The reason that this Chargers offense has been so consistent is Philip Rivers, one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. Eagles fans may remember the battle our defense had with Rivers back in 2013. He showed his ability on that day to change things before the snap and pick the defense apart at every level of the field. Rivers is smart, can make every throw, and dissect a defense as well as any player in the game right now. While he's turned the ball over a very high rate since the start of last year, he's capable of ripping a defense apart on any given Sunday.
The Chargers have been plagued with injuries to their receiving corps over the last few years. There was a downside to that in the short term, but it actually has helped them in the long run. They now have a corps of wideouts who are battle-tested and have all been counted on at one point or another to be "the guy" for Rivers on the outside. With first-round pick Mike Williams still on the shelf, the receiver to watch in this game for Los Angeles is Keenan Allen.
A former mid-round pick out of Cal, Allen has turned into a really good player when he's healthy. Allen is a savvy route runner who can create separation with suddenness at the top of his stem and sound technique. He is their leading receiver and most-targeted weapon on the outside. The Chargers move around the formation. Twelve of his 32 targets this year came when was lined up in the slot.
Shot 1 - Keenan Allen is the go-to guy. Leads team in receiving. Rivers' top target on 3rd down. Strong route runner. Tough YAC. #Chargers pic.twitter.com/Xsv6RWnWzh — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
Allen runs a perfect route out of the slot against the nickel corner for Denver on the first play. He puts his smooth athleticism on display to create separation for a touchdown. Allen shows his toughness and competitiveness on the second play against Kansas City by fighting through contact, making a catch short of the sticks on third down, and picking up yards after the grab to move the chains. Allen is Rivers' favorite target on third down (seven catches and six first downs) and is absolutely a player who the Eagles have to watch out for both inside and outside.
Another player who must be accounted for on Sunday is speedy receiver Travis Benjamin, who signed with the Chargers last offseason from Cleveland. Used as a vertical threat both inside and outside, the Los Angeles coaching staff makes sure that he's attacking downfield in every game.
Shot 2 - Travis Benjamin has legit speed and can take the top off a defense on every snap. Vertical weapon. Used on jets/reverses as well. pic.twitter.com/A3sU0pm5cO — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
These are Benjamin's two biggest catches of the season, a 38-yard touchdown against Denver and a 56-yard grab last week against Kansas City. On both plays, Benjamin lined up with a tight split or in the slot and he gave Rivers plenty of room to drop in a throw on the outside. Jalen Mills, Rasul Douglas, and the Eagles' safeties will have to know where Benjamin is at all times on Sunday because he can take the top off of a defense on any play.
When you have a field-stretcher like Benjamin, it really helps to open things up in the intermediate area of the field. Tyrell Williams and Dontrelle Inman are both viable possession receivers who have made plays in this league. At tight end, the Chargers have a future Hall of Famer who is still getting it done in Antonio Gates and an impressive young talent in Hunter Henry.
Shot 3 - TEs are obviously a factor as well. Henry is a weapon, as is Gates. They'll spread defenses out in 12/22 personnel as well pic.twitter.com/71e1SuL0OM — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
Henry shows his athleticism in the open field on this over route for a first down against the Dolphins. He can win one-on-one matchups in space and is also an aggressive blocker, so he's capable of being a versatile three-down player for this offense for a long time just like Gates.
This team will use plenty of two-tight end sets. The Chargers can mess with opposing defenses with two versatile players at that position. The Chargers come out in a "run" look on first-and-goal with 22 personnel (two backs and two tight ends), only to shift to more of a passing look with both Gates and Henry on the same side. The pass is incomplete, but you better believe the Eagles' defense is preparing for looks just like this Sunday. Whether it's the safeties or the linebackers in coverage, the Eagles need to account for both Gates and Henry.
