Heading into the second year of the Mike McCoy era, it seems most fans and pundits don’t expect the offense to change much from year one to year two. It is impossible to predict how different the offense will be in the second year, but as the Chargers are grinding out training camp we can predict a few things. We can do this by taking a closer look at the differences between the playcallers and the changes on the roster.
While talking to Dan Sileo (Local talk show host and college teammate of Reich at Maryland) on the Mighty 1090 morning show, new offensive coordinator Frank Reich did everything he could by humbly claiming that the offense would not change much this year. What do you expect from the QB that lead the Buffalo Bills to the NFL’s largest second half comeback in history (1992 Bills wild card victory over Warren Moon’s Oilers) and refuses to take any credit?
Reich claims that the blueprint for the system was a total collaboration between all the offensive coaches. Stating that his transition will be seamless and Rivers has certainly echoed that sentiment. Pundits from the NFL Network and ESPN seem to already declared that Reich will be running a version of the Buffalo no huddle K-gun offense. This type of offense could be stretching the field with the home run plays he was known for and putting the skill position players in the best spot to accentuate their abilities.
Reich understands this offensive system as well as anyone after backing up Jim Kelly for nine years (1986–1994), one of the longest starter backup combos in the history of the league. His former Buffalo teammate, Bucky Brooks, visited the Chargers opening day of OTAs and he seemed amazed with the grasp Rivers and Company had on the no huddle offense so early in the process.
On July 25th, I attended the open training camp practice and watched the offense run the no huddle with all three Quarterbacks. Does this signal a move to no huddle like the national pundits believe?
While the system last year included some no huddle, circumstances and gameplans dictated a clock-draining, ball-hogging strategy. The Bolts often ran these plays without a huddle, but slowed down with Rivers taking time to audible at the line.
This was a reaction to the poor play on defense, especially on 3rd down and at the corner positions. McCoy couldn’t trust his defense, thus the need to control time of possession while the offense was on the field.
One major difference between last year and 2014 is the massive investment in the defense. I expect the defense to be able to create pressure with a slew of returning pass rushers and a hot new rookie in Jeremiah Attaochu. The improved secondary should provide the offense with some security. This gives Reich the ability to take a few more risks in playcalling. I think the stronger defense is likely the reason we will see no huddle more so than the presence of Frank Reich on the head set.
Mike McCoy’s philosophy is one of adapting to the players skills and the gameplan needed for which ever opponent is on the schedule. The defense has spent the offseason building off the high level of turnovers they started to create during the late season winning streak. If this high rate of turnovers continues, I believe you will see the Bolts attempt to strike fast with the no huddle and build early leads.
So, how are Whisenhunt and Reich different? We all know that Ken was calling most of the plays from the sideline. We also know Rivers was given the ability to check at the line to one of several options. Whiz did a fantastic job at the position, although many of us still have heartburn from that final yard in the Washington game. The entire BoltFam was screaming for Mathews, and the choice to not put #24 back in on third down likely cost the team a win. Not to mention a comfortable one game lead in the Wild Card race. Ultimately, that decision falls on McCoy.
Still, it is hard to be angry with Whisenhunt as the Bolts went from 31st in total offense during 2012 to 5th overall in 2013. I would argue that has as much to do with Oline coach Joe D’ as much as it did with the former offensive coordinator. Often considered a conservative playcaller, Ken actually called the first TD pass from a wide receiver in a Super bowl for the Steelers in the Q against the Seahawks. He had the ability to think outside of the box, but the system was built around Ryan Mathews, in many ways, and the running game in 2013. Short, full contact downhill runs on first and second down chipped away at yards. This gave Rivers shorter distances to achieve a first down on third down plays. It is the reason the Bolts led the NFL in 3rd down conversions. The addition of Donald Brown, who has a history with Frank Reich, also helps the Chargers continuing with the chip-away strategy.
Whisenhunt was a Tight End during his playing days, while Reich played QB. Rivers values having someone on the headset that has played the position. He has said it almost as many times as he has said, “Fight like crazy.” He values Frank’s history as a comeback artist, having engineered two of the greatest foot ball come backs in history. His comeback in college stood as the largest comeback for almost 30 years until Michigan State came back from more points down in 2006.
I think the new offensive coordinator’s personality and history cannot tell us as much as the personnel on the team. That is how McCoy thinks and plans. I read a lot about how Reich will have us using the K-gun and no huddle, but I have never heard that from anyone on the team. Magic Mike doesn’t like to provide information, he would not even confirm what time he set his alarm during an interview on day two of training camp. Sure, they practice in no huddle, but not constantly. The use of the no huddle has as much to do with what happens on defense as it does with who is talking into Rivers’ ear.
*On a side note, I got a laugh out of Peyton Manning dismissing Rivers while doing this in the postgame after the Thursday night upset – Claiming River wasn’t actually doing what Peyton does at the line. Rivers was just draining the clock. Sorry, oh Great Manning, but you are wrong.
The offense under Frank Reich could be a bit more exciting and it has been rumored that more shots will be taken down the field. But only time will tell. Are you Charger fans excited to see how this plays out? I know that I am. There is a lot to be excited about and, although we won’t see a huge difference from last year’s offense, the fact that Rivers will have even more freedom at the line of scrimmage gives all of the fans something to look forward to for the 2014 season and beyond. Stay tuned!
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David Agranoff is the Wonderland award nominated author of three published novels Boot Boys of the Wolf Reich, Hunting the Moon Tribe and The Vegan Revolution…With Zombies. You can follow him on twitter @DAgranoffauthor or look him up on Facebook. Just be ready for all kinds of horror and Science Fiction nerd talk.