Film Study: The Chargers Finally Featured Hunter Henry And It Was Beautiful

I and others have been beating the drum for it all season, and on Sunday Hunter Henry was finally fully utilized and made a part of the game plan. He played a season high 83% of the offensive snaps and caught five balls for 90 yards on seven targets. His snaps have risen each week of the season going from 39% in week one to 56%, 56%, 61%, 75%, and finally now 83% the past five weeks. Anthony Lynn is finally coming around and doing what's best for the team by reducing Antonio Gates' role and increasing Henry's.

Henry is a dynamic playmaker, and one of the most efficient tight ends in the league. Tight end is a notoriously difficult position to adjust to at the NFL level and as such tight ends usually barely do anything their first year in the league. That wasn't the case for Henry as a rookie who, while splitting snaps with Gates, still had an amazing season. He caught eight touchdowns and had the sixth most yards per target of any tight end in the league with 9.01 YPT.

I went back and re-watched Sunday's film and it's hard not to come away impressed with Henry who's made great strides in his route running in his second year. Here's every play in the passing game he was targeted on:

On his first target of the game on the Chargers second possession, the Chargers were facing a 3rd and 11 in Raiders territory after a Derek Carr interception. Henry ran a great hitch route, faking like he's going deep and stopping on a dime to fit into the gap between three defenders. It would've been an easy first down but Raiders cornerback T.J. Carrie (#38) comes running in unblocked from Philip Rivers' right side and hits him just as he releases, causing the throw to be inaccurate and low. Henry arguably could've still caught the ball but it was a good route and certainly not his fault, and it was great to see him get the look.

Henry's second target was on the very first play of the next drive. The play was clearly designed for Henry and Lynn and Ken Whisenhunt deserve credit for realizing their errors and calling it. On the play, Rivers fakes the handoff to Melvin Gordon and most of the O-line pulls out to the left to sell the fake, bringing Oakland defenders with them. Henry fakes like he's going to block then releases and is wide open in the flat when Rivers rolls out to his right. Tyrell Williams (#16) runs a deep route which draws the safety and cornerback out and gives Henry some space. They got a bit lucky when the first defender to him (#29)stumbled, but Henry still looked great in space, accelerating much quicker than most tight ends. He's a lot more agile than his 6'5 250 pound frame suggests. He also does a great job maximizing his yardage, he first gets hit around the 37 yard line but drags defenders to the 43 for an extra six yards.

On his third target, with less than two minutes left before halftime on third and goal, Henry is lined up out wide. He runs a quick slant and does an excellent job adjusting to a slightly inaccurate throw from Rivers. The throw is actually a little behind him so it's a difficult catch on the run. He didn't quite get into the endzone but his sure hands allowed the Chargers to attempt a fourth and inches and punch it in for a Gordon touchdown. If Henry isn't able to adjust they'd have been forced to kick a field goal and head into the break with just three points.

On his fourth target, the Chargers run the exact same play that they did on his second. Rivers fakes the handoff, Henry fakes like he's blocking, and Rivers rolls out to his right and again hits him in the flat. This time, the first defender to him (again #29) doesn't stumble, but Henry just bounces off him instead. The corner hits him around the line of scrimmage but Henry doesn't go down and runs up the sideline to pick up the first, once again showing what a great weapon he is in space.

Just two plays later, his fifth target could've been a touchdown if not for a miscommunication with Rivers. Henry seemed to think he was supposed to be continuing down the field straight up towards the endzone, whereas Rivers thought he was supposed to go to the sideline. As you can see at the end of the play, Rivers is pointing towards the sideline trying to communicate with Henry. Even though the play didn't work out and Rivers was very likely right, it's still great to the Chargers targeting Henry deep and getting him involved vertically as a field stretcher.

Luckily that miscommunication didn't dissuade them from targeting Henry deep again, on his sixth target. On the first play of the last drive, they ran play action again. Henry motions from left to right and runs a corner route. He creates separation from the Raiders safety Karl Joseph with a quick stutter step and adjusts nicely to a perfectly thrown back shoulder ball from Rivers. Rivers was excited about the play after the game, complimenting Whisenhunt for making the call. He said it's the first time he's ever thrown that route to Henry. It's the play of the game since after an excellent Oakland punt, the Chargers were backed up at their own eight and this play opened things up and sparked the game winning drive.

Two plays later, for Henry's seventh target and the final passing attempt of the game, they run a variation of the same play. This time there's no play action and it's Keenan Allen motioning from left to right, but they run the same routes. Henry again runs a corner route with Rivers throwing it to the sideline instead of back shoulder. Henry perfectly slides into the gap in the zone and Rivers again delivers a perfect ball. Henry's catch put them in field goal range and allowed them to just run out the clock the rest of the way.

As a bonus, here's a nice play Henry made in the running game. Here he motions from right to left just before the snap. The handoff goes to Gordon and Henry heads into the second level and blocks Raiders safety Reggie Nelson (#27). He does a nice job pushing Nelson to the right to seal off a gap for Gordon and allow him to bounce the run outside and ultimately pick up 18 yards.

Overall, it was an awesome game from Henry. It was great to see the coaching staff acknowledge their errors and make the effort to get him the ball, with several plays designed specifically for him. It was also great to see them get him involved vertically as it adds another field stretcher to an offense which already has several. Now it will be up to them to keep it going consistently. Henry didn't receive a single target on opening night against Denver, so how they use him this week against the Broncos will be revealing. The Broncos are vulnerable to tight ends, just last week rookie Evan Engram had five catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, so they should have no trouble keeping him a big part of the offense if they try to. Henry is an elite talent and can do anything that's asked of him. If they can continue integrating him into game-plans, he should develop into one of the league's best tight ends before too long.


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