San Diego's struggles in the running game have been a hot topic through three weeks. The Chargers are last in the league in average gain per rush, and LaDainian Tomlinson is averaging only 2.3 yards per carry with a long run of 11 yards.
Some critics think LT is running tentatively and is just not hitting the right holes, but that makes no sense. How can the best back in football forget how to run in one offseason? In breaking down the Chargers on film, there are clear reasons why they are struggling on the ground. Let's look at them along with some popular excuses.
1. Offensive line
This unit played very well a year ago but is not getting the job done this season. The Chargers' line is playing soft and losing the battle at the line of scrimmage as well as one-on-one matchups. A year ago, the Chargers dictated the point of attack and routinely pushed the pile three or four yards into the defensive side of the ball. One of LT's best skills is the ability to attack a defender and make his cut at the last second, and that's when most defenders will miss him. However, he needs space to set up his move, but he's not getting it.
San Diego Chargers
By the time Tomlinson gets to the line of scrimmage, there is no hole and his only move or cut is east/west. With defenses playing "contain" schemes on the edges with outside linebackers and defensive ends, San Diego's outside runs have had minimal success. In 2006, San Diego's line did an excellent job of pulling and trapping inside. The Chargers were able to create creases in the defense and they did a much better job with their blocking angles, particularly on their "Power 0" bread-and-butter play.
In 2007, you don't see as much creativity in the Chargers' blocking schemes, and it appears defensive fronts are able to read their blocks easily. Even when they go to their power formations or short-yardage alignments, the Chargers are struggling, partly because their blocking tight end, Brandon Manumaleuna, is missing some blocks and there is little room to run off tackle, which is a spot that LT loves to attack.
Also, fullback Lorenzo Neal has been a nonfactor through three weeks. The Chargers have had some nagging injuries and left tackle Marcus McNeill is not playing as well as he did a year ago as a rookie.
2. Eight-man fronts?
This is a common excuse that a lot of people are giving to explain the Chargers' woes. However, it is not as valid as you might think. It is true that defenses are loading up inside, partly because the Chargers have no threat outside at wide receiver to make them play honest, but LT faced these same fronts a year ago and still had great success. To say that bringing a safety into the box can thwart an entire run game just makes no sense.
This is a subjective assumption, but under Marty Schottenheimer this was a blue-collar, physical run team. Under Norv Turner, this looks more like a finesse run game; you just don't see a nasty quality. Tomlinson has only 57 carries in three games. Nineteen carries a game are not enough.
At some point, the Chargers must get physical and start playing with the pride and passion they had a year ago. LT has tremendous pride in his game and eventually will get back on track because his work ethic and competitiveness are legendary. However, until the people around him start playing better, this run game will not be back to the 2006 level.
Things aren't as bad as they seem here. Remember, the Chargers have played three pretty good defenses in Chicago, New England and Green Bay. They have the players in place to be what they were a year ago. Nothing dramatically has changed, and they aren't seeing anything new or different.
The difference is the Chargers are not controlling the line of scrimmage. They're not pushing people off the line, and that's been their identity. This team has gone from a hard-nosed group to being more of a finesse team. That's not saying the Chargers are soft, but there's just not the same commitment to the running game that we have seen in the past. It's a mental thing and until they get back that "We refuse to be stopped" mentality, they'll struggle.
A year ago, you got the feeling that no matter how many guys were in the box, San Diego would run. It didn't matter if the entire defense was at the line, San Diego was going to move the line of scrimmage three or four yards and LT was going to get in there, make people miss and make big plays. When the Chargers get back to that hard-nosed football, this offense and LT will start to succeed again.
Gary Horton, a pro scout for Scouts Inc., has been a football talent evaluator for more than 30 years. He spent 10 years in the NFL and 10 years at the college level before launching a private scouting firm called "The War Room."