Hello Phinsiders. This week we are going to take look at the San Diego Chargers Offense, specifically their Red Zone Offense. The Chargers Offense is very good. They are 3rd in the league in scoring offense, averaging 29.8 points / game. They are also 1st in the league in Red Zone Scoring Attempts / Game at 4.8 attempts / game (as an aside, in the last 3 games, Miami's offense is averaging 4.7 red zone attempts / game).
This is a potent, high scoring offense with some really good players at the skill positions. Philip Rivers is 8th in the league in passing averaging 284 yards / game and a 96.2 passer rating. Melvin Gordon is 6th in the league in rushing averaging 85.3 yards / game with 9 rushing TD's (tied for 1st in the league). And they have Antonio Gates. He's pretty good too.
This is arguably the best offense that Miami has faced so far this year. It will be a big test, on the road, Pacific time zone game, for Miami's defense.
First, let me just say that this team is hard to defend in the Red Zone. They have big, quick WR's and 2 big bodied TE's in Gates and rookie Hunter Henry. Combined, Gates and Henry have 7 TD receptions. Gordon at RB is a hammer in goal to goal situations running the ball (as the 9 TD's would suggest) but can also catch the ball out of the backfield (2 receiving TD's). You combine these skill position players with Philip Rivers at QB, one of the best QB's in the league, it's not hard to see why they score a lot of points. They create match-up problems for a defense across the board.
So, let's get to some film breakdown. When San Diego passes the ball in the Red Zone, they are looking for 2 major things from a defense. The first thing is to identify a mismatch, where their receiver has an advantage over the defender. This mismatch could be based on the players involved or how they are positioned on the field. The second is to isolate a side of the field where their receiver(s) have a space advantage, keeping the extra defender(s) out of the play.
Here is an illustration of the 1st scenario: Identify the mismatch where the receiver has an advantage over the defender. In this play, San Diego is in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR's), Shotgun / Twins Right / RB Offset Left Formation.
Look at what Philip Rivers is seeing out of the defensive alignment. He has 2 WR's to his right (the field) covered by 3 defenders and 3 receivers (RB, WR, TE) to his left (boundary) covered by 3 defenders. This tells Rivers which side of the field he is going to work and that is the boundary side where it is an even match-up, 3 on 3. Now in that 3 on 3 match-up, knowing that the WR is running a post route (in yellow), the TE is running a flag (in red), and the RB is an arrow route (in blue), Rivers will identify the mismatch and that is Gates on the Safety running the flag route. Look at all that open space in the corner of the endzone.
In the picture above, look at the vertical space between Gates and the Safety. It is almost 5 yards. Now look at the horizontal space. Gates is already outside the defender running an outside route to the flag. Simply put, not only is this Antonio Gates (one of the best receiving TE's in NFL history) running this route, the safety prior to the snap had no shot at defending this route because of his alignment. This is a mismatch for the offense on several fronts.
To add insult to injury, the crossing action of the Post / Flag route combination acts as a "rub" route (on offense we call this a "rub", on defense they call it a "pick". "Rub" is legal, "pick" is not). The "rub" causes the defender to retreat in the end zone and makes Gates even more wide open. This is easy for a QB like Rivers, it's stealing.
How should this have been defended? It goes back to alignment prior to the snap of the ball. The Safety wasn't respecting the deep outside enough. You can see that here.
The Safeties help is to the inside with the MLB. Remember, the WR's to the right of the formation are being covered by 3 defenders. The MLB is patrolling the middle of the field working an inside out combination with the Safety over the TE and the LB covering the RB. That means the Safety should be lined up further outside, in the blue circle expecting help from the MLB on any inside route by the TE. After the snap of the ball, it becomes even more apparent how the Safety was misaligned to the inside.
That's the MLB and the Safety in the yellow circle trying to cover Gates. Because of the alignment of the Safety, no one on defense could protect against an outside route by Gates.
Now let's look at the 2nd scenario: Isolate a side of the field where their receiver(s) have a space advantage, keeping the extra defender(s) out of the play. In this play, San Diego is in 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR's), Shotgun / Twins Right / RB Offset Left Formation, the same formation as the play above. The Titans are defending this formation with a blitz (LB and SS are blitzing) and Cover 0, straight man on man.
