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What new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore sees in the Chargers run-starved offense

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What new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore sees in the Chargers run-starved offense

Only Patrick Mahomes threw for more yards this season than Justin Herbert, who finished tied for second in the NFL in game-winning drives.

It’s little wonder then why Kellen Moore’s introductory news conference as the Chargers’ offensive coordinator Wednesday featured numerous questions about the team’s franchise quarterback.

Still, even with Herbert’s production to date and yet-unfulfilled potential entering his fourth NFL season, the biggest story for Moore is rooted on the ground.

If healthy, Herbert should continue to set records and carry this offense. But how the Chargers run the ball in 2023 will more greatly impact the overall success of their reimagined scheme.

“It’s something that will take the whole process to go through,” Moore said. “By no means are you going to walk in and say, ‘I have all the answers here. Let’s go.’ ”

Hired Monday about 15 hours after he and the Dallas Cowboys officially parted ways, Moore met with the media via video conference during a preplanned family vacation that included a stop at nearby Disneyland.
He gushed over Herbert, praised coach Brandon Staley and used the word “excited” almost too many times to count.

Moore said he and Staley didn’t know each other well before the Chargers and Cowboys conducted joint practices in Costa Mesa in August. He said the two of them then often exchanged text messages during the season.

Moore also joked about the television commercial he shot last summer with Herbert for a local auto dealership in Oregon.

“It’s amazing,” he said, “how life can come full circle here on you.”

In 2022, only Houston and Tampa Bay rushed for fewer yards than the Chargers. The inability to run the ball ultimately cost them everything as they couldn’t put away Jacksonville in an AFC wild-card playoff loss that ended their season.

This is a franchise that hasn’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2017. Staley often has explained how an effective ground game can only help Herbert and increase the Chargers’ overall explosiveness.

Moore talked Wednesday about the importance of being able to run the ball, especially on early downs because of the influenceit can have when employing play action.

Marrying the run and pass — an idea Staley preaches — will be among Moore’s primary assignments.

“When those two are in sync — the presentations are similar — it puts defenses in conflict,” Moore said. “That’s something that we’re really excited about building here and developing, the first- and second-down game. It will allow you to be more aggressive, to get the ball downfield.”

During his four seasons coordinating Dallas’ offense, the Cowboys finished fifth, 17th, ninth and ninth in yards rushing. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 1,000 yards twice and Tony Pollard once in that span.

Moore now finds himself armed with Austin Ekeler — the NFL’s leading touchdown scorer over the last two seasons — and a running back group still searching for a second consistent contributor.

Joshua Kelley has looked capable of handling that job at times over the last three seasons but the Chargers also have tried the likes of Justin Jackson, Kalen Ballage and Sony Michel.

In Dallas, Moore also had an offensive line that generally ranked among the best in the league. The Chargers’ offensive front has undergone a resurgence recently.

The team used first-round selections on left tackle Rashawn Slater and right guard Zion Johnson the last two drafts. The Chargers made Corey Linsley one of the NFL’s highest-paid centers in March of 2021.

Entering his second season, sixth-round pick Jamaree Salyer now could take over at left guard if veteran Matt Feiler is released. Right tackle Trey Pipkins III, a 2019 third-round pick, is a pending free agent and could be re-signed.

Moore called Linsley “one of the best in the NFL for a number of years” and repeatedly referenced the Chargers’ commitment along the offensive line over the last two years.

 Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert heads to the locker room after warmups before  an AFC wild-card game  at Jacksonville.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, who has a new offensive coordinator for next season, headed to the locker room after warmups before an AFC wild-card game loss at Jacksonville.

(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

“There has been a lot invested there from a youth standpoint,” he said. “I’m excited to just see those guys continue to develop. … Their future is skyrocketing right now.”

Moore also talked about the importance of moving Herbert from the pocket and using “the presnap to our advantage — the shifts, the motions, all the different things that you can do to present challenges for a defense.”

He suggested the Chargers will employ tempo at times, too, something his predecessor, Joe Lombardi, might not have done enough. The Chargers’ offense in 2022 occasionally did look stagnant.

Moore promised his offense will be a blend of what he learned coaching under Jason Garrett and Mike McCarthy in Dallas and what Herbert and the Chargers have done well since 2020. All that, plus more.

“It’s building a system around the players,” he said. “This thing, we’ll all do it together. This isn’t a drop the playbook down from Dallas and say, ‘You learn this, and we’ll do this.’

“There’s so much good stuff that’s going on here with Justin and all the guys. … What they’ve built, there’s so much good. So I think we gotta make sure we incorporate that …

“There’ll be stuff from Dallas that we want to incorporate that I certainly have familiarity with. But, once you get through those two steps, ‘Let’s go explore this thing together and figure out what we ultimately want this thing to be.’ ”