Analysis Notebook: TNF, Week 15
I have to admit, I’m kind of annoyed with myself. When I was submitting my picks for the weekly PFF Pick’ems this game felt like one the Chargers could win. When the game was approaching last night I had a conversation on Twitter about how this game felt like it had the potential for a Denver slip-up. I used naughty words in the tweet otherwise I’d post it here in the article for proof, but the bottom line is I didn’t have the spirit to follow my gut and pick up a game over everybody else in the Pick-em!
So how did the Chargers overcome what is objectively a much better side in the form of Denver? It certainly wasn’t through pressure, with the Chargers upsetting Manning in the pocket on just seven snaps (though one of them did lead to an interception), instead they did it by limiting the damage Manning could do and chewing up great tranches of game time with their running game. Ryan Matthews had 127 hard earned rushing yards from his 29 attempts and overall the Chargers had 41 designed rushing attempts (not counting the two kneel downs by Rivers to see out the game or his lone scramble). They notched 166 rushing yards on those attempts but the important thing is what it did to the time of possession. I’m not normally a big fan of time of possession as a statistic – I’ve seen games where the side with the ball for just 25% of the time is sitting at that level because they’ve scored almost instantly four times and has a two-score lead – but in some cases it is indicative of a well-formed gameplan.
The Chargers had the ball almost twice as long as Denver. 38:49 to 21:11 in time of possession, and the key part of that is that Peyton Manning had the ball in his possession for just a third of the game.
The interesting thing about this success is that the San Diego line didn’t run block particularly well. King Dunlap earned a +2.1 grade for run blocking but the other four starters were all in negative figures and that slack wasn’t picked up by the TE’s or lead blocking. Matthews (primarily), Brown and Woodhead had to do most of the heavy lifting themselves.
The first play the Chargers ran shows perfectly how they achieved their ground success.
San Diego intended to run off LT King Dunlap on the play. Antonio Gates aligned at TE on that side of the field is going to run off into the secondary rather than block the man closest to him. He is going to take a wide release with the hope of drawing the OLB, Von Miller, with him and away from the point of attack. As it happens, Miller didn’t buy it so Gates just went for the first man he encountered in the secondary, eventually just dithering in front of him as the run arrived. Miller was actually accounted for in the blocking scheme elsewhere by the pull block of the second TE, Ladarius Green. The idea is that Green will kick out Miller and Dunlap would down-block on Malik Jackson to create the hole.
Initially all looked well, but Miller knifed across Green’s block and Jackson shed Dunlap pretty quickly. In addition to that, center Nick Hardwick was too slow getting to the second level so ILB Paris Lenon completes a trio of defenders blocking the hole. Miller crashing inside his block though has blown outside contain, and Matthews sees the new gap emerge.
In the process of making a hard cut to the outside Matthews was able to execute a solid stiff-arm to Jackson and break out of the dead-end he had been heading down. This was a play that should have been dead on arrival at the point of attack but Matthews was able to overcome the blocking to break contain and turn a run that should have got nothing into nearly a 20-yard gain. This not only moved the chains, but improved field position and kept the clock moving, all key things for the Chargers in this game, especially being down 7-0 already by the time they received the ball.
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