Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

15 Sep 2006

Marty's Play Pamphlet

You may have noticed that the Chargers ran the ball a lot in their 27-0 win over the Raiders Monday night -- 48 times, by the official count. What you may not have noticed was that the Chargers actually ran the same running plays over and over again.

On the second play of the game, the Chargers ran a reverse to Eric Parker for 18 yards. Later in the drive, they attempted the same reverse, but Philip Rivers and Parker fumbled the exchange. On the next drive, the Chargers faked the reverse to Parker and handed off to LaDainian Tomlinson, who ran off tackle right for 58 yards. They ran the exact same play -- fake reverse left, off tackle right -- on the next down, with L.T. gaining two yards.

By midway through the third quarter, when my DVR of the game went on the fritz, they had run the fake reverse off tackle play three more times, most of the time from the same formation (offset I, twin receivers right). Sometimes Turner took the handoff instead of Tomlinson, but otherwise the plays were almost carbon copies.

Another page of the Chargers playbook was dog-eared by Tuesday morning: the inside counter. They ran this play at least five times in the first three quarters. Usually, Lorenzo Neal started the play in the slot, then came in motion into the backfield as an offset-I fullback. At the snap, the right guard and right tackle pulled around down-blocks by the left guard and tackle, Neal blocked left, and Tomlinson followed Neal.

When the Chargers weren't faking the reverse or running the inside counter, they displayed a dozen different variations of the off-tackle run. But at least they were variations, executed with different blocking schemes from different formations, not the same play over and over again.

Now, the Schotten-Haters would probably interpret this as a sign of Schottenheimer's arch-conservative approach gone haywire. And to be fair, the Chargers dominated the first half of that game but led only 13-0 until early in the fourth quarter. A little more variety may have broken the game open earlier.

But it's hard to argue with a shutout win on the road, and there was logic to Marty/Cam Cameron's dollar menu gameplan. The one thing the Raiders do well is rush the passer. Rivers is immobile and inexperienced. There was no reason to get cute and risk a few big sacks by Warren Sapp or Derrick Burgess. By playing turtle ball, the Chargers protected Rivers while giving opponents almost no game film to work with. And frankly, if the reverse gains 19 yards the first time you run it and the fake reverse gains 58 yards, doesn't it make sense to try them a few more times?

The Chargers should be able to power out another easy win against the Titans without digging much deeper into the old playbook. That'll leave Schotten-Haters like Deion Sanders with nothing to talk about until October. Oh, darn.

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 15 Sep 2006