Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

03 Nov 2017

Word of Muth: Wasted Effort

by Ben Muth

The Los Angeles Chargers fell to 3-5 with a loss to the Patriots on Sunday. Despite the defeat, I thought the Chargers' offensive line played their best game of the season as a unit. The Chargers didn't put up a lot of points, but I think that was due to some missed opportunities and penalties more than anything they did poorly up front. In all, I thought it was a solid performance.

Obviously the biggest win for the Chargers' offensive line was Melvin Gordon's long touchdown run in the first quarter. Any time you can spring a back for 87 yards untouched, it's a well-blocked play.

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That's a pretty football play. Let's start with Hunter Henry (86) at tight end. He feints at the end man on the line of scrimmage (Cassius Marsh, 55) to freeze him and give the right guard (Kenny Wiggins, 79) time to get out there before climbing to a safety and blocking him down the field. Speaking of Wiggins, he does a really nice job of hooking the edge player. He's helped by the fact that the defender is wrong-arming him (ripping through with his outside arm to force a bounce from the running back) but Wiggins pins him inside just long enough for Gordon to get the edge.

I also love what Dan Feeney (66) does at left guard. He may have the hardest block on the play. He has to chase down a linebacker (Elandon Roberts, 52) who should be flying outside at the snap because there's nothing keeping him backside, and then find a way to block a guy sprinting away from him. Feeney takes a good angle and chops him down clean. That's a really nice football play. Feeney was impressive in his first start.

The key block on the play, though, might be by Mike Williams (81) at wide receiver. He does a nice job of staying in front of Patrick Chung (23). I'm puzzled by how the Patriots fit this. Either Marsh or Chung is wrong here. If Marsh is going to wrong-arm it, Chung has to be as aggressive in forcing the bounce. You can't have one guy trying to force it outside and another that's content with turning it in, because what you end up with is a giant gash right up the field.

The Chargers had some consistent success on the edge against New England. They ran the same play on the next drive for a 6-yard gain, and also had some success with a toss crack scheme in the second quarter.

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That's a really nice job by right tackle Michael Schofield (78), who wasn't perfect but played the best game I've ever seen from him. He helps secure Antonio Gates' (85) block and then knocks down the safety (Devin McCourty, 32). This is blocking two men on one play, and that should lead to another big play for L.A. But the back (Austin Ekeler) trips over the safety's legs. When I was talking about missed opportunities, these are the types of plays I'm talking about. This is a 6-yard gain that should have gone for 15 and could have even been another long touchdown run.

The other type of missed opportunity from Sunday (aside from penalties wiping out two long catches) was a failure to convert manageable third downs. I thought the Chargers missed a handful of easier third downs (less than 3 yards to go) that kept them from scoring the points they needed to. This play was a third-and-2.

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This is a toss bunch crunch with an extra lead blocker since it's a Wildcat play. I know everyone moans when teams go Wildcat and fail to convert, but this play is there and just needs to be executed. After doing a great job in the play above, Schofield misses his block here and fails to pick off the linebacker flowing from inside out. Also, the extra lead blocker (Henry) doesn't touch a soul. If either of those guys makes a block it's an easy first down.

Even with those two guys not contributing much, I still think the play call was good enough that this could've been a first down. The back, Branden Oliver, doesn't get any yards after contact. That looks like a tackle you can run through or at least fall forward a little more. This was just a poorly executed play all around.

In general though, I thought the Chargers ran the ball well enough to win the game. I also thought the pass protection was solid. Schofield gave up a couple of pressures, and so did Spencer Pulley at center (I thought Pulley was the Chargers' worst lineman on Sunday). But the left side of the line was great in pass pro. Russell Okung continues to have a very good year, and Feeney was as good as you could expect a rookie to be making his first start. They may have given up two pressures between them. In fact, the only sack of the game had nothing to do with anyone up front.

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When you talk about missed opportunities, taking a 15-yard sack on second down from the 30 going in is right up there with any touchdowns that got called back. Philip Rivers does a great job of adjusting the protection before snap to get everyone on the same page, and the offensive line does a great job of picking up their men. You just need a better effort from your back than that. And then you can't drop the ball as you're trying to throw it away.

This was a microcosm of the game for L.A.'s offense though. They did a lot of stuff right, getting everyone going in the right direction and putting a hat on a hat, but they just had too many self-inflicted wounds to put up consistent points. And you're not going to win in New England with that kind of game.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 03 Nov 2017

2 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2017, 8:52pm by RobotBoy

Comments

1
by ammek :: Fri, 11/03/2017 - 4:58pm

Awful as the Patriots' overall defense has been this season, it remains very good in short yardage situations. It's arguable that the Superbowl was won with three stops on second-and-short and a fumblesack on 3rd-&-1. Last year the Patriot defense was eight percentage points better than average in preventing conversions on third-and-short, and this year, in spite of everything, it's even better: almost ten percentage points above average. So while Ben's example does suggest the Chargers might have had opportunities in short yardage situations, the same can be said for lots of teams against New England. Somehow, Belichick usually prevails!

2
by RobotBoy :: Fri, 11/03/2017 - 8:52pm

Does it look like McCourty intentionally kicks out his legs as he's going down in an attempt to fill the hole?
The Ringer published a good piece about the reasons for decline in O-Line play. I'd love to hear your take on it.