Not just the YAC: Fine tuning the Chargers offense

Los Angeles Chargers v Philadelphia Eagles
Los Angeles Chargers v Philadelphia Eagles / Mitchell Leff/GettyImages

Many fans agree that the Chargers' offense needs a dynamic element. Exactly where this ranks on the priority list, however, is up for debate. With the "climax" of free agency in our review mirrors and April's draft getting closer by the day, we've seen various needs addressed on defense, naturally leading us to the topic of this article.

Given that Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are both locked in for 2022, not much of Quarterback Justin Herbert's pass-catching arsenal is left to alter (other than through the draft). I would like to deviate from eyeing any playmakers the Chargers should keep, draft, and/or replace. Instead, I want to acknowledge traits from the 2021 offense that, if modified, provide Herbert with some much-deserved breathing room next season.

I compiled pass-catching data from the 2021 regular season for all thirty-two clubs (via Pro Football Focus).

A few traits are important to keep in mind for the LA Chargers:

1. Contested Targets

At 42.1%, TE Jared Cook led the NFL in slot contested target rate among players with thirty or more opportunities. The veteran also led his position in drops with seven total in 2021.

2. Yards After the Catch: Context Matters

The Bolts had the fourth-lowest screen target rate last season at 6.5%, down from 11.7% the year prior, where they were a top ten passing unit. Screen passes were intuitively more prevalent in 2020, but so was their impact. The Chargers led the NFL with 26 first downs coming via screens. Last season, they had a total of 12 (24th). The Bolts' number of first downs per game increased from 2020 to 2021, so observing that screen passes took the opposite direction stands out.

3. Let Justin Herbert eat

PFF constitutes a deep ball as a target twenty yards or more downfield. Justin Herbert threw it deep on just 9.5% of his pass attempts in 2021, third-lowest among QBs with five hundred or more dropbacks, and down from 11.3% in 2020. Despite this, Los Angeles still had the seventh most yards from deep attempts last season (1,086).

The Chargers had 54.8% of their targets come from "short" depth in 2021, the second-highest in the NFL (zero to nine yards downfield). These findings truly surprised me from a number's perspective, albeit not having considered defensive coverages or the influence play-calling had on outcomes.

The recent signing of Gerald Everett should be adequate enough to provide a reliable floor at his position. Everett (8.5%) had the second-lowest contested target rate among TEs with fifty or more opportunities last season, behind only the Chiefs' Travis Kelce (7.6%). As for the YAC, I believe there's enough to show that screen volume played a factor in some of our thought processes. The Chargers had a 5.08 YAC/Reception on non-screen passes in 2021, sixth-best in the NFL (via PFF). YAC itself was a present factor, so understanding the value that screens provided in the season prior only further exemplified its absence.

I'm all for the Chargers' aggressiveness on fourth downs. Why not take it further by allowing your franchise QB to use his cannon of an arm and stretch the field? High rates of contested targets alongside a deficient deep passing attack are not recipes for success, so scheming creative plays downfield and through screens would more greatly enhance the use of core weapons like Mike Williams and Austin Ekeler.

Ekeler, Jared Cook, and Donald Parham accounted for 31.8% of the team's slot targets in 2021, along with a combined 0.78 YPRR. On the other hand, Williams, Jalen Guyton, and Josh Palmer produced a 1.31 slot YPRR, but had a target share of 19.1% (via PFF). This is a great example of simply adjusting personnel to better enhance play design.

MORE: Ranking the AFC West after the Tyreek Hill trade

Fortunately for the Bolts, other dimensions on offense are as equally in their own control next season.