What makes the formation so effective is its versatility. The offense can run or pass with equal effectiveness, which keeps defenses off balance. That is especially true when San Diego utilizes the formation, since the Chargers have a former MVP anchoring the running game and three former Pro Bowlers powering the passing attack: Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers.
This alignment allows the Chargers to attack defenses vertically and horizontally. That flexibility is crucial so the Bolts can maximize the talents of speedsters like Buster Davis and possession receivers like Vincent Jackson.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Once the Chargers establish the run in this formation, they have defenses on their toes. When opponents drop an extra safety into the box, space opens up for Gates between the hashes. In the three-receiver variation, Davis or Legedu Naanee has the room to run skinny posts to exploit the deep middle of the field.
Successful running from this formation also facilitates play-action passes, which are especially difficult to stop from this ambiguous alignment.
Where the pro-set offense benefits the Chargers' passing game most is in third-and-long situations. That's when the Bolts bring in Brandon Manumaleuna as an H-back and slide him into the backfield along with LaDainian Tomlinson. This gives the Chargers two superb pass-blockers to flank Rivers and pick up any blitzers who slip past the offensive line.
If no blitzers show themselves as viable threats, Tomlinson and Manumaleuna are both capable of slipping out of the backfield as viable check-down targets. LT is obviously the greater threat -- he averages more than 63 receptions per season -- but Manumaleuna can move the chains, too.
The pro-set formation is a staple of the West Coast offense, and no team runs it better than the defending AFC West champions.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com 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.