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Know Thine Eagles Enemy: Chargers Film Review

*insert Sun Tzu wisdom here*

San Diego Chargers v Philadelphia Eagles Photo by Rich Schultz /Getty Images

I’m going to complain for just seven seconds, and then we’re gonna kick this off.

I break down three plays on offense and three plays on defense for these previews. That’s what I do. Any more would not only require more GIFs, which weighs down the post and takes forever to load, but would also require a lot more time. Time isn’t exactly something your full-time college student moonlighting as an analyst has in spades. I’m not telling you my product is poor—I put my name on it; it’s not—just that there’s more I wish I could do.

My prefaces serves a point: I was thiiis close to discussing in my Giants breakdown baiting Eli Apple, the struggling Giants corner, in Cover 2 looks. He likes to jump the flat route and can be beat over the top. I didn’t include it, instead discussing pattern matching and how the Eagles might isolate Jeffery one-on-one with Apple down the field.

You know that last throw to Jeffery? The one that set up the game-winning 61 yard field goal? The Giants were playing a Cover 2 look. Wentz baited Apple into jumping the flat route and hit Jeffery behind him.


Today’s a new day, man. Let’s get these right.

Chargers Offense

Out with the old, in with the new. Mike McCoy can throw together a pretty offense, but the ex-Chargers HC couldn’t seem to handle the extensive responsibilities—or, um, throw together a pretty offense—in his time as a head coach with San Diego. McCoy’s replacement, Anthony Lynn, was the running backs coach in Buffalo before, around this time last year, being promoted to offensive coordinator and eventually surging into the head coaching market.

He brings with him a power running scheme predicated on getting stud RB Melvin Gordon behind pulling linemen, TEs, and occasionally even fullback Derek Watt.

Pour one out for Derek Watt real quick. Talk about living in shadows.

The constant pulls and traps run by Los Angeles will look to expose the upfield nature of Jim Schwartz’s front four. Some defenders, like EDGE Shaquil Barrett here, will be left unblocked, only to be smashed out of the play by a closing lineman. The defensive line must play with good instincts and explosiveness off the line, to consistently generate traffic in the backfield and disrupt the timing and flow of these plays.

I’ve highlighted FS Darian Stewart here, who peels into the screen late as he tracks TE Hunter Henry’s motion into the formation. He becomes the eighth man in the box, as he’s responsible for Henry in man coverage. When Henry pulls to the playside, Stewart scrapes with him with excellent instincts and closing speed, tackling Gordon for only a two yard gain on a play with a ton of pre-snap potential.

The Eagles look to get Rodney McLeod back from a hamstring injury that sidelined him in Week 3 against the Giants. That’s big news. Given the hectic nature of the Chargers’ rushing attack, safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins both must trust their keys and make tackles in space when they’re asked to load up into the box.

The Chargers also have a nasty tendency to give you many looks out of the same personnel. A top-ten hit? Bringing on 11 personnel (1 RB, 1 TE, 3 WR) and going empty (lining up all players as receivers), like so:

They don’t care who their backs or tight ends are, either—they’ll go empty with just about anyone. This makes it very tough to ensure you have the right personnel to defend against the many alignments you can see, from one play to the next, with no substitutions.

Here, at the goal line, they’ve got Melvin Gordon flexed out wide and in motion. A lot of attention is going to that side of the field (3 defenders), as their dangerous WR1, Keenan Allen, is lined up in the slot as well. Long in the tooth, but still oh so savvy TE Antonio Gates runs a red zone classic—the stick and nod—to fool the zone coverage and find a nice little hole. Six.

Check out that motion again from Melvin Gordon. The Chargers love to ‘stack’ their WRs—aligning two players so close, you can’t get a good press on one. It’s a tactic seen a lot across the league, but Chargers add a wrinkle by incorporating downfield rub concepts off of this WR stack.

On a rub, both WRs will take vertical stems, before one suddenly breaks off (usually to the boundary). It’s tough to stay tight to that WR in the break, given all the traffic in the area. It’s like a pick play in basketball.

Here, we see that stack concept, but Denver has accounted for the potential out-breaking WR with a corner squatting in the flat zone. No matter—QB Philip Rivers now has speed freak WR Travis Benjamin down the field with a window to the boundary against a Cover 2 safety. The Chargers have struggled to generate chunk passing plays so far this season; against Philadelphia’s slower corners, keep an eye on Benjamin (#12), especially when he’s stacked pre-snap, or in a nasty alignment (closer to the offensive line). They like to take their shots from those looks.

