COSTA MESA, Calif. -- It’s the most relevant question for the Los Angeles Chargers' newest staff member.
What system will first-year offensive coordinator Kellen Moore deploy?
Only two days removed from earning the job, Moore smartly hesitated to name a scheme and potentially limit the possibilities.
“We’re going to build a 2023 L.A. Chargers offense,” Moore said, grinning.
After eight seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, including four as offensive coordinator, Moore’s move to L.A. pairs him with quarterback Justin Herbert and a plethora of playmakers capable of contributing to a top offense.
Expect them to maximize Herbert, stretching the field vertically and horizontally while making a commitment to running the football, something the Chargers have been unable to accomplish in recent seasons and that last month contributed to a historic collapse in a wild-card playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars.
“The vision that we have for this team and for our offense is committing to a style of play,” coach Brandon Staley said ahead of hiring Moore. “That’s what I want to establish moving forward is that style of play, especially in the running game.”
In three seasons, Herbert ranks fourth in total quarterback rating -- sandwiched between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady -- and he has passed for 14,089 yards to become the league leader in passing yards through a player’s first three seasons.
Also scheduled to return in 2023 are receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, running back Austin Ekeler and tight end Gerald Everett.
Each has proven to be a key piece in an offense that last season was excitable at times -- especially when Allen and Williams were available (the two played only four complete games together because of injuries) -- but otherwise proved inconsistent and in need of revamping.
“Mike and his ability to make 50-50 plays is phenomenal,” Moore said. “What Keenan can do to separate and his route-running and, putting him on routes that he’s able to make decisions, he is going to make things happen.”
In 2022, despite such talent, the Chargers scored an average of 23 points per game (ranked 13th). They relied heavily on the arm of Herbert, averaging 269.6 yards per game (third) and too little on the legs of their running backs, who averaged 89.6 yards per game (30th).
“From my vantage point, what Austin has done has been remarkable,” Moore said of the NFL’s touchdown leader (18). “You saw Josh start to develop a role. Certainly, that’ll be a situation that, hopefully, we develop two or three guys in there that can all take turns.”
The offense Moore plans to design will feature ideas that pull from several schemes. He will shape it, in part, around the available personnel. It will not be a carbon copy of the Cowboys’ playbook.
“Will you be able to see the Air Coryell, Jason Garrett side? Absolutely. Will you see the West Coast, Mike McCarthy side? Absolutely,” Moore said, naming two of the previous coaches he worked under. “We’ll keep things that are in place here that Justin feels really, really good about. Then, we’re willing to explore.”
Before hiring Moore -- a decision that was made less than 24 hours after he parted with the Cowboys, but after the Bolts interviewed at least four other candidates -- Staley said he wanted an offense fashioned after coach Sean McVay’s with the Rams (Staley interviewed three Rams’ assistants for the job) and coach Kyle Shanahan’s with the 49ers.
“That’s what I believe in,” said Staley, who ascended the coaching ranks as a defensive assistant but played quarterback in college.
Moore, who turns 35 in July, has no first-hand coaching experience with McVay or Shanahan but did not hesitate when asked about some of the concepts featured in their schemes.
“Just because you haven’t coached with certain coaches, that doesn’t mean that you’re influenced greatly by those guys,” Moore said. “Certainly, the younger offensive head coaches have had a huge impact on this league and are guys that I watch each and every week, and I love watching those guys and studying their offenses. Hopefully, we’ll be able to incorporate some of that.”
Those offenses, Staley explained, have effectively married the run and pass, something Moore was able to accomplish in Dallas.
Last season, the Chargers called a designed pass on 68% of plays, the second-highest rate in the NFL. The Cowboys, however, called a designed pass on 54.6% of players, the sixth-lowest rate in the league.
“We all know that the top offenses in this league, the beauty is when those two things are in sync,” Moore said, whose offense the last four seasons ranked in the top four in points per game, yards per game and third-down conversion percentage. “It’s a beautiful thing.”
Staley also expressed a desire to apply pressure on a defense with personnel groupings, pace of play, motion and consistent explosive plays.
“As we build this thing, certainly, the run game and the play-action pass and the movements on first- and second-down, when those two are in sync, and the presentations are similar, it puts defenses in conflict,” Moore said. “I think that’s something that we’re really excited about building here and developing, certainly in the first- and second-down game and it will allow you to be more aggressive, to get the ball downfield.”
Last season, the Chargers ran play action on 30% of their dropbacks, the eighth-highest rate in the NFL, while the Cowboys ran play action on 26.7% of dropbacks (15th). Herbert fared much better in play action, completing 72% of his passes with a 10-1 touchdown-to-interception ratio and 73.5 QBR compared to 66.5%, 15-9 and 52.9 QBR without it.
As for being more aggressive downfield, in 2022, the Bolts averaged only 5.29 yards per play (20th) and Herbert, despite exceptional arm strength, only 6.78 yards per pass attempt (26th). In play action, Herbert averaged 7.64 yards per attempt compared to 6.4 yards without it.
For now, the name of Moore’s offense remains to be determined.
But for Staley, the goal of a new offensive coordinator is clear.
“There’s just a different level that I think that we can get to,” he said.