1. Welcome to San Diego Chargers NFL Football Podcast and Forum!
    Bolt Talk is one of the largest online communities for the San Diego Chargers.
    We host a regular Chargers podcast during the season.

    You are currently viewing our community forums as a guest user.

    Create an Account or

    Having an account grants you additional privileges, such as creating and participating in discussions. Furthermore, we hide most of the ads once you register as a member!

Prospects for 2009 rest with the defense

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Aug 9, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning
    Offline

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Joined:
    Feb 7, 2006
    Messages:
    23,310
    Ratings Received:
    +1,703 / 0 / -0
    [​IMG]

    By Kevin Acee
    Union-Tribune Staff Writer
    9:36 p.m. August 8, 2009

    It was the defense.

    Talk about LT's toe, the offensive line, Philip Rivers' critical midseason mistakes, Norv Turner's clock management, whatever you feel the need to lament or otherwise disparage about the Chargers' offense in 2008.

    Puhleez.

    Forget the offense. As long as the defense improves, the Chargers will be just fine in '09.

    “If this defense is just a tad better than our defense was last year,” said cornerback Quentin Jammer, “then this team will be great.”

    That's why when the defense dominated the offense in Wednesday's practice, with Rivers being picked off three times and forced into myriad mistakes, Turner was far from displeased.

    Consider this solitary fact, if nothing else: The Chargers' offense was one of just three in the league to average more than 6 yards per play in 2008. But it got fewer than 58 plays a game with which to work, fourth-fewest in the NFL.

    If you must blame the Chargers' offense for something, it did score too quickly at times. Even Nancy Turner pointed that out to her husband one morning. He told her he'd try to slow them down (insert wry Norv grin here).

    Seriously, a run game allowed to build on itself would enable the offense to control the ball.

    But asking how many fewer carries LaDainian Tomlinson will have now that Darren Sproles is going to be a bigger part of the offense is not the correct question. Asking the defense to get the offense more plays is where those carries for Tomlinson and Sproles are going to come from.

    The Patriots led the league with more than 68 plays per game in '08. Even the Pittsburgh Steelers, ranked 10th with 63.4 plays, had 5½ more plays per game than the Chargers. Not coincidentally in the least, the Chargers averaged 65 plays per game in their 4-0 December. (Through the first 12 games, the Chargers averaged 55 plays, fewest in the league.)

    “Damn right,” linebacker Stephen Cooper said. “We need to get off the field.”

    The Chargers' defense forced a three-and-out on just 18.3 percent of opponents' drives in '08, sixth-lowest in the league. Opponents converted 40.6 percent of their third downs, ranking the Chargers' defense 20th. The Chargers'24 takeaways were tied for 17th in the NFL.

    Again not coincidentally, in their 4-0 finish to the regular season, the Chargers got their opponent off the field in three or fewer plays 15 times in 45 drives, held the opposing offense to a 36.7 percent third-down conversion rate and forced 10 takeaways. (Outscoring those opponents by an average of 40-18 was not coincidence either.)

    “We've got a great offense,” nose tackle Jamal Williams said. “We know on defense we have to hold up our end of the bargain.”

    They just plain didn't for most of 2008.

    Through the first 12 games – eight with Ted Cottrell as coordinator, four with Ron Rivera in his place – the Chargers ranked next-to-last in pass defense, 27th in total defense and 21st in scoring defense. Even after a final month that was sensationally better, they finished 31st, 24th and 15th in those categories.

    And the circumstances were more damning than the stats.

    In the season opener, the Chargers took a 24-19 lead with 2½ minutes to play. The Carolina Panthers promptly drove 54 yards in 10 plays, sitting on the 14 with two seconds remaining. You remember, Dante Rosario catching a pass seemingly in the middle of every Chargers defender, coming down in the back of the end zone with zeroes on the clock.

    Second game: Forget Ed Hochuli. A good team doesn't lose when it scores 38 points, when five of its players have more than 60 receiving yards, when one of its players totals 217 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns – unless it allows the other team to amass almost 500 yards and drive 80 yards for a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final four minutes.

    A close game in the fourth quarter in Miami became moot when the Dolphins converted six third downs and held the ball for almost 12 minutes of the fourth.

    Much has been said about Rivers' four crucial interceptions in the losses against Buffalo, New Orleans and Pittsburgh.

    Fair enough.

    But the defense allowed the Bills' Trent Edwards to complete 25-of-30 passes, an 83.3 percent success rate, which was a team record and the 14th-highest single-game completion percentage of the modern era among QBs who threw at least 30 passes.

    The Chargers outgained the Saints 451 yards to 409, including Rivers' 341 yards and three touchdowns, but New Orleans scored on five of six possessions between the second and third quarter. In that Buffalo-London swing, Edwards and Drew Brees combined to complete an apocalyptic 77 percent of their passes against the Chargers.

    And at Pittsburgh, wherein the offense had arguably its worst game (against the league's No. 1 defense), it did give the Chargers a 10-8 lead with 6:41 to play before the Steelers drained all but 11 seconds from the clock on a 13-play, 73-yard drive for a game-winning field goal.

    That was nothing compared to the return to Pittsburgh for a divisional playoff game. The Steelers turned a decent game into a laugher by controlling the ball all but 17 seconds of the third quarter. Yes, there was a fluke play on a punt in that quarter, but Pittsburgh left an indelible impression on the Chargers' defense.

    “That was embarrassing,” Williams said recently.

    The Chargers' defense failed to protect three fourth-quarter leads and allowed 75 fourth-quarter points in the first 12 games. That's sort of significant, when a team goes 4-8 and lost four of those games by a total of seven points and had all eight losses come by a total of 34 points, accounting for the league's lowest margin of defeat.

    “Our offense was (one of) the best in the league at scoring,” defensive end Luis Castillo said. “They put up points when it counted, they came back late in games and did their jobs. There were three or four games we should have won. All of them were defensive things where we didn't get the job done.”

    The Chargers are spending more time working on the red zone this training camp, with a special emphasis on executing in crucial, game-defining situations. They have very publicly made creating pressure on the quarterback a priority and Rivers said he has noticed a pass rush that is more in sync in its timing and blitz patterns. The pre-snap movement appears remarkably more efficient.

    “You can see it out here,” safety Eric Weddle said. “It's night and day of everyone knowing what they're doing . . . I think everyone is fired up. I think everyone feels they can get better individually and as a team.”

    They'd better.

    Rivers led the NFL in passer rating and touchdowns. Tomlinson still ranked 10th in the league in rushing. Antonio Gates was hurt too and still scored eight touchdowns. Vincent Jackson had his first 1,000-yard season.
    They could all do it again, and it might not matter.

    “I love LT, love Philip, love all those guys, they score the touchdowns,” said linebacker Shawne Merriman, who missed all but one game last season with a knee injury. “But point blank, defense wins championships.”

Share This Page