Charg­ers turn into Whiz kids with his of­fense

Whisen­hunt has made a ma­jor dif­fer­ence, es­pe­cially in their run­ning game.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Jeff Miller

He was so cer­tain he was hold­ing a win­ning hand that Vir­gil Green had to be care­ful to em­ploy his best poker face, even though it al­ready was ob­scured by a mask and this wasn’t a game of cards.

So the tight end ap­proached the line of scrim­mage in a hum­drum man­ner he hoped sug­gested to the Oak­land de­fense that the Charg­ers were about to run off tackle or do some­thing even less ex­otic.

“I knew the ball was com­ing to me,” he said of the Oct. 17 game. “I knew if I did ev­ery­thing I was sup­posed to do and the O-line blocked … I didn’t want to get too ex­cited. I just walked to the line nor­mal, got in my stance, tried not to act too cheesy.”

Sec­onds later, Green was ac­cept­ing a screen pass from Philip Rivers and turn­ing to find four of the Charg­ers’ five of­fen­sive line­men in front of him.

Fel­low tight end Sean Culkin was near the goal line, about to bury a Raiders de­fender.

Green went un­touched un­til a sin­gle en­emy hand grazed his right hip 13 yards later upon reach­ing the end zone.

This sea­son, Ken Whisen­hunt’s Xs and O’s rarely have

come to life in a way so de­serv­ing of oohs and aahs.

“I think he should get a lot of the credit,” run­ning back Melvin Gor­don said of the team’s of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor. “He’s the one up there draw­ing up plays and stay­ing the long hours. Ob­vi­ously, you need the play­ers to make it all work. But there’s a rea­son he’s in that po­si­tion.”

And it’s a po­si­tion in which Whisen­hunt will stay, at least for now. This week, he with­drew his name from con­sid­er­a­tion for the head coach­ing job at Ge­or­gia Tech, his alma mater.

With that de­ci­sion, a team that has won eight of its last nine games won again, the Charg­ers re­tain­ing a foot­ball mind work­ing on a 31st NFL sea­son and or­ches­trat­ing an of­fense that to­day is among the league’s elite.

The Charg­ers are fifth in the NFL in to­tal yards and sixth in points per game. Their of­fen­sive ef­fi­ciency has been such that only two teams have faced fewer third downs.

“Good co­or­di­na­tors are hot com­modi­ties,” run­ning back Austin Ekeler said. “When you get a good one like Whiz, you bet­ter hang on to him. You can have all the tal­ent, but if you can’t get them in the right scheme, it doesn’t mean much.”

The 2018 Charg­ers have weapons, this team boast­ing two ver­sa­tile run­ning backs av­er­ag­ing in ex­cess of five yards per carry.

They have three wide re­ceivers who have caught touch­down passes of at least 45 yards. And then they have Keenan Allen, their best wide re­ceiver.

They have a quar­ter­back who has passed for more than 30 miles of ca­reer of­fense and more touch­downs than all but five play­ers all-time.

And they have a co­or­di­na­tor who has the whole out­fit op­er­at­ing on sched­ule and in bal­ance.

Per game, the Charg­ers are eighth in yards pass­ing and 10th in yards rush­ing leaguewide. The Rams are the only other team in the top 10 in both.

“My first year, I wasn’t put in po­si­tion to be suc­cess­ful, hon­estly,” Gor­don said. “It was prob­a­bly some other things too, in­clud­ing my­self. I prob­a­bly wasn’t ready. But I still don’t think I was put in the best po­si­tion.

“Whiz does a great job putting play­ers in places where they can be spe­cial. He un­der­stands what our strengths are and he ex­ploits them. That comes with ex­pe­ri­ence and be­ing around the game for so long.”

In Gor­don’s rookie year in 2015, the Charg­ers were coached by Mike McCoy. Their of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor was Frank Re­ich, who held that po­si­tion last sea­son for the cham­pion Philadel­phia Ea­gles and is now head coach of the In­di­anapo­lis Colts.

That team ranked ninth in to­tal yards but 26th in points and 31st in yards rush­ing. Gor­don led the Charg­ers with 641 yards on the ground but didn’t score a touch­down.

Whisen­hunt was hired the next year and the tran­si­tion to a more bal­anced of­fense be­gan.

When An­thony Lynn re­placed McCoy be­fore the 2017 sea­son, he re­tained Whisen­hunt, ex­plain­ing sim­ply, “I knew if I got this job, Ken Whisen­hunt was go­ing to be my of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.”

The Charg­ers en­tered this sea­son with a new vet­eran at cen­ter, free agent Mike Pouncey, his co­he­sive in­flu­ence as in­deli­ble as the tat­toos that cover his body.

Ev­ery­thing on of­fense has meshed over the last 13 weeks, the Charg­ers sit­ting at 9-3 and go­ing into Sun­day as twotouch­down fa­vorites to beat Cincin­nati at StubHub Cen­ter.

“He’s very flex­i­ble,” quar­ter­back Philip Rivers said of Whisen­hunt. “He asks a lot of the play­ers but al­lows them to be them­selves and add their touch to things as long as it fits within [the scheme].”

In four sea­sons un­der Whisen­hunt, the Charg­ers al­ways have fin­ished in the top 10 in yards pass­ing. But they’ve never been a top-10 rush­ing team un­til this year.

Twice, be­cause of in­jury, they’ve played with­out Gor­don, who has gained 53% of their yards rush­ing and scored 32% of their touch­downs. The Charg­ers won both times any­way.

“When our run­ning game can get in rhythm with our pass­ing game,” Lynn said, “our of­fense can move the ball with any­body.”

Whisen­hunt, 56, was asked this week how proud he was of the way his of­fense has purred to this point.

He re­called a mo­ment three weeks ear­lier when some­one asked about the Charg­ers’ stel­lar per­for­mance in ball se­cu­rity and how, in the next game, Rivers threw two in­ter­cep­tions in a loss to Den­ver.

“I'm not go­ing to touch that one,” Whisen­hunt said, “be­cause I got asked about turnovers a cou­ple weeks ago, and you guys re­mem­ber what hap­pened there, right? So, no dis­re­spect to you, I think I’ll just ig­nore that ques­tion.”

Fair enough. That’s the sort of re­sponse a coach can get away with when his of­fense keeps com­ing up with the an­swers.

Etc.

Gor­don will miss his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive game Sun­day be­cause of a lig­a­ment sprain in his right knee. He will con­tinue to work out through the week­end in hopes of play­ing Thurs­day when the Charg­ers visit Kansas City. … De­fen­sive tackle Bran­don Me­bane left the team to re­turn to be with his ail­ing in­fant daugh­ter, Makenna, in Omaha. He is of­fi­cially listed as doubt­ful for the game. … Cor­ner­back Trevor Wil­liams (knee) won’t play Sun­day and Culkin (back) is doubt­ful.

Phe­lan M. Eben­hack AP

WHISEN­HUNT is in his third year as Charg­ers’ of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor.

Brian van der Brug Los An­ge­les Times

“HE’S VERY f lex­i­ble,” quar­ter­back Philip Rivers says of of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Ken Whisen­hunt.

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