Bolts Playbook Profile: Pro-Set Offense

TE Antonio Gates (Nick Laham/Getty)

Chargers expert Michael Lombardo takes Bolts fans inside one of the team's favorite alignments: the pro-set offense. What are the variations of this offense? What makes it so effective? And how does Norv Turner tweak it to create mismatches for his star players? Find out all the answers inside this edition of the Bolts Playbook Profile.

The Chargers lean heavily on the pro-set offense, especially in third-and-long situations. The formation features two running backs lined up side-by-side behind the quarterback. There are also two receivers and a tight end, although the tight end can be replaced by a third receiver.

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
Kevin Terrell/Getty
The Chargers run effectively out of the pro-set offense because the formation is difficult to read. With no lead-blocking fullback making a beeline to the hole, it is more difficult for linebackers to identify the gap the play is directed to.

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.

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