A Win For The Nerds! Chargers Lean Into Analytics Vs. Cardinals & Steal Road Win

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Analytics has become the buzzword in professional sports in the last decade.

There are probability charts on when you should go for two, when you should punt, when you should kick a field goal, and remember there is a chart that lists the value of each NFL draft pick in case you want to make a trade.

But a piece of paper can never show you your heart.

Heart and guts lifted the Los Angeles Chargers to a 25-24 win over Arizona Sunday in Glendale. The Chargers scored on a two-point play with 15 seconds left (much, much more on that in a bit). The win improves the Chargers to 6-5 as they head into Las Vegas next week to face the suddenly spry Raiders.

Big picture, it’s still not great for the Chargers. They still sit ninth in the AFC playoff picture. The Jets and Bengals had good wins yesterday, so the Chargers better keep winning to keep pace if they want to get in. The AFC West is not going to happen. The Chiefs also won Sunday, beating the team that used to be the Rams (I don’t know who they are now), so the Chiefs are up three games with six to play and own the tiebreaker.

Sunday the Chargers won a game they had to have. They’re still fighting on whatever chart or list you want to show me.

Do You Go For It?

I don’t know what the analytic/metric chart showed Chargers coach Brandon Staley with 15 seconds left. His team had just scored to pull to 24-23 against the Cardinals.

The offense had been Ok, the defense had been Ok.

But there are things the go-for-it chart just doesn’t have on it. That’s why it should never be followed in a vacuum.

These are the real questions you must answer when making this decision:

Who Are You? Listen, if the roles are reversed and it was the Cardinals at the end with the decision, they go for it, right? Because they’re aren’t going anywhere this year. The Chargers entered the game 5-5, a loss would have been bad. They needed to win.

Where Are You? It matters too where you are, are you home or on the road? Is the crowd with you or against you? (Props to the ton of Charger fans who made the trip). Has it been the type of game where you just keep screwing up when you get close?

What Are You? Are you hot? Do you have the momentum in the game at the moment of the decision?

It’s easy to say the decision to go for it was right – because it worked — but considering all those other human factors, it was the smart play by the Chargers. They needed a win, they were on the road, and they had the momentum.

The Play Call

To me the beauty of the play call was Austin Ekeler going in motion.

But let’s go back, the Chargers line up with two wide receivers to the left, and Gerald Everett and Keenan Allen bunched close to the right.

The Cardinals call a timeout. Why did they call timeout? They wanted to see the formation and adjust their call accordingly.

After the timeout, the Chargers came out in the same formation. That doesn’t always happen. It’s that whole, we-know-that-you-know-that-we-know thing. But Ekeler who was to Justin Herbert’s left, slides across in motion to the right, joining Everett and Allen.

Two Cardinals race with Ekeler. Someone has to press up on him expecting a throw near the goal line.

NFL offenses do two things in the red zone, attack the goal line and attack the back line of the end zone.

Now it’s basically four Cardinals covering three Chargers to the right.

At the snap, Ekeler flares out wide. A Cardinal goes with him.

Allen cuts inside and two, not one, but two Cardinals go with him. Mistake One.

Isaiah Simmons is in no man’s land. He steps quickly toward Ekeler. Mistake Two.

Everett also slides to his right (toward Ekeler), then pivots back inside. Allen took the other two defenders. Simmons was shading Ekeler.

Herbert makes the right read, fires pass to Everett. Touchdown.

The motion is what opened the whole thing up. Chargers win. Tip your hat to Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and his giant watch in the coach’s booth.

What Is A Catch?

If the Chargers had lost, and maybe even a few Cardinal fans may be griping this morning about the NFL’s greatest enigma right now.

What the heck is a catch? How come sometimes you can catch the ball, go to the ground and be OK and the ball moves, but sometimes you can’t.

Early in the second quarter, Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer had a catch on third down, rolled to the ground, popped up and the ball flew out of his hands.

It was a catch.

But I swear to you if you watch a play in the Saints/Niners game that the exact same thing happened to Saints wide receiver Chris Olave in the game and it wasn’t a catch (I have Olave in fantasy).

The next play after the Palmer play was a catch and a fumble, which somehow the Chargers got a gift call on when the fumble was recovered by both teams.

Then in the fourth quarter, with the Cardinals up 24-17, Herbert has a pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Zaven Collins. He appears to have control of the ball, it wobbles some as it hits the ground, but it’s a catch, right? No. Overturned.

It’s not so much that the rule is convoluted, it’s that it’s interpreted differently by different officiating crews. Basically a catch and control is good…until it’s not.

Did You Notice?

Chargers defensive lineman Breiden Fehoko lost the number six on his helmet midway through the game. He wears 96, but his helmet on the left side only had the number nine on it. It’s tough there in the trenches.

Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray reminds me of a young Michael Jordan, no, seriously. He’s selfish (early Jordan was too). The zone read stuff the Cardinals run, he always makes the decision to keep the ball and it hurts his team. His comments after the game only back me up here.

Chargers running back Josh Kelley got just enough of a chip block to give Herbert time to throw the ball to DeAndre Carter for his second TD pass of the game to make it 14-10 Los Angeles.

What a whiff on a tackle by Chargers safety JT Woods on DeAndre Hopkins touchdown in the first quarter.

Hopkins also made one of the most amazing catches you’ll ever see for a four-yard gain late in the game.

After Chargers center Corey Linsley got hurt, the Cardinals’ pass rush started to get to Herbert. They had four sacks. Remember, Linsley is making the protection calls, sliding the line one way or the other.

I said it last week, but does anyone else think Cameron Dicker is going to be the Chargers’ kicker from here on out?

JJ Watt, two tackles, one early sack for the Cardinals. He’s past his prime. He’s making $11.2 million this year.

Khalil Mack, three tackles, no sacks for the Chargers. This year he makes $4 million. Next year, $17 million.

Bashing NFL announces is a tired topic, but Trent Green was lousy out in Arizona. He called the Rams the St. Louis Rams at one point, and never really seemed that excited at any point in the game.

The Cardinals averaged 5.3 yards a rush Sunday. The fact that the Chargers have a winning record with such a bad run defense is mind-blowing.