Chargers Defense

Out with the old, in with the new. Head coach Anthony Lynn snagged Gus Bradley off of the streets after Jacksonville finally pulled the plug on that failed experiment. Not unlike ex-HC McCoy, Bradley is a gifted coordinator but a poor head coach. He’s opened up a new world for the front four—especially EDGE rushers Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, a top-flight duo in the NFL—but injuries and poor personnel have taken some of the wind out of this unit’s sails.

If Bradley’s unit can tee off against you, you’re toast. On a 3rd and long against the Chiefs, Bradley dials up a pretty number that has DE Joey Bosa slanting inside, LB Nigel Harris looping outside, and LB Jatavis Brown (blue path) coming late between the two.

The blitz is built to open up #57, Jatavis Brown. It doesn’t work like that—but that’s why it’s so important to highlight this play. Firstly, the various pre-snap shifting and adjusting of the front seven does well to disguise the true attack of this blitz—and subsequently, the right side of the Chiefs OL is visibly bumfuzzled at the snap. Having dealt with a good deal of shuffling—some of which is arguably unnecessary—along the interior offensive line, Philadelphia must do well to communicate and designate against a defense built to send rushers at you from every angle. RG Brandon Brooks has played exceptionally well; but will LG Stefen Wisniewski/Chance Warmack be up to the challenge?

This play also serves the function of highlighting #99 Joey Bosa, who gets from a 9-tech alignment to that B-gap real quick. He hits that fresh swim move just as the OG keys on Brown looping over, while the OT thinks he has to crash on Bosa, and misses #58 Harris entirely. Without the explosiveness and pass-rush prowess of Bosa, the mayhem that is this blitz package likely doesn’t come to fruition. He’s a doggone good player. And his buddy, Melvin Ingram (#54)? Second in the NFL in sacks with 5.5. Some paychecks to be earned this week for Jason Peters and Lane Johnson, most definitely.

Thing about this defense, though? You need some ballers at linebacker (and in the secondary as well) because you’re asking them to do some radically different things on different plays. The Chargers prefer to play single-high coverages (Cover 1 and Cover 3), with FS Tre Boston prowling deep. They can move their CBs directly on top of opposing wide receivers then, to disrupt releases and timing.

But spread a team like this out, and their linebackers have to cover a lot of ground—I mean a lot of ground—to defend against runs outside of the tackles. We saw Philadelphia generate a ton of movement on outside zone runs (hmm, wonder who said that was a good idea in his Week 3 Giants Film Review?) against New York, and they can find similar success in LA.

I wanted to highlight this play, not only because it’s a 20-yard outside zone run, but because of the pre-snap motion. When that wide receiver comes across, and his man follows him, the Chargers adjust their look to the new 3 x 1 formation of the Dolphins.

Now, the Chargers love to play the inline tight end with a safety about five yards over him, shaded to the outside. That the dude with the dreads to the far side of the field. The Dolphins know they can run inside of him, given his pre-snap leverage and relative smallness, but they need to prevent those linebackers from pursuing on the backside. With that motion to the 3 x 1, the single-high safety shades to the strong side, and the linebackers have to adjust by realigning weakside. Bingo.

Right before the snap, look at the size of that hole between the linebackers and the safety over the TE. Some good blocks by the tight end, center, and left tackle, and we’ve got ourselves an alley, man! If the Chargers keep playing the safety with that leverage, watch for the Eagles to run that way a lot—and Zach Ertz to feast in the middle of the field.

Let’s talk more 3 x 1 alignments, because the Chargers have no idea what to do with those.

That is Tyreek Hill in the slot with...a linebacker over him?!

If, in today’s NFL, you’re not going to cater to premier WRs and offensive weapons lining up in the slot, you’re just plain stupid. I mean, you can run this Cover 1 shell if you want, but you better be dang sure you know the personnel you’re facing here! I love Bradley’s scheme, but to live and die by a scheme is to deny the reality that some players are faster/bigger/stronger than other players, and Tyreek Hill is faster than almost all of them. The safety is late coming over, while a LB tries to drop on top of Tyreek Hill in a footrace. Easy money.

Unrelated note: Alshon Jeffery is bigger/stronger than a lot of players. WR Jarvis Landry had a high-volume day from the slot against the Chargers as well, with 15 targets and 13 receptions. Look for the Eagles to take advantage of Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery against linebackers in the slot—and, if the Eagles can’t make the Chargers respect their rushing attack, expect Los Angeles to swap out those linebackers for safeties and corners.

If you see anything from this breakdown on the screen come Sunday, I need some love, man. That Cover 2 Eli Apple nonsense just burns.

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