The San Diego Chargers will line up in “12” personnel often in 2016, and that fact became more apparent with the recent injury to slot receiver Stevie Johnson.
Though a timetable for Johnson’s return to the field has yet to be established, it would be surprising if he doesn’t miss an extended amount of time.
As a result, the Chargers will use the aforementioned 12 personnel, perhaps even more than the team originally planned. 12 personnel, sometimes called the Ace formation, means that the team lines up with one running back, two tight ends and two wide receivers. Looking at the roster, this could be the team’s most effective offensive formation.
Hunter Henry was drafted early in the second round and though he will certainly be the eventual successor Antonio Gates, you don’t use a draft pick that high on a player to sit them on the bench. Henry will see plenty of action this year. In fact, he may see more snaps than the 36-year old Gates. However, the injury to Johnson means Gates needs to be on the field, even if he was looking for that more limited, red-zone role this season.
Gates can still be effective in the league, despite his age. The front office certainly felt that way, offering Gates a new contract and letting the much younger Ladarius Green hit the open market.
The loss of Johnson takes an effective weapon away from the Chargers offense, but rather than scrambling to sign a free agent such as Roddy White or Marques Colston, the team should work with what it has.
Lining up in 12 personnel makes more sense than anything. The team should plan to do it early and often this season, as there’s no argument to suggest it’s not where the team would be most effective.
A guy like Dontrelle Inman or Tyrell Williams can step in for Johnson and come up with big plays when called upon, but isn’t an offensive set that has Melvin Gordon or Danny Woodhead, Henry, Gates, Keenan Allen and Travis Benjamin where the Chargers will find the most success?
There’s a reason why the New England Patriots have had so much success throwing the ball without having a roster full of “stud” receivers. Wes Welker was a castaway with the Miami Dolphins before landing in New England and Julian Edelman played quarterback in college. The team began to master the Ace formation and to this day, defenses have a tough time stopping them.
The 12 personnel formation was designed specifically to create mismatches on the field. With Henry, Gates, Allen and Benjamin sent out on passing routes, particularly if Woodhead is the guy in the backfield, someone is bound to be open. Whether it be Woodhead in the flat or Henry on a slow inside linebacker, Philip Rivers should be able to take his pick at finding the open man.
The key to making this work is that Gates is still effective. That was evidenced by the fact he caught 56 passes for 630 yards and five touchdowns last season, despite missing the first four games of the season due to suspension. The year before he hauled in a whopping 12 touchdowns.
Here, Gates makes the 100th touchdown reception of his career.
Despite a 4-12 record last season, the Chargers ranked No. 9 in the league in terms of overall offense. That, considering all of the injuries the team suffered, is truly remarkable. For those worried that injuries are going to cripple this team again, imagine Rivers overlooking the 12 personnel the team comes out with against the Kansas City Chiefs in the season opener. Imagine him hitting Henry for a big gain over the middle before getting Allen matched up on a safety for a deep completion and then culminating the drive with a touchdown pass to a wide open Gates in the back of the end zone.
Losing Johnson doesn’t cripple this offense. It’s tough to see him go down, but the team still has the tools to put a terrific offensive unit on the field. The one it intended to all along.