Playbook Profile: Goal-line Misdirection

A.J. Smith has stocked his roster with versatile players; now, it's up to Norv Turner to take advantage. Team expert Michael Lombardo takes a look at some offensive formations at Turner's disposal that will allow the Bolts to cash in on this versatility. Under the microscope this week is a formation that uses misdirection and play-action.

Unlike last week's Playbook Profile, when I dissected this hypothetical power-running formation, this week's highlighted play is very similar to one Norv Turner has the team practicing this offseason.

The team lines up in a three-receiver set with Chris Chambers split wide left, Vincent Jackson split wide right and Legedu Naanee lined up in the slot on the left. LaDainian Tomlinson is positioned as the lone back in the backfield and Antonio Gates is attached to the right side of the line.

Prior to the snap, Philip Rivers sends Naanee in motion. Naanee resets in the backfield approximately 3 yards behind Tomlinson. At the snap, Rivers takes the ball and simulates a handoff left to Tomlinson, whose ominous goal-line presence will force the linebackers to honor the action to the left.

WR Legedu Naanee
Andy Lyons/Getty

Rivers then takes the ball and pitches it to Naanee, who is running a sweep to the right. Also on the right side of the formation, Jackson is running a flag route to the corner of the end zone, forcing his cornerback to run with him and turn his back to the play.

As Naanee scampers out to the right, Gates releases from his block and runs right, too. The play is designed for Naanee, who first arrived at Boise State as a quarterback, to throw the ball to the man who holds the single-reason record for touchdown catches by a tight end.

With the play-action moving the linebackers to the left and Tomlinson's presence forcing at least one safety to that side, as well, Naanee and Gates will be free to work the right flat with no more than a safety and possibly an outside linebacker there to contest the pass.

Assuming either the safety or the outside ‘backer comes up to honor Naanee, who is an athletic playmaker and a threat to tuck the ball and run, that leaves Gates facing one-on-one coverage against a safety or a linebacker. Either way, that is a matchup Naanee would be readily able to exploit.

If Gates is unable to shake his single coverage, Naanee has the option to throw a jump-ball to Jackson in the back corner of the end zone or tuck the ball and turn upfield. Because Jackson (6'5") and Gates (6'4") are both towering targets, Naanee can throw high passes knowing that either his man will catch the ball or no one will.

The Chargers ran a similar version of this play during a recent Mini Camp session. If the offense executes the play to Turner's satisfaction, look for it to make an appearance during the regular season.

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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