Good Afternoon, Bolts From the Blue!
The Chargers’ search for their next head coach continues on as the list of interviewees grows by the day. Therefore it is important to continue the BFTB examination into the candidates’ schemes, this time talking about the offense.
Part 1 talked about the defensive side of the ball focusing on candidates who are either defensive coordinators or head coaches who preside over defensive systems. Part 2 will instead focus on the candidates who are offensive coordinators and head caches willing to take Justin Herbert’s talents to the next level.
The table below is my attempt at representing an offensive coaches’ style. As with the defensive side of the ball, the intention of this examination is to look at schematic intent and not results, so the metrics I have chosen to include are there so that we can compare the strategic approaches of each coach without the reliance on player execution to give a fair impression.
To evaluate the intentions of an offensive system and its potential unison with the Chargers’ 2024 roster we need to look at several metrics that reveal its unique qualities. Kellen Moore’s offense seemed to me like a well designed poorly executed scheme that used motions and short passing to overcome an inexplicably weak running game. This is not something that the Bolts want to replicate so how do they avoid falling into relying too heavily on this again? Different metrics produce different answers.
First of all looking at passing intent is key, aDOT (average depth of target) is a slightly flawed statistic as it doesn’t take into account situational context so if you instead measure aDOT against the first down marker, you see pure intention. Kellen Moore had Herbert throwing on average -1.2 behind the sticks which did not suit his play style (even if this was a drastic improvement on his -2.3 under Joe Lombardi), so which schemes have a chance at pushing the ball further downfield? Mike Vrabel’s heavy reliance on play action to pair with the Titans’ effective run game meant they led the league in aDOT vs Sticks. This style is not a match for the Chargers’ offensive talent though as a lot of their success came out of 12 personnel (that’s one running back and two tight ends) which are the weakest areas of the Bolts’ roster.
On the face of it Justin Herbert’s bare statistics when running play action are impressive scoring nine touchdowns to only one turnover, on film he showed hesitancy and he ended up playing safer in these situations than he did in a clean pocket which is against league trends. So whilst I strongly believe in utilizing play action to unlock explosive plays using Herbert’s rocket arm, I do not want to see it become a primary chain-moving device as teams can key off of these concepts all too easily.
The real alignment shown from these metric assessments are towards Todd Monken and Bobby Slowik’s schemes. Both of them have a true belief in taking shots downfield, using motion to create mismatches whilst not relying on heavy passing tendencies. Both coaches also have almost a true split between zone and gap running schemes which can keep defensive fronts on their toes. Todd Monken had Lamar Jackson aiming 3.4 yards further down the field on play action concepts and Bobby Slowik had C.J. Stroud going even longer at 4.9 yards beyond Herbert’s 6.6 yards per attempt in these situations. Each of these candidates have proven that they belong in this conversation despite their newness to their offenses. Their 2023 systems went against league trends and whilst they seem like very different schemes entirely they have a great deal of similarities. If the Chargers were to go in either of their directions the one area that would need prioritizing would be acquiring running backs as they both pioneered a resurgence in the use of 21 personnel.
Now two huge parts of how next seasons’ roster will harmonize with a new system are the coach’s personnel and formation choices. There is no doubt that this side of the ball needs some work particularly at running back and tight end, so with minimal resources available to add talent in these areas do the Bolts’ want to hire a coach that uses 12, 13 or 22 personnel heavily? Will this be too slow of a transition to capture Hebert’s prime years? On the other side of the coin, do the Chargers’ hierarchy want to choose vanilla offenses that don’t try to manufacture matchup advantages using variable personnel? These questions all need to be voiced by decision makers in order to understand how best to approach building a winning team.
As with defenses, there are static offenses that rely on their elite talents to physically overcome defenses regardless of the scheme they are faced with. Brian Callahan and Mike Vrabel seem to fit this label and I am not convinced that is the direction to go in after suffering through the Lombardi experience. Ben Johnson may seem to fit this category on the face of the bare personnel metric but when you look at his formation usage and turn on the film and you will see that he uses these groups in wildly different ways than any other coach in the league. Johnson moves his offensive weapons around to confuse reads and set up leverage beaters, he has elevated that offense to another level without having elite talents in key positions and I think he would make an astute appointment.
Jim Harbaugh has not featured in this article for a reason, his offense at Michigan was one built for college football, the few metrics I had available to me showed a departure to offensive schemes run by NFL coaches. I think if he is moving to the league we will see an entirely new scheme that is built in his image with Justin Herbert and whoever is left of the offensive weapons in mind.
The other former head coaches who have not been mentioned, Pete Carroll and Bill Belichick, have shown a willingness to change offensive styles over their years at the Seahawks and Patriots respectively. Carroll, in particular, pivoted from the under center run first, play action scheme of Brian Schottenheimer to Shane Waldron’s pass first motion-heavy without many growing pains. Belichick seems more focused on finding an offense that fits into the ‘Patriot’s Way’ so he is a bit more rigid however it has been hard to judge how his offensive scheme has looked with how poor his recruitment has been in the post-Brady era, especially at quarterback.
Overall there are many options on the table for the Bolts’ offensive direction because they are being faced with a transition thanks to the contract situation. The 2024 roster features no significant talents at tight end or running back with less than 30% of their dismal 2023 production returning. This means that decision makers will have to choose if they want to lean on the investment they have already put into the wide receiver group and choose an offensive coach that has experience working out of these lighter personnel groupings or will they look around the league and realize the latest trend that has become the choice of the more successful offenses;
“As a counter to what defenses have done in response to the 11-personnel, spread formations we have seen over the years. With defenses getting lighter in the box and playing with extra defensive backs on the field to slow down passing games, offenses are responding by putting two tight ends on the field in the hopes of making the defense wrong, no matter how they respond.” - From Big is in for the NFL once again by SB Nation
Ben Johnson of the Lions, Todd Monken of the Ravens and Bobby Slowik have employed the principle of getting bigger in smart ways, not only using these bigger bodies to increase rushing output but they have leveraged these looks into creating mismatches in the passing game. I think that if the Bolts are to go with an offensive choice to make the most of Justin Herbert’s immense talents, then they would likely go with one of these systems. After all, each of these offenses played on Super Wild Card Weekend and they have all garnered interest from all the teams with head coach openings. Therefore it seems that if they go against the grain and get it wrong, they’ll be playing catch up for years to come.