In the last article I talked about three stats from the 2022 season the Los Angeles Chargers need to maintain while they improve other things, and there are some things the Chargers DESPERATELY need to improve on to take the next step.
Obviously, the offense needs to improve in a number of ways. Despite having playmakers like Justin Herbert, Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Austin Ekeler, and linemen like Rashawn Slater and Corey Linsley, the Chargers offense performed nowhere near the elite levels they should have. Yes there were injuries, and yes the scheme was sub-optimal, but there are a few specific ways they need to get better.
Likewise, on defense, a team with a defensive guru at the helm like Brandon Staley, and headline players such as Derwin James, Joey Bosa, and Khalil Mack, should be performing on a much higher level than they have.
Here are the three specific team stats that the Chargers should look at first when making their list of improves from last season.
Justin Herbert had the third worst IAY/PA
The Chargers had a pretty good passing offense last season. They put up a lot of yards, scored a decent amount, and didn’t turn the ball over much. However, it was excruciatingly inefficient. According to pro-football-reference.com IAY/PA, which stands for Intended Air Yards/Per Attempt, is a measure of the average depth of target per attempt, or, what was the average depth of target for all 699 of Justin Herbert’s 2022 pass attempts. Herbert’s IAY/PA of 6.4 was third worst in the entire NFL last season out of 33 qualifying quarterbacks. A quarterback with the level of arm Herbert possesses should not be anywhere near that low.
Now, there is a lot of context that goes into a number like that. Offensive scheme is the biggest one, with talent of pass catchers, and speed of pass catchers following close behind. I will likely do a more in depth article just on this statistic alone in the future. However, this stat is extremely important because it is a huge measure of efficiency and explosiveness. With this number so low, it should be no surprise that despite Herbert having the second most passing yards in the league, the team had zero pass catchers eclipse 900 yards.
That inability to gain yards more efficiently can be highlighted most devastatingly when looking at scoring opportunities:
According to the data below from the fantastic Mr Warren Sharp, the lead the Chargers lead the league in 3rd and 4th down attempts inside field goal range with 108. Even with 108 attempts inside field goal range, which are also very good opportunities to score, the Chargers were 13th in points for with 391.
The next closest team was actually the Philadelphia Eagles with 96 attempts. However, the Eagles, with a better running game and Jalen Hurts posting a whopping 8.1 IAY/PA, were second in the league in points for, with 477.
lots of games are decided right here— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) June 27, 2023
3rd & 4th down conversions in FG range
• 3rd down conversion rate
• 4th down aggressiveness
• 4th down conversion rate
Eagles aggressiveness & efficiency is clear
what else stands out? pic.twitter.com/8Y19ywJQY8
If the Chargers want this offense to operate at the high level needed to keep up with Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, as well as move deeper in the playoffs, Kellen Moore is going to need to bring some of the scheme from Dallas that helped Dak Prescott hit an 8.2 IAY/AP and the Cowboys to manage the third most points for in 2022 with 467.
Third worst rushing offense
While the Chargers did manage to get the second most passing yards in 2022, they had the opposite performance on the ground. The Chargers rushing game, lead by stud ball carrier Austin Ekeler, was third worst. An offense that lopsided is making life very difficult for itself. For example, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs had more passing yards than Herbert and the Chargers, but also managed almost 450 more yards on the ground (a 23% improvement over the Chargers rushing total), on only 13 more rushing attempts. The rushing attack was so bad that defenses could almost completely sell out to defend the pass.
Kellen Moore is also going to have to get this run game going so that the Chargers can rely on it when they need too, and make things a bit easier for Herbert and the passing offense.
Run defense vs. Outside runs
To Steven's point: The Chargers were bad but manageably so against interior runs (26th), but we're an outlier and historically bad against outside runs (32nd by a lot).— MIBPJ (@mibpj2) June 29, 2023
Outside runs vs the Chargers were more efficient than Patrick Mahomes last season. https://t.co/7nXXaFfFFU pic.twitter.com/7A3GNfneqG
Lord almighty. It's even worse. I broke down all of the data since 2006 to generate 1632 unique team-season-run gaps. Outside runs vs the 2022 Chargers rank DEAD LAST BY MORE THAN A FULL YARD.— MIBPJ (@mibpj2) June 29, 2023
Next closest (outside Runs vs 2012 IND) @StevenIHaglund https://t.co/L06u9BGZfh
Take a second and go back up and really look at both of these tweets.
Let that information wash over you for a minute.
That single stat is unacceptable. It’s absolutely no wonder that teams were able to hang around and force close games by scoring on what should be a much better defense.
Gaining 8.73 yards PER ATTEMPT when running outside on the Chargers was an absolute cheat code when teams needed it last year. With that kind of number being allowed there as an average is just mind boggling.
Brandon Staley definitely needs to come up with a good solution for this. The linebackers need to improve tracking to the outside and definitely need to improve in their taking on and shedding of blocks. The defensive backs need to step up in run support. And these stud edge players need to do a better job of collapsing things and setting an edge in run support.
Fixing outside run defense even just to league average brings the run defense being a laughing stock, back into manageable territory and very likely makes Charger games start to feel less “Charger-ey” and look like the more dominant week to week performances we saw from the top teams like the Chiefs, Bengals, and Eagles.