Analysis: Why the Chargers Failed on 1st and Goal in Denver

The strategy was flawed, and there are numbers to back that up

NBC 7’s Derek Togerson offers a new strategy on goal line situations in this commentary.

Have you guys ever seen the movie Airplane!? If you’re from my generation you definitely have.

There is a scene in that movie that I think applies to the Chargers loss to the Broncos on Sunday. The doomed flight with the overmatched pilot is on its approach and the guys at the airport awaiting what cannot possibly be a smooth landing are trying to get ready for an impending disaster.

Then a random guy makes a statement and Captain Rex Kramer, the guy in charge … played brilliantly by Robert Stack … has a classic reaction:

Random Guy: “Maybe we oughtta turn on the search lights now.”
(Add dramatic music)
Captain Kramer: “No. That’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.”

That is comedy gold. The guys trying to save the day do exactly the opposite, comically over-thinking themselves into making a really bad decision.

Well, life imitated art on Sunday in Denver.

The San Diego Chargers were trailing the Denver Broncos 27-19 in the 4th quarter when their offense came alive. The Bolts went from their own 25 yard line to the home team’s 2-yard-line and had all the momentum in the world. A big chunk of the yardage on that drive came courtesy of running back Melvin Gordon, who had a 30-yard reception and a 17-yard run.

That run put him over 100 yards for the game, making him the first running back to top 100 yards rushing against the Broncos since Jamaal Charles in Week 2 of the 2015 season. Gordon was in the groove. He had 40 yards rushing in the 4th quarter alone.

Gordon has eight rushing touchdowns in 2016. The distances on those TD runs are 1 yard, 6 yards, 3 yards, 1 yard, 1 yard, 1 yard, 2 yards and 3 yards. The man has excelled at scoring on goal-to-go situations.

The Chargers even spent a draft pick this year on a fullback to help them solve what was a truly frightful Red Zone offense in 2015. So, with all those factors going in to 1st and goal at the 2-yard-line, the Broncos had to be thinking “Here comes 28.”

Problem is Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt were playing the roles of the random tower guy and Captain Rex Kramer.

Run the ball? No. That’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.

Instead they called four consecutive pass plays from the 2-yard-line against the number one passing defense on the planet. I know the Chargers coaching brain trust called those four plays because Philip Rivers told me after the game that he did not check out of any called runs. Everything that came in was a throw, usually with an empty backfield, making calling a run audible a lot more difficult unless it’s that inside handoff draw thing we’ve all come to know and love.

I understand the concept of putting the game in the hands of your best player - and Rivers is easily the Chargers best player - but there comes a time when you have to stop outthinking yourself and just do what needs to be done.

The Chargers coaching staff is full of brilliant offensive minds. Whisenhunt and McCoy are both gifted play callers. But they would be well-advised to, in situations like we saw on Sunday in Denver, just operate under the KISS principle:


Whisenhunt deserves the lion’s share of the blame for this one. He’s the guy who calls the plays. But McCoy hears everything that goes on in his headset. He knew exactly what the play calls were and at some point, say after an unsuccessful 1st down throw, he could have (should have) told Whis “Hey that was fun. Now run it.”

The Chargers have been rebuilding their running game for the last three years. Now that they finally have it almost where they want it to be, they abandon it at a time they could have really used it. Sometimes it’s the easiest decisions that are the most difficult ones to make, I guess.

Now I’m not saying the running play was guaranteed to work but given the way they’ve handled goal-to-go situations this season it sure would have been a good option to try. Plus the Chargers still would have had to convert the 2-point attempt to tie the game so there’s really no way of knowing if scoring the touchdown there would have led to a different outcome.

But wouldn’t it have been nice to have a chance to try?

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