense. Wiz helped propel the Chargers to a playoff birth and a win in the first round with creative play-calling all while catering to the teams strengths.
Fast forward a year, Ken Whisenhunt takes the head coaching job with the Titans and Frank Reich is promoted to Offensive Coordinator. In his first year, Reich's play-calling was bland and often times predictable.
Of course it'd be fair to say there was a lot of turnover on last year's Offense because of major injuries but regardless, it was not a great showing for Reich last year. On Sunday, Reich might have conjured up the ghost of Ken Whisenhunt.
On Sunday against the Lions, the Chargers Offense was electric wearing down the Detroit defense late in the game to help steer them to a 1-0 start to the season. The Offense looked like shades of old with the heavy reliance on the short and intermediate passing game.
With the way the Charger Wide Receiving corp is currently constructed, the short passing game is playing to their strengths as a unit. Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson are both great route runners who can cook in the middle of the field, LaDarius Green has shown skills running up the seam and all three work best with the ball in their hands and the opportunity to rack of some YAC. Malcom Floyd is your jumpball specialist. There isn't a starting wide receiver on this roster that can stretch the field and get behind defensive backs for the deep ball. So rather than gain 50 yards in one play, this Offense is better suited getting 50 yards in 5-10 plays and like you saw Sunday it's the recipe for a successful gameplan.
During the first game of the season coaches try to put their stamp on the game and set a tone for the rest of the season, cliché I know but still something coaches try to do. So let's take a look at Week 1 over the last three years and see how they compare. Important to not that these numbers represent where the ball is caught in regards to the line of scrimmage, it is not the total gain but rather how far the pass travels. Let's take a look first at Ken Whisenhunt's gameplan for Week 1 in 2013:
Ken Whisenhunt exploited the left side of the field and got the ball to almost every side of the field. Rivers was getting the ball out of hand quickly but also threw a few deep balls to keep the defense guessing. The Chargers attempted 65% of their passes for under 9 yards which was effective but went away from it when they built up a big lead and ran the ball to eat up clock. Creative play-calling all around and was deadly in the red zone with the short passing game.
In Frank Reich's first year as Offensive Coordinator he did many things well; 61% of his pass plays went for under 9 yards and he ran most of his set plays for the middle of the field all of which fit the Chargers system. Though the percentage is 4% lower than what Wiz did the year before it is still a good percentage but the number I'm concerned with are the deepball calls. Philip Rivers threw the ball over 20 yards 22% of the teams total pass attempts that game. He finished 4/8 for 108 yards when throwing the deepball and threw it twice as much as the year before in Week 1. The playcalls were not anything special and at times were designed to force Rivers to do too much with his arm.
Sunday's game against the Lions conjured up the ghost on Ken Whisenhunt. He out Whisenhunt-ed Whisenhunt; he essentially took the Week 1 vs. Texans gameplan and dressed it up. 86% of the Chargers pass attempts were before the sticks, only attempted one pass over 20 yards and completed 4 out of his 5 passes between 10-19 yards. Reich implemented some beautiful play designs with some short drags, crosses and some screens all for effect. Again this is a small sample size but Frank Reich looks like he has made a major leap in his Offensive play-calling. Here are the major differences between Year 1 and Year 2 with Frank Reich as the Chargers Offensive Coordinator:
- On average Philip Rivers is getting the ball out of his hand up to 1-2 seconds quicker. Good news for the Offensive Line.
- Reich is maximizing what these current Wide Receivers do best and getting them the ball in space.
- In Arizona last year Reich had the short passing game rolling and then went away from it late in the game. On Sunday, the passing game was working but wasn't putting points on the board, Reich kept grinding away and it all clicked in the second half.
- On a 3rd & 7 last year, the playcall was for a 7 yards pass for a gain of 7. During Sunday's game on a 3rd & 7 it was a 6 yard pass to a streaking wide receiver for the chance of a lot more.
- The one deep ball thrown to Malcom Floyd on Sunday was set-up by the short passing game, in Arizona those deep balls were an attempt to get the big gain.
- Reich ran Floyd on multiple deep patterns to help clear out the DB's, opening up the short passing game for Allen, Johnson and Green. In Arizona when Malcom Floyd ran a deep route, most times it was an attempt to get him the ball.
- Against the Lions, Reich got chunk yardage early in downs and gave the team 3rd down and manageable; last year during Week 1 against the Cardinals the Chargers were forced into a lot of 3rd and long because of all the deep incomplete passes.
- Exploiting matchups. Reich saw Rashean Mathis, Detroit's 35 year old veteran cornerback, matched up on Keenan Allen and they ran Mathis sideline to sideline because Allen would win that battle. Reich dared the Lions defense to stop it and Allen had 17 balls thrown his way, catching 15 for 166 yards. Reich imposed his will on the game.
- After Week 1 the Chargers are ranked #1 in time of possession by controlling the ball for 38 minutes, last year the Cardinals dominated time of possession.
- Reich used the passing game as an extension of the running game much more than last year during Week 1.
This Chargers Offense is alive.