The Los Angeles Chargers closed the first week of training camp running one particular offensive formation more frequently than expected: Trips. Is this a trend to keep an eye on heading into 2021?
To explore this further I looked for data from the New Orleans Saints over the past few seasons and compared it to the Chargers last season with Justin Herbert. Considering the Chargers are reportedly looking to adopt as much as 30 percent of the Saints’ playbook this seemed like a good starting point.
Thanks to Arjun (PFF) we were able to find Drew Brees had 1,081 drop backs from 2016-2020 with the offense running trips formation, good for 13th in the league over that time span. Last season the Saints (Brees and Hill) had 217 such drop backs, but given they had an injured Michael Thomas last year we went further back to 2018 during Brees’ MVP-level season. It turns out Brees had only 214 drop backs running trips that year, good for just 22nd in the league.
By comparison, Herbert and the Chargers ran the same formation 251 times, good for ninth-most in the league. The Chargers ran trips more times last season in 15 games than Brees ever ran with the Saints over the past five years. It is worth noting, however, that Brees has not played a full season since 2017.
Another way to look at this is to take the ratio of trips formation drop backs to total passing attempts. Here is how the data would look then:
|Quarterback||Year||Percentage of Trips Formation Drop Backs|
|Drew Brees/Taysom Hill||2020||42.47|
So, no significant difference. But it does not mean the use of trips formation so heavily in practice (at least on Saturday) should be glossed over.
The other offense to monitor to guess what the Chargers may do in 2021 is the one run by Kyle Shanahan and the San Francisco 49ers. In 2019, the 49ers ran variations of Double Digs/Drop Back Y Cross out of trips right often. Here is an excerpt from Bobby Peter’s book The 2019 San Francisco 49ers Complete Offensive Manual:
This concept was very multiple for the 49ers in 2019. With the ability to use virtually any protection with it, and its adaptability to coverages, I consider it an all-purpose component of their drop back pass game.Bobby Peters
With competent blocking and scheming this formation netted huge gains from even the most undesirable third-and-long situations, four of them resulting in first downs after gaining 16 or more yards. The concept as a whole netted the 49ers 7.0 yards per attempt.
Mike Williams, if I am not mistaken, caught a red zone tunnel screen from Justin Herbert and nearly scored. Shanahan used this primarily on early downs, though not necessarily out of trips formation every time. Still, the quick attack and great blocks from an elite blocking receiver like Keenan Allen can catch aggressive blitzing defenses off guard.
It may be too early to assume the Chargers will make trips formation a staple of their offense, but considering the variety of talent in their receiving corps it would not be surprising to watch them explore the way the Saints and 49ers used it within their offenses and incorporate the concepts into their own playbook.