The Chargers may be channeling their aviator past with a 21st century iteration, but elements of the ground game are still readily apparent.
And whether the through-the-trenches chores are handled by LaDainian Tomlinson or Michael Bennett or Darren Sproles, “Air Turner” is merely a part of the service that moves the football for these San Diego Chargers.
Philip Rivers will get his yards – he threw for 303 in Sunday’s 23-13 victory over the Dolphins – and the receivers will get opportunities to stretch their legs (Vincent Jackson, five catches, 120 yards, Antonio Gates, five/64 and Malcom Floyd, 2/65).
But Turner’s philosophy is really no different than a host of other head coaches, who have tried to make a living in the National Football League.
To have success over the long term, in this case an NFL season, teams have to run the football and balance that with a good mix of passes and play action.
So despite his option to direct Rivers aloft, losing the ability to run effectively would not only make Turner’s Chargers one-dimensional, it would put more pressure on a patchwork offensive line and not less.
Sunday’s game served prime examples of Turner looking to establish his ability to run and continue to hand the ball off regardless of perceived success.
Out of 63 total plays for the Chargers, Rivers made 33 pass attempts and was sacked twice while they rushed the ball 28 times. Positive yards skewed heavily to the passing game as Rivers eclipsed the 300-yard plateau for the second straight game, completely dwarfing the output by Chargers running backs.
Sproles led with 41 of the team’s 69 yards gained on the ground and only two of the team’s 17 first downs were achieved on a running play.
The Chargers’ lone offensive touchdown was scored on the ground, though, as Rivers’ unlikely five-yard scamper gave the team a 10-6 late in the third quarter. They would lead the rest of the game as Nate Kaeding added two more field goals and Eric Weddle iced it with a 31-yard TD interception return of a Chad Henne pass.
Despite the fact the Chargers have not rushed for at least 100 yards in any of their three games this season while giving up an average of 142 run yards in each of those games, Turner has clearly indicated he will continue to strike a balance.
On 15 first-down plays in Sunday’s first half, the Chargers ran eight times while passing on seven occasions. That increased in the second half, due in part to the fact they milked clock in the fourth quarter. The Chargers ran the ball on first down 10 times in the second half while attempting three first-down passes.
In maintaining that balance, though, Rivers was eventually able to strike downfield. After a three-and-out possession on their initial second-half drive, Rivers hit Floyd on the first play of their succeeding drive that was good for 47 yards.
A short pass to Antonio Gates worked for another 19 yards and Rivers ultimately ran it in for the score.
Their propensity to throw deep was evident again in the Chargers' next drive as Rivers hit Jackson on a 55-yard bomb. That drive ended with a Kaeding field goal.
Another drive that featured a mix of short passes and runs produced another three point s from Kaeding before Weddle’s pick six.
The Chargers have proven they can move the ball in large chunks by throwing the ball but are also not afraid to balance that attack with the run, despite their modest success.
Problems have arisen, though, in their near inability to convert deep pushes into the red zone into touchdowns. Kaeding has converted eight of nine field goal attempts this season, but seven of those have been inside 30 yards.
That is contrasted by just four red-zone TDs.
A healthy LT should help increase those numbers, but he still hasn’t returned from an ankle injury. That puts the load on Sproles and Bennett, neither of whom has shown the ability to be an every-down, 100-yard rusher.
Results aside, though, Turner will unlikely abandon the running game any time soon. That also could very well mean that he'll need to be satisfied with trotting Kaeding onto the field in return for points.
At some juncture, though, and hopefully very soon with a game in Pittsburgh this coming Sunday, Turner will allow Rivers to let it fly inside the red zone.