Rivers recognizes the blitz and the coverage and changes the play and protection at the LOS. Seeing the field like Rivers does, he knows he has an advantage to the right side of the formation in that the 2 defenders are isolated on the field side of the formation. Knowing a blitz is coming and knowing that he will have to get rid of the ball quickly, he isolates the routes to the right side of the formation and calls a "rub" route combination.
At the snap of the ball, the outside WR pauses to let the inside WR run the "rub".
The inside WR avoids contact with the defender, making the defender run around the "rub", and that allows the outside WR to get separation and become open.
The Titans defense does a pretty good job covering this play, but there is just too much space on the field with not enough defenders to stop it. It is perfectly executed by San Diego and goes for a TD.
But the key to this play isn't the route combination, it was Rivers setting the protection to pick up the blitz prior to the snap of the ball. San Diego is max protecting on this play (and you know how I love max protection passing plays), it's only a 3 receiver route. The TE and RB are part of the protection scheme.
The Titans can actually bring more defenders (8) than the Chargers have blockers (7), but don't. If the Titans did bring all 8, the RB would pick up the LB, #54, and the safety would be unblocked. It wouldn't have mattered though because Rivers gets rid of the ball in under 2 seconds. Notice that Rivers catches the snap on the 10 yard line. Now notice what yard line he throws from.
Rivers releases the ball with his back foot on the 12 yard line. This was a 1 step drop, quick pass with a set pocket.
OLD SCHOOL PLAY OF THE WEEK!!
The triumphant return of "Old School Play Of The Week". Enough of this fancy Shotgun Formation Red Zone Passing Stuff. Let's put on some big boy pants and pound the rock. Here is an old school Jumbo Personnel Group (23 in today's world with 2 RB's and 3 TE's). This is TE Wing Left / I-Formation and San Diego is going to run a FB lead or Isolation on the LB.
The LG and C are going to double team the DT in the "A" gap and work to the backside LB. All other OL / TE's are protecting their inside gap. The FB is leading on the LB. The key to making this play successful at the RB position is what we coaches used to call "being small with a forward lean". There are so many players in such a confined space on the field, the running lane is going to be small so the RB has to be small to get through it. Forward lean means putting your head down and powering through contact to reach the end zone.
Here is what happens after the snap ...
Look at the double team between the LG and C. Look how high the DT is on these blocks. The DT is doing basically everything wrong right here on this play. He is too high. He needs to be lower and penetrate into the backfield so that the LB's can come over top to meet the FB and RB on the offensive side of the LOS. The DT being stood up, causes the LB's to lose.
The LB in the red circle is doing what he should in trying to get over the top of the double team. But because the DT is standing up, the LB can't get over the top. It's easy to get over the top of players on the ground. It's not so easy to get over the top of 3 players all standing at 6'-4" or better.
Because the DT is standing up and not penetrating the LOS, the isolation LB has to work around the double team. This makes the FB block on him take place in the end zone which means at that point, the defense has lost.
When you see the isolation block take place in this location, the offense has won and scored a TD. Gordon got small and had a forward lean with nothing really in his way. This play was a well-executed, big boy run on the goal line. That's fun football right there!!
In my opinion, the best way to defend the Chargers in the Red Zone is to rely on your DL to get penetration. They need pressure on Rivers. They need to create havoc in the backfield to stop the running game. As a defense, you aren't going to fool Rivers with exotic blitzes / coverage combinations. He has seen it all and probably beaten it all. You need your players to win their match-ups, especially on the DL to create havoc. If you don't, then you leave Gates isolated on safeties and that's a bad match-up, especially with Reshad Jones not playing.
My gut tells me this is going to be a high scoring game. While the Chargers offense scores a lot of points, their defense also gives up a lot of points. That fact, combined with Miami scoring 27+ points / game the last 3 weeks, suggest this is going to be an old fashion shootout. This might be one of those games in which whoever has the ball last wins.