The second-leading receiver on this team after Allen isn't one of those tight ends. It's not Williams or Benjamin or Inman. It's running back Melvin Gordon. A former first-round pick out of Wisconsin, Gordon impressed a lot of people with his speed in the open field, though he wasn't really used that often in the passing game in college. Now, he's developed into a pretty versatile weapon, and the Chargers love using him in the passing game.
Shot 4 - #Chargers 2nd-leading receiver is RB Melvin Gordon. Not just screens, but angle routes & vertical routes from backfield as well. pic.twitter.com/Z6eraZL7gM — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
There are two catches for Gordon here, one in the screen game and one on an angle route out of the backfield. Gordon can make plays down the field vertically (they'll run him on deep corner routes from the backfield) and he's got speed to pull away from defenders in space. His consistency catching the football makes him a threat at any point when the ball comes out of Rivers' hands.
The Eagles also have to account for Gordon as a runner. He was a perimeter ball carrier at Wisconsin who excelled out in space thanks to his speed. The Badgers' staff loved using him on counter runs, where his skill set was put to good use. Linebackers' keys are often toyed with on counter runs, meaning that they're likely to hesitate just briefly after the snap of the ball. The hole is also often very defined for the runner on counter runs (as long as it's blocked well on the play side, of course). With his short-area burst, Gordon can fly through a hole and get to the second level before linebackers have a chance to react.
Shot 5 - Melvin Gordon was so good on Counter runs at UW. #Chargers run so many variations. #Eagles LBs have to trust their eyes on Sunday! pic.twitter.com/YviU9OD8Fx — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
The Chargers also run a boatload of counter plays in their offense. Los Angeles has yet to hit one for a big gain this year, but it's only a matter of time because the Chargers run them from so many different looks and with so many different variations. It is fun to watch. The Eagles' linebackers will have to be very disciplined in reading their keys and recognizing what they're seeing. There's a lot of moving parts in this offense in the run game as evidenced from the three plays above. The defenders must process a lot before they can just take off downhill.
One running play that the Chargers used a lot more last week against the Chiefs than in their first two games was the sweep play. It's the same run the Eagles used to get Corey Clement into the end zone against the Giants.
Shot 6 - #Chargers used the Pin/Pull Sweep play to leverage Gordon's speed last week vs KC. Wouldn't be shocked to see it again on Sunday pic.twitter.com/sEdwuIEkKg — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
Gordon takes this handoff and shows off that speed to the perimeter. He has pretty good size and can be tough to bring down as a second- or third-level defender when he gets going. Between the counter and the sweep runs, the Chargers do a good job of leveraging his breakaway speed, but I expect them to dial up another play this Sunday.
Shot 7 - Every offense the #Eagles face this year will run 'Trap' vs their D. LA has it in their toolbox. Expect to see it on Sunday pic.twitter.com/WoZKm0zoYY — Fran Duffy (@fduffy3) September 29, 2017
The trap run play is one that every Eagles opponent will likely run against them this year. Why? Because it's a strong run against penetrating defensive fronts that try to get upfield. It starts with not blocking the 3-technique at the snap. The offense is able to leak two offensive linemen right up to the linebacker level immediately by pulling a guard and blocking the defensive tackle when he's in the backfield.
The Chargers will likely use the trap run as a quick-hitting play for Gordon to get downhill in a hurry much similar to the wham play the Eagles ran with LeGarrette Blount against the Giants. The Eagles' interior defensive linemen and linebackers are accustomed to seeing this look, but I am willing to bet we'll still see it a few times from the' Chargers offense since it's already a tool in the toolbox.
Fran Duffy is the producer of "Eagles Game Plan" which can be seen on Saturdays during the season. Be sure to also check out the "Eagle Eye In The Sky" podcast on the Philadelphia Eagles podcast channel on iTunes. Prior to joining the Eagles in 2011, Duffy was the head video coordinator for the Temple University Football team under former head coach Al Golden. In that role, he spent thousands of hours shooting, logging and assisting with the breakdown of the All-22 film from the team's games, practices and opponents.