Playbook Profile: Power Running Formation

Because the Bolts boast one of the most versatile rosters in the NFL, Norv Turner can deploy unique formations capable of bewildering most defenses. Team expert Michael Lombardo begins a new series profiling some of these options and explaining how they work. Up first is a red-zone package that has L.T. on the sidelines.

While offensive coordinators around the league are cooking up never-before-seen tactics for befuddling defenses, the Chargers can be very successful by bringing back one of the oldest formations in the NFL: the triple-option wishbone. The formation gives the offense several options for running the ball and the Chargers have the personnel to execute it to perfection.

First, we need to take a look at the personnel the Chargers would use in this formation. A change would need to be made at quarterback, as neither Philip Rivers nor Billy Volek is a threat to run the ball.

Norv Turner would have to turn to Charlie Whitehurst in this formation, which is why it would be used selectively and only in red-zone or short-yardage situations. It would also have to be used only in the fourth quarter, because if San Diego turns to its No. 3 quarterback any early than that it would not be able to bring Rivers back in the game.

Behind the QB in the wishbone is a fullback, who in this case would be H-back Brandon Manumaleuna. The 288-pound road-grader is a heady blocker capable of picking up defenders on the move. He can also run the ball if the defense sleeps on the fullback dive; Manumaleuna has a half-dozen carries in his career.

FB Andrew Pinnock
Stephen Dunn/Getty

Behind the fullback are two halfbacks standing side by side, one slightly to the left and the other to the right. The halfback on the side of the run turns into a lead blocker on the play while the trailing halfback carries the ball.

To prevent defenses keying in on one runner (which would certainly happen with LaDainian Tomlinson in the backfield), the two halfbacks in this formation should be Andrew Pinnock and Jacob Hester. Both are halfback-fullback hybrids who are effective runners and punishing blockers capable of opening holes for each other.

That leaves room for two more skill players in this formation. The best options would be tight ends Antonio Gates and Scott Chandler; both are good enough blockers to drive this run-heavy formation and both are talented enough pass catchers to prevent defenses from selling out against the run.

Additionally, using two tight ends provides a balanced look that keeps defenses from identifying a strong side and overloading accordingly.

Here's how the action would play out (assuming Chandler and Hester are on the formation's left with Gates and Pinnock on the right): Whitehurst takes the snap and begins the play moving to the right. Jeromey Clary leaves the defensive end unblocked and goes to the second level to pick up the inside linebacker. When the defensive end crashes in to stop Manumaleuna, Whitehurst pulls the ball back and runs the option to the right.

With Pinnock and Gates out in front as blockers, Whitehurst runs the sweep with Hester coming up behind him. As the outside linebacker comes up to stop the ball, Whitehurst pitches to Hester, who runs to daylight.

This formation should only be used sparingly. However, if the Chargers need a two-point conversion in the fourth quarter of a tight game, there is no way any opponent could stop this play without ample preparation.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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