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The Rams and Jaguars finally turned their young talent into playoff berths in 2017. Cleveland looks to be taking over the mantle for "team of the future." Also: Buffalo's wild turnover and the youngest secondary in eight years.

27 Oct 2017

Word of Muth: First-and-Gag

by Ben Muth

If you are a Los Angeles Chargers fan, I would imagine that last Sunday's game against the Denver Broncos was thrilling. The L.A. defense, led by Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa, was absolutely dominant and controlled the game from the first quarter on. For everyone else, though, the game was not the most exciting. San Diego's offense was pretty poor itself outside of a couple of big plays (a punt return and a long pass). It was a defensive struggle that also wasn't a very close game. Not my favorite type of game to rewatch. But it had been a while since we've visited Carson, so I wanted to check in.

The first I thing I noticed was that Michael Schofield was starting for Joe Barksdale. Schofield played in Denver when I covered the Broncos and he did not play well, or even run-of-the-mill bad for that matter -- he was awful in Denver. So when I saw he was matched up with Von Miller, I was fearful for Philip Rivers' safety.

Schofield wasn't terrible, however. He definitely got the worse end of the matchup, but it wasn't a disaster. He only gave up one sack (Miller's other sack came on a bootleg) and a small handful of other pressures. It definitely could have been much worse.

I really didn't think anyone up front for L.A. played great. I thought the left side of the line was pretty good, but not as good as the last time I watched the Chargers. Russell Okung at left tackle was a bit better than left guard Matt Slauson (who left with an injury), but both were solid. I thought Spencer Pulley struggled at center and got pushed around too much in the running game.

One area where the Chargers struggled on Sunday, and where they have struggled all year, was running the ball. San Diego's offensive line consistently failed to open holes. The Chargers are ranked 29th in adjusted line yards and I'm surprised that there are three teams that are even worse in that category.

The sequence where San Diego's inability to run really stuck out was Denver's goal-line stand in the first half. The Chargers had a first-and-goal from the 1, ran it four straight times, and couldn't score. It was not pleasant to watch, so let's relive it in GIF form to get in the Halloween spirit.

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That's the same play from two angles. It's an old school G play (where the play-side guard -- in this case, Slauson, 68) pulls and kicks out the end man on the line of scrimmage). This play isn't blocked perfectly, but I have no idea how this isn't a touchdown. It's a great call for what Denver is running on defense but the execution is lacking in a few places.

First, Hunter Henry at tight end (86) doesn't block a soul. He's outside releasing to influence the end man on the line and make Slauson's block easier. But he doesn't get close to getting a hat on anyone at the second level. At fullback, Derek Watt (34) gets absolutely zero movement. He gets stood up in the hole and creates a pile -- not exactly Lorenzo Neal. And finally, Melvin Gordon (28) doesn't move the pile at all. He hits the pile at the half-yard line and doesn't move it an inch. The backside linebacker (Todd Davis, 51) is unblocked, but it's hard to get a hat on that guy. You have to expect your former first-round pick to gain half a yard more than what is blocked.

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It's really tough to get a block as good as Slauson's here from the left guard position at the half-yard line and not score. That is a straight pancake on the goal line, and it's beautiful. Look at him roll the defender's ass out of there.

Unfortunately, Henry gets his ass handed to him on the edge, which blows up the play. It's hard to run outside zone if the play-side tight end gets whipped that quickly. The Chargers were moving the wrong direction.

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This time the failure is an offensive lineman's fault, I think. This is a gap play, and most times on gap plays the puller is responsible for the back-side inside linebacker. Right guard Kenny Wiggins (79) pulls too wide, and L.A. ends up with him and the fullback on the same linebacker. That leaves an unblocked linebacker in the hole.

However, I will point out that once again there is a hole, and this play is probably blocked well enough to get a score. They can't all be walk-ins. Los Angeles needs more from Gordon down on the goal line.

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Not even LaDainian Tomlinson would have scored on the fourth-down play, though. It's the same play that was called on third down, but it goes way worse. Watt and Wiggins try to block the same guy again, but this time neither guy really gets much of him. It's tough for any back to take on two guys in the hole like that.

It was a disaster of a goal-line sequence. The Chargers offense would have a chance for redemption in the second half though. They once again faced a first-and-goal from the 1.

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As someone who hates the people who think (and will always tweet after a failed jumbo conversion) that teams should spread it out in short yardage, this was a poor game for me. It looks really easy sometimes when you do that. But this still is not football the way it was meant to be played.

That's going to do it for this week. If it seemed brief, that's because the game really was a bit of a slog to watch. The good news for Chargers fans is that since both New York and Green Bay are off in Week 8, we will be back here covering the Bolts again next week.

Posted by: Ben Muth on 27 Oct 2017

3 comments, Last at 28 Oct 2017, 2:36pm by jtr


by Drunken5yearold :: Fri, 10/27/2017 - 5:26pm

Hi Ben,

Did you happen to catch the Chargers-Giants game? I was surprised you didn't write about it since you're covering both teams.

The Chargers losing Slauson should hurt, but he wasn't actually playing all that well this year. Did you see enough of Feeney to get any sort of impression? PFP thought he played well against the Broncos. With Barksdale fighting turf toe, and Slauson and Hairston out, the Chargers basically are out of reserve linemen.

Schofield was basically a dumpster file in Denver last year so I'll take "not terrible" from him.

The Chargers are trying very, very hard to be a power running team this year, and they just don't have the personnel for it. I keep expecting them to open up the offense a little and lean on Rivers some more, but maybe they know something we don't. Rivers has definitely struggled with his accuracy this year and Charger's fans are whispering that it's because he's lost some arm strength. Still, I think their linemen are better at pass protection and the offense would improve with more of a focus on passing rather than power running.

by xydux :: Sat, 10/28/2017 - 1:13am

This game was awful enough that I gave up and went to a jam session rather than watch past the midpoint of the third quarter (and I would've left earlier). I imagine it was good if you're a fan of defensive football, but as a Broncos fan, I hated it.

That said, I have a question: Muth, what's wrong with spreading it out in short yardage? While I personally think that jumbo can be a good idea (because if you can shove the other team back when they KNOW what you're going to do that's a great thing), I can see how it looks horrible when it doesn't work (as in the goal-line stand covered in this piece) and how spreading it out can work if your team is better built to do that. So, what's the problem with spreading it out in short-yardage situations?

(I'm not trying to be insulting, I just wanted your insight.)

by jtr :: Sat, 10/28/2017 - 2:36pm

Just from what he wrote here, it seems like Ben likes power formations more out of an old-school attitude than any real technical football reasons.
Personally, I think that spreading it out does several good things for your run game. By taking both a FB/TE and a linebacker out of the box, you reduce traffic inside, and I think traffic on run plays generally favors the defense by making it hard for the running back to find a lane. Plus, by only having to make five or six blocks instead of seven to nine blocks, you reduce the chance of having a blown block somewhere that allows a defender to blow up the play. Or to put it another way, it's easier to account for a defender by making him line up away from the play than it is to block him.
FO's advance stats agree with this; last year NFL teams averaged a half-yard better per carry out of single back rather than the I-formation.