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Chargers Filmroom: Derrick Ansley’s adjustments are a welcome sight

The Chargers’ defense needed rapid fixes to end the season with some pride and Derrick Ansley delivered against one of the league’s best offenses in Week 16.

Los Angeles Chargers v San Francisco 49ers Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Good Evening, Bolts From the Blue!

As Week 17’s game comes to a close I thought I would take a look at some of the schematic changes that Derrick Ansley made in Week 16 to slow down a potent Buffalo Bills’ offense led by Josh Allen.

When the Spanos family decided to move on from Brandon Staley as the head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers I think every single fan, even those who were more patient, breathed a sigh of relief. From a schematic point of view what Staley was putting onto the field had become untenable long before his players gave up on him in front of a national audience on that now infamous TNF game.

So when the decision was finally made to move on from Brandon Staley my thoughts turned to what changes Derrick Ansley would make in his first week of practice before the Bills game. As any coach will tell you, even those who are completely in tune with their players after years of coordinated thinking, it is very difficult to make adjustments in one game week. Ansley had a total nine days or three full practises to implement his ideas and I am more than impressed with how much he got done in that window.

To start with let’s compare the playcalling from a pure metric viewpoint:

Coverage choices Weeks 1-15 (under Staley): Cover 0: 5.2%, Cover 1: 22.3%, Cover 3: 33.6%, Cover 2: 9.4%, Quarters: 16.2%, Cover 6: 5.8%

Coverage choices Week 16 (under Ansley): Cover 0: 5.0%, Cover 1: 14.1%, Cover 3: 30.5%, Cover 2: 6.5%, Quarters: 11.8%, Cover 6: 24.6%

(All according to Match Quarters x PFF)

The big areas of differential are clear with a lot less man coverage and a lot more Cover 6. Derrick Ansley rolled out a league high share of Cover 6 (a hybrid split field coverage) against the Buffalo Bills presumably because it is known to be Josh Allen’s weakest coverage when looking at EPA per play.

This is not a metrics only segment though, I never take things at someone else’s words particularly when it comes to coverage because analysts frequently misidentify schemes. I noticed five main changes across the game;

Cover 1 Adjustments

Ansley adjusted the Cover 1 alignments to play with sensible leverages. Corners played off-man from an inside leverage when on an island meaning they couldn’t be beaten on in breaking deeper routes. Additionally, the adjustments included telling the free safety to prioritize routes from receivers that had motioned towards corners that were in outside alignments. This is more typical of true Cover 1 scheme so it isn’t innovative in the slightest but it is a departure from the horror show we have seen across this season where the free safety has aligned too deep and not been able to put off interior vertical routes like this.

The adjustment of the secondary’s alignments in Cover 1

Cover 2 Cloud as a trap coverage

They may not have run much Cover 2 however when they did it was a good trap coverage that fooled Allen more than once, they used both Tampa and 2 Cloud to keep him on his toes. They ran Tampa under Staley but the change up was that when they ran it this time, they did so from a single high look shell and instead of a pattern match coverage rules with their eyes on the route combinations, the defenders kept their eyes on the quarterback looking for keys from him. The 2 Cloud coverage is something the Cleveland Browns have used very successfully this season and Ansley followed suit as shown below.

Derrick Ansley’s version of Cover 2 Cloud

Cover 6 Lock instead of Quarters

When Ansley did want to run a Split field coverage to handle unbalanced formations, they chose Cover 6 as I mentioned earlier. Staley ran a version of Quarters coverage with true split field rules in these sitautions which created issues as his corners could not win from their outside alignments. The key problem this adjustment helped to solve was picking up these crossers with early engagement and crossfield reads at multiple levels. Erick Kendricks pursues the inside route from the inside threat early and didn’t worry about depth whereas Alohi Gilman rolled down into a position he could take on either an inside route from the backside iso receiver or pick up any deeper crossers.

Ansley’s Cover 6 Lock adjustments

Aggressive run fills from the second level

After three years under Staley we finally saw the type of aggressive run fills from the two high safeties, it just so happened to be on the first week he’s not around. This tells me it was a conscious decision to keep his safeties protecting deep rather than provide the kind of run support this system has desperately needed.

This also extends to linebackers too who have started to attack their gaps early particularly pursuing pullers aggressively on power run concepts. This tells me two things, the first is that this is something the players have been willing to do all season and the second is that the front seven are clearly not two gapping anymore allowing them to attack with confidence.

Kenneth Murray meeting the puller in the B Gap

You can sum up all of the changes I have highlighted with one mantra; simplify. Brandon Staley is, by all accounts, a very smart coach who understands all aspects of football but that comes with its own problems. He ended up overcomplicating things because he built in understandable components on top of each other until the purpose of the system itself was lost. This happens at all levels of football, I have seen it happen several times, and the logical subsequent move is to strip all the unnecessary elements back and trust your players to execute.

Derrick Ansley deserves respect for the levels of change he was able to make in such a short window however simplicity comes with its own issues. Trusting this roster with eating up space and playing fast is a gamble but at this point in the season, what else is there? For me it has been positive to see some coherent coverages that the players seem to understand and enjoy.