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The Chargers' secrets revealed

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The San Diego Chargers offense is one of the most effective, most creative units in the NFL right now. Retired NFL defensive end Stephen White sees a team capable of confusing and confounding even the best defenses in the league.

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Jacksonville Jaguars run basically the same defense as the Seattle Seahawks, and last week Gus Bradley's team stuck to that system and played a decent game. The problem they had against the San Diego Chargers was that they were hit with some plays designed to beat the coverages they used, mostly Cover 3 and man-to-man, and that's exactly what happened.

Philip Rivers threw for 377 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. After watching the tape, I actually came away thinking he should've thrown for a lot more. That's not really a knock on the Jaguars defense. I just couldn't understand why the Chargers didn't run some of these plays multiple times during the game. They are really that good, maybe even good enough to beat a much tougher Seahawks defense that uses the same approach.

So without any further preamble, let's take a look at some of the Chargers' passing combinations that gave the Jaguars fits on Sunday.

chargers dagger

This play is perfectly designed to beat Cover 3. First, the receiver at the top (red line) is going to run a deep out, which is one of the routes that's hard for a corner to defend in cover 3. Next, the tight end (black line) runs a shallow crosser to the left side of the field. This route is designed to keep the underneath coverage close to the line of scrimmage as it tries to cover him. It can also be a safety valve if the deep routes are somehow covered. Then, there's the running back (white line) who runs an even more shallow crosser to the right side. That route is meant to keep the flat defender on the offense's right side (instead of sinking back into the window for the deep out).

The inside receiver at the bottom (blue line) is where the magic happens. He runs full speed straight up the seam and past the single high safety. His route is meant to eventually attract both the corner and the safety to that side because he is in between both of those defenders' deep third of the field. Finally, the outside receiver at the bottom (yellow line) is going to push vertical at the corner for about 12 yards before running a dig underneath the seam route by the inside receiver.

On this particular play, Rivers decided to go to the deep out up top, but he could have just as easily thrown to the deep dig down at the bottom. Once the corner and safety go with the deep seam route, it is wide open as long as the underneath coverage is not in the throwing lane.

chargers dagger

As you can see from this shot right before Rivers throws the ball, every receiver's route has done its job. The underneath coverage is looking at the tight end. The running back and the seam route has attracted the attention of both the safety and the corner. Nobody in the Jaguars secondary is wrong on this play, but it still leaves two routes open 15 or so yards down the field.

This is the one route combo that the Chargers ran more than once.

chargers dagger

I switched the color of some of the lines this time because I generally try to make the red line the guy who received the ball. This time Rivers threw it to the deep dig. The formation was a little different and some guys switched roles as well, but it's the same basic concept overall. The wide receiver at the bottom (yellow line) runs the shallow crosser to the left. The tight end (black line) runs a 10-yard stop route. The running back (white line) runs to the flat. Up top, the dig and the seam route (blue line) don't change at all.

chargers dagger

Results are pretty similar too. The running back attracts the flat defender which allows the tight end to get open on the stop route. The shallow crosser attracts the underneath coverage, and the seam route draws in the corner and the safety up top. The dig is wide open for more than 15 yards.

Twice. San Diego ran this twice. I really don't understand that, but maybe I'm missing something. The Chargers' game plan on offense came off as uber weird to me. Like I said, they had all these great plays, but then they would run other stuff that wasn't nearly as effective and end up punting. It was almost like they were testing out plays at one point in the game, but the fact that the game was close almost to the end made that highly unlikely. Anyway, they did enough to win. I just can't understand why they wouldn't keep repeating some of these plays.

The next play is one you will probably remember from a week ago. The Chargers pulled out the scissors route, just like the Broncos did against the Seahawks, to score a touchdown. And wouldn't you know it, the Jaguars ran into the same problem in coverage as the Seahawks.

chargers scissors

Here are the routes drawn up. At the bottom, the receiver (yellow line) runs a 10-yard slant. The running back (white line) runs an out route to the flat. Up top, the outside receiver (blue line) runs a post, and the inside receiver (red line) runs an out-and-up.

chargers scissors

If you recall, I pointed out when breaking down this play for the Broncos that part of the reason they were able to be successful was that the Seahawks went to a three-man rush, which gave Peyton Manning time to allow the routes to develop. The Jaguars were not about that three-man rush life at all and sent a blitz. The Chargers were able to keep the pass rush at bay long enough for Rivers to allow the out and up to come open because they kept the tight end to block. Because of the blitz, the Jaguars played man instead of zone, but it really didn't matter. Once that inside receiver made the out cut and the guy defending him bit, you might as well have struck up the band, because it was over.

