In 2021, the Los Angeles Chargers had one of the best passing offenses in the league. Justin Herbert was one of two quarterbacks in the league to throw for more than 5,000 yards (the other being Tom Brady). He threw for the third most first downs, trailing only Brady and Patrick Mahomes. Herbert also generated the third-best QBR in the league, only Aaron Rodgers and Brady had better marks.
As a unit, the Chargers finished fourth in total DVOA and fourth in passing DVOA, according to Football Outsiders. They were also fourth in total yards per game and fifth in points per game, per ESPN.
The offense was objectively elite across the board. Still, contending teams are always trying to improve on a year-to-year basis. Despite the glaring needs on defense, Tom Telesco and Brandon Staley each said that they were absolutely going to look for ways to add to the offense. It would have been relatively easy for them to simply run it back to a certain extent. By pure continuity, the group would have been able to improve in their second season in the system.
Many fans and analysts looked for them to add more talent to aid Herbert and the passing game. Wide receiver was often the mock draft selection of choice for the Chargers leading up to the real thing. A lot of people wanted them to be aggressive in the tight-end free agent market.
And yet, it appears the Chargers were focused on improving their rushing attack instead? They of course drafted Zion Johnson to replace Michael Schofield. But they also drafted Jamaree Salyer, added Will Clapp in free agency, and should get more out of Brenden Jaimes after drafting him in 2021.
They drafted yet another running back to start day three in Isaiah Spiller, to hopefully fill the void left by Melvin Gordon three years ago. Then, they capped off their draft by selecting a fullback in the seventh round Xander Horvath. So the question that has been on my mind all summer is: will the Chargers establish the run more in 2022?
Will The Chargers Running Game Improve?
If you really dissect the weaknesses of the Chargers’ offense last year, a lot of it came down to their offense being so reliant on the passing attack. They were an average football team running the football last season, only averaging 107.9 yards per game (21st most in the league). They did finish 14th in rushing DVOA, which means they were fairly efficient with their touches.
Some of this imbalance can be explained by a sheer lack of attempts; 15 running backs in the league registered more total attempts than Austin Ekeler did last season. The Chargers obviously didn’t have a true complementary back, a la Kareem Hunt or A.J. Dillon, last season either.
Staley and Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi have each said they don’t expect Ekeler’s workload to change all that much. However, the team is still waiting to see if Spiller, Joshua Kelley, or Larry Rountree can separate themselves to be that complimentary piece. I assume that player will eventually be Spiller. He was a much better college prospect than either Kelley or Rountree were. His ability to catch the ball out of the backfield is a real advantage for him in this battle.
Ultimately, the answer to this question probably has a little bit of give and take, and does depend upon Spiller seizing his opportunity. Presumably, he should be better than what the Chargers were dealing with last season – especially early on in the season. The majority of the rushing production from the Chargers’ backup running back spot came from the last six games with Justin Jackson.
Spiller being a consistent presence out of the gate, would greatly benefit the offense as a whole. Early in the season last year they were flipping back and forth between Rountree, Kelley, and Jackson to the point where the rushing attack always felt like it was a step behind as a result. If he is to hit the ground running (no pun intended), the team needs to feature him early and often. Especially since he is a bigger back.
Another factor that should play into this answer would be the positive game script. Herbert had the most pass attempts in the fourth quarter in the league last season with 201. A lot of that is due to the Chargers being in neutral or pass-friendly situations late in games. With a defense that is more likely to create more turnovers and get stops more often in 2022, that should produce a friendlier running environment.
All that being said, at the core of the Charger’s offensive philosophy is their belief in Herbert and the passing game. His ability is what drives everything on and off the field that Staley and company have been planning. So while Spiller should be expected to have a strong role in the offense and improve it, it is unlikely that the overall strategy changes that drastically. I’m not asking for a top-five rushing attack, but hovering around that top-10 mark would be very beneficial for a team looking to take that next step.