, , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

I am trying something a little bit different this week with my Amateur Adventures in Film post because as I have discussed on the podcast, I am struggling to find time to grind an entire game’s worth of tape, even if I am only looking at one side of the ball in a game.

However, having complained about the LA Chargers play calling at the end of their loss to the Las Vegas Raiders I thought I would take a look at the coaching tape and go through it in a little bit more detail, particularly as having gone back and watched the whole game after recording the podcast on Monday there was another red-zone play that caught my eye that I wanted to contrast against the final two plays.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert had led the Chargers seventy-one yards using up four minutes and thirty-one seconds of play clock and using all three timeouts, but spiked the ball with six seconds left on the clock and only needing four yards to score a touchdown and win the game. Perhaps not the best clock management, but the Chargers were in a position where they could win the game, yet here is where the problems start.

The Chargers’ first call on second and four with six seconds left was a fade pass to Mike Williams who had lined up on the right side of the field with the team in a shotgun formation with 11 personnel (one running back & one tight-end) on the field. There was no motion and so this was an execution play relying on the six foot four Williams to come down with a contested catch in the back corner of the endzone. It was a nice enough thrown ball, but this was really a fifty-fifty shot and it did not work.

I am not a huge fan of the goal line fade route, but calling one from four yards out really gives the pass target a very tight area with which to work. Additionally, the Chargers were static before the snap of the ball so there was no indication of the coverage and more importantly they didn’t make the Raiders’ defence have to adjust with seconds left on the clock and the game on the line.

I knew I didn’t like this call when I watched the game highlights on Monday, and was wrong about the player targeted when recording our podcast that night, but there is an additional factor that made these two end of game plays worse, so let me take you back to the second quarter for an end zoneplay that resulted in a touchdown.

The Chargers are lined up on the Raiders five-yard line on fourth and one. The Chargers come out in 11 personnel and line up in a single back formation. First they motion tight-end Hunter Henry right so he swaps sides of the formation and now lines up on the right-side of the offensive line and a Raiders defender follows him (I’d love to identify them properly but the Raiders’ silver on white numbers are not that easy to pick up on coaching tape). The Chargers then send receiver Jalen Guyton left in jet motion left before the snap of the ball with Raiders corner Trayvon Mullen following. The play is a simple toss right, but the blocking in this play is what caught my eye when watching the game on Tuesday as Keenan Allen was lined up close to the formation on the right hand side and when the ball was snapped, Allen blocks in pushing Raiders defensive end Carl Nassib left. This isn’t a pancake block or anything physically impressive because it doesn’t have to be, as Herbert tosses the ball right to running back Kalen Ballage, all Allen had to do was push Nassib far enough left as the defender rushes up field that Ballage can get outside of him, which is what happens. This has the effect that it frees up right tackle Trey Pipkins III to pull right without worrying about Nassib and he blocks safety Lamarcus Joyner as Hunter Henry takes the unidentified Raiders defender who followed his motion, which when combined with Dan Feeney getting to the second level and cutting line-backer Nick Kwiatkoski and delaying him just enough, means there is enough of a lane that Ballage can run the ball in for a touchdown with hardly any contact.

I was hoping to diagram this play up, but I am still looking for the right application to allow me to do that and I ran out of time. What I liked about the play was the double motion before the ball and the inventive blocking scheme. Now, I think you should already be able to see the contrast between that scoring play and the static goal line fade that didn’t work. However, whilst I can understand wanting to throw the ball quickly to get another chance if you only have six seconds on the click, with one second on the clock you know that this play is it so it had better be a really good one so let’s take a quick look at that.

The Chargers line up in shotgun with what I think is 12 personnel, but this time the have a quad of players on the left side of the formation, and tight-end Donald Parham lined up on his own on the right. Once again, the Chargers are static before the snap and they throw another fade right to Parham who caught the ball, but couldn’t hold onto it as he hit the ground. On the left side of the play Keenan Allen drops into a receiver screen position behind the other three Chargers’ players blocking, although the Raiders have an extra defender in the area. However, I do not understand why with the game on the line the Chargers abandon motion before the snap, there is no kind of trickery just another fifty-fifty fade pass. It is even more frustrating when you see such a nice goal-line play earlier in the game like the one that I wrote up.

I developed a lot of respect for Anthony Lynn whilst watching Hard Knocks before the season started, but a combination of game management and play calling lost what was a winnable game and I really struggle to believe that the final fade pass was the best play the Chargers had available to them.

The Chargers keep losing close games, and if you look at the final drive in this game I think you can see why and the combination of game management and play calling like this is a big part of why. It is reasonable to expect Justin Herbert to get better at clock management as he gains experience, but the team have to be calling the right plays and at this point, I think it is fair to wonder if the Chargers will correct it and if they don’t, then big changes could be coming this off-season.