Again, how does this not get called at least one more time during the game?!

star divide

The Chargers evidently have a whole section in their playbook of single-high safety beaters. This one features what I call an "over" route by the inside receiver (red line). It is kind of like a crossing route but at an angle headed toward where you normally see a corner route run on the other side. The formation as well as the other routes conspired to make sure that the over route was wiiiiiiiiide open.

chargers over

The tight end (black line) is by himself up and in close to the left tackle. That gives him a lot of room to play with outside. He pushes vertical at the corner to that side for 10 yards or so, and then he runs an out route. Because the tight end is alone and a legitimate threat in the passing game, the cornerback to that side locks in on him even though he is supposed to be playing Cover 3. When the tight end breaks outside, so does that corner.

There are three receivers to the right, which forces the single-high safety to cheat to that side. When the middle receiver (blue line) runs a seam route up the inside edge of the numbers, it guarantees that the safety has to stay on that side to take away the deep ball to him. The widest receiver (yellow line) runs a 15-yard comeback. Just in case the safety decides to go with the over route, the comeback should keep the corner to that side occupied, which means the deep seam route would be wide open. Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

chargers over

The corner jumps the tight end's route (black circle). That's important because if the corner sinks to his deep third instead and has his eyes inside like he should, then there is a chance he could make a play on that over route. Jumping the tight end means the over route has nothing but green grass between receiver and the end zone.

However. I will give Jaguars linebacker Geno Hayes a ton of credit on this one. He recognized what was happening and tried to turn and run with the route, but he had no shot to make the play.

The Chargers scored on this play and could've probably scored on it again if the pass protection had held up, but I never saw it again the rest of the game.

star divide

Next, the Chargers hit 'em with the double post, down at the bottom of this shot. This should have been another touchdown, but Rivers threw to the wrong guy. It was still a nice gain though.

chargers dbl post

The double post is exactly what it sounds like. The inside receiver (yellow line) and outside receiver (red line) at the bottom both push vertical for 10 yards, then cut at an angle for a post route. The outside receiver (blue line) runs a shallow crossing route. The tight end (black line) runs a 10-yard curl or hook or whatever. I always get hooks and curls confused.

The Jaguars are almost always a single-high safety team, just like the Seahawks. However, I don't know if they were just tired of getting bombed or what, but on Sunday they ended up going to some Cover 2. Or at least trying to. It didn't matter much because the double posts got them anyway.

chargers dbl post

This was just regular Cover 2, not Tampa 2, so the middle linebacker didn't turn to get down the seam with the inside receiver's post. That is why, as you can see above (yellow circle), he is wide open down the middle of the field and would've hit his head on the goal post had Rivers thrown the ball to him. Instead, Rivers threw to the outside receiver (red circle), who was open as well, for a shorter gain. The safety up top is so locked in on the tight end that he never sees either post route.

Why not run this again and see if they let the inside receiver open like this the second time around?

star divide

And of course, the Chargers dialed up old faithful: FOUR VERTICALS!!!

chargers 4 verts

Pretty sure I don't need to describe this one. But yeah, the guy with the red line caught the touchdown.

chargers 4 verts

#GotEmCoach

With the talent the Chargers have at receiver and tight end ,they could score off four verts nearly at will. Somebody is sure to get open, and Rivers' deep ball game is top notch. Buuuuuuut did they run it more than once Sunday?

Nope.

star divide

OK, I've got one more for you. This one wasn't actually a completion, but I did love the route combination versus Cover 3. The ball went to the skinny post (red line), which is where it should have gone. For once Rivers was a little bit off, so his receiver wasn't quite able to catch it.

chargers skinny post

This should have been Rivers' fourth touchdown. The Chargers once again lined up with trips to their right (the bottom of the picture) and one receiver to the left with a tight split to the left tackle. The Chargers knew the trips set would force the single-high safety to favor that side of the field. To further attract the safety, the inside receiver (blue line) ran another route up the seam at the edge of the numbers. The outside receiver (yellow line) ran a little 5-yard stop. I am sure that safety was worried that the corner might once again jump the short route and leave the deep route open, which had happened to the Jaguars several times prior to this game.

Instead, the corner saw the seam route and went with it, giving it double coverage. The whole deep middle of the field was wide open. Just to make sure that the underneath coverage didn't get any ideas, the Chargers sent the tight end (black line) and running back (white line) on short routes in the middle of the field.

All that work left that corner one-on-one covering the skinny post with outside leverage and about 25 yards worth of nothing but green grass inside the receiver.

Once again, the band director should have already been up getting ready to start waving his hands.

chargers skinny post

This is how it looked after the ball was thrown. All Rivers had to do was lead his receiver inside, and he would have walked into the end zone, but Rivers threw it behind his receiver, which allowed the corner to make a play on the ball.

Look at all the circles and where the defenders are in relationship to them. I said this several times already, but it bears repeating: None of those Jaguars defenders are wrong here. This is just another hellafied route combination that worked as intended.

What I am wondering is how those routes would look against the Seahawks defense. I hope some team tries some of this against Seattle so I can find out.