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2019 NFL playoffs Patriots vs Chargers: Charting Los Angeles’ favorite offensive personnel packages

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The Patriots will play a lot of nickel defense, it seems.

NFL: Oakland Raiders at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Chargers feature one of the NFL’s best offenses — a group that ranked eighth in the NFL during the regular season with 25.2 points scored per game; one that also ranked top-10 in passing yards and touchdowns, net yards per rushing and passing attempt, and points per drive. Safe to say that the unit is good and that the New England Patriots will have its hands full to slow it down.

But how exactly will the Chargers’ offensive attack look like? Let’s take a closer look at their favorite personnel packages to find out — and one thing we can see right off the bat is that the Patriots will be in a lot of nickel and dime packages on Sunday: Los Angeles loves to run its offense out of 11-personnel groups with three wide receivers, one tight end, and one running back on the field.

It is therefore no surprise that the team’s most-used package is the following:

QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen, WR Tyrell Williams, WR Mike Williams, TE Antonio Gates, LT Russell Okung, LG Dan Feeney, OC Mike Pouncey, RG Michael Schofield, RT Sam Tevi

Los Angeles used this alignment on 72 of a possible 1,068 offensive snaps so far this season (6.7%). Primarily a passing group that is used both in the open field and the red zone, the Chargers attempted to throw the football on 59 plays run out of this package. The numbers were solid: Philip Rivers threw nine touchdowns versus zero interceptions out of this look, all while the offense gained 5.7 net yards per pass attempt — a number below the team’s season-long 7.3 average, though.

A more productive package, on a per pass basis is the following:

QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen, WR Tyrell Williams, WR Mike Williams, TE Virgil Green, LT Russell Okung, LG Dan Feeney, OC Mike Pouncey, RG Michael Schofield, RT Sam Tevi

A variation of the 11-personnel look outlined above, this group gained 9.5 yards per pass attempt for two scores and an interception. The only difference, personnel-wise, is at the tight end position: Virgil Green, the team’s number one at the position in terms of playing time, is on the field for Antonio Gates. Overall, Los Angeles ran this package on 58 occasions during its 17 games this year.

The Chargers use 11-personnel groups basically as their standard offensive sets: their five most-used packages are all variations of them — either with running back Austin Ekeler, number four wide receiver Travis Benjamin, or the aforementioned tight ends getting mixed in — totaling 285 of the team’s offensive snaps (26.7%); with almost three fourths resulting in passing plays being called.

In order to run the football, Los Angeles turns to different personnel groups. While the second one outlined above has a comparatively high run-percentage of 37.9%, the Chargers’ most prominent rushing alignment is the following:

QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, WR Keenan Allen, WR Tyrell Williams, TE Virgil Green, TE Sean Culkin, LT Russell Okung, LG Dan Feeney, OC Mike Pouncey, RG Michael Schofield, RT Sam Tevi

So far this year, Los Angeles used this group 32 times — 21 times running the football out of it for an average gain on the ground of 6.6 yards. The men on the field look mostly the same as they do in the standard 11-personnel packages, with one major difference: two tight ends are on the field in Virgil Green and Sean Culkin; two solid blockers at the position.

One of the more interesting looks used by the Chargers is also one of the most productive when it comes to running the football: a two-back set with both Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler on the field:

QB Philip Rivers, RB Melvin Gordon, RB Austin Ekeler, WR Keenan Allen, WR Tyrell Williams, TE Virgil Green, LT Russell Okung, LG Dan Feeney, OC Mike Pouncey, RG Michael Schofield, RT Sam Tevi

Los Angeles ran this package just 17 times so far this year, but generally was successful when it was used: the team gained 6.5 yards on eight pass attempts, and 7.8 yards per run. With New England’s defense being ranked as just the 19th best against the run and the 22nd best versus receiving backs by advanced analytics website Football Outsiders, the Patriots might see the two-back set for more than just the one snap it averaged per game so far.

All in all, however, New England will mostly see variations of the 11-personnel package with Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams the fixtures at wide receiver, Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler taking the running back spot and a tight end on the field — it will be interesting to see how recently activated Hunter Henry, who was the Chargers’ number one at the position last year, will fit into the equation.

Consequently, we will see the Patriots use mostly nickel and occasionally dime packages on Sunday. And if the regular season is any indication, we will see Stephon Gilmore and rookie J.C. Jackson as the boundary cornerbacks, with Jason McCourty serving as the slot option and Devin McCourty and Patrick Chung the one-two punch at safety. New England fared well using this group this season, and it once again will have to prove its quality on Sunday.