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Chargers by the numbers: Week 1 at WFT

What set of numbers stuck out to me in week 1

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Washington Football Team Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I wanted to start looking deeper at some numbers and trends that show up in Los Angeles Chargers games. With the new staff coming in bringing their new scheme and philosophy, as well as the team supposedly adopting a more analytics based approach, I figured we should start taking a deeper look as well.

There are far too many things to analyze all the numbers each week so I am going to start by picking one area and taking a deep look at all the numbers around that area.

This week I decided to look at 1st downs and what the Chargers were able to do with their first play on each new set of downs.

Play selection

The Chargers had the ball for 34 1st down plays this week, which is a fairly large data set to look at for a single week. By comparison, the Washington Football Team only had 23 1st down plays on offense.

Counting Justin Herbert’s 1st victory formation kneel as a rushing attempt (which it does on the official stat sheet), the Chargers had an even split of 17 passing attempts and 17 rushing attempts on 1st down.

Broken down by half, and quarter, it appears the Chargers were much more “aggressive” to start the game, and gradually got more “conservative.”

1st Quarter 2nd Quarter 1st Half 3rd Quarter 4th Quarter 2nd Half
Pass 7 5 12 2 3 5
Run 2 6 8 3 6 9

As you can see in the chart, Joe Lombardi dialed up passes on 1st down very often in the 1st quarter, especially early with the first 4 1st down plays being pass attempts, then shifted towards running on first down as the game progressed. This may have been caused partially by the departure of Bryan Bulaga shortly after the start of the 3rd quarter, as you can see they only passed on 1st down 5 times in the whole second half.

However, during most of the 3rd quarter, and in the beginning of the 4th quarter when the Chargers were behind, they did even out more as 4 of the 5 1st down passing attempts in the 2nd half happened when they were playing from behind. I would have liked to have seen them play with their foot on the pedal a bit more with the lead.

Individual trends - Rushing

There were 17 rushing attempts on 1st down. 1 of them was obviously Herbert kneeling, so of the 16 true rushing attempts on 1st down, 9 of them were Austin Ekeler and 7 of them were Larry Rountree.

Rookie Rountree, one of the team’s 6th round picks, had 7 of his 8 rushing attempts on 1st down. With those 7 attempts he averaged 2 yards per carry on 1st down with 5 of the 7 attempts going for positive yardage.

Ekeler on the other hand averaged 4.7 ypc on 1st down with 7 of his carries netting positive yardage and had 0 carries that went for negative yardage on 1st down.

Individual trends - Passing

Justin Herbert attempted 17 passes on 1st down. Those passes averaged 5.6 yards per attempt. He only managed a 47% completion rate with his passes on 1st down, though some of these were drops that were more on the WR and one of the attempts resulted in Herbert’s only interception of the day. 6 of Herbert’s 17 passes on 1st down went for 10 or more yards and earned a new set of downs.
Herbert targeted WRs on 71% of his 1st down throws, while TEs received the other 29% of his 1st down attempts. RBs had only 1 target on the day, and it did not come on 1st down.

Mike Williams was Herbert’s favorite target on 1st down, receiving 6 of the 17 targets. He caught 4 of those passes and 3 of them resulted in another 1st down. Herbert averaged 8.2 yards per attempt and 66.66% completions when targeting Mike Williams on 1st down.

Keenan Allen was tied for the 2nd most popular target on 1st down, however he was one of the least effective options hauling in only 1 of his 4 targets resulting in a 25% completion percentage and 2.75 yard per attempt average. His sole reception on 1st down went for 11 yards and resulted in another 1st down.

Jared Cook was the other receiver who had 4 targets on 1st down and he hauled in 2 of them. When Herbert passed to Cook on 1st down he had a 50% completion percentage and averaged 6.25 yards per attempt.

Jalen Guyton had 2 targets on 1st down, catching one of them for 10 yards. This gave Herbert a 50% completion rate and 5 yards per attempt in Guyton’s direction on 1st down.

The final Chargers player to be targeted on 1st down was TE Stephen Anderson. This play resulted in an Interception, so targeting Anderson resulted in 0% completion percentage, 0 yardage, and a turnover.

1st Down Yardage

All in all, the Chargers averaged 4.4 yards per play on 1st down. They were more successful gaining yardage when they passed on 1st down, netting 5.6 yards per play when passing compared with 3.3 yards per play when running on 1st down.

That difference in yardage when passing vs running, combined with their shift towards running more on 1st down as the game went on shows up when you look at their average yards per play on 1st down broken down by quarter.
1st Quarter - 5.8 yards per play on 1st down
2nd Quarter - 4.3 yards per play on 1st down
3rd Quarter - 3.2 yards per play on 1st down
4th Quarter - 3.9 yards per play on 1st down

Removing the 1st down plays that resulted in another 1st down, the Chargers averaged 2nd and 7.5 yards to go, or 2.5 yards per 1st down play that didn’t gain a new set of downs.

In a very positive note, the Chargers had 0 penalties on 1st down, and only had 2 negative yardage plays on 1st down, 1 of which was Herbert kneeling in victory formation to end the game.

Summary

The Chargers had, all things considered, a very positive day on 1st down. 7 of their 34 1st down snaps (21%) resulted in another 1st down. 1 of the 34 went for a Touchdown on an Ekeler 3 yard run. There were only 2 actual negative 1st down plays, a 3 yard loss on a run by Rountree and Herbert’s interception. No penalties that put them in a greater than 10 yards for 1st down situation. And averaging 4.4 yards per 1st down play put them on a trajectory for 3rd and short on each set of downs.

I would have liked to have seen more aggressiveness on 1st down when they did have the lead, however with Herbert already having 27 passing attempts in the first half, I can see where they would want to try to rely more on the run as the game went on.

With this being the first full game in the new offensive system, on the road, against a very good defense, and most of the starters not participating much if at all in the preseason, I would expect these numbers to improve going forward, which is very exciting to think about.