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BoltHype asks: Where Has The Chargers' Pass Rush Gone?

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Concudan, Sep 8, 2010.

  1. Concudan

    Concudan Caffeinated Commando

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    BoltHype

    Four or five years ago, the Chargers never could have imagined having difficulty getting pressure on an opposing quarterback with Shawne Merriman’s breakout onto the NFL scene and Shaun Phillips looking like a man possessed on his opposite. Fast forward now to the present and the Bolts are desperate for any sort of pass rushing presence to emerge from their depth chart at the outside linebacker position.

    Merriman’s injury issues have been well documented beginning with his torn ACL which kept him off of the field for the entire 2008 season. “Lights Out” returned to the Bolts lineup last year claiming to feel recharged and ready to get back to his old havoc wreaking ways, but he struggled to gain any sort of consistency and only recorded four sacks for the entire 2009 season. After putting up 39.5 sacks in just 42 regular season games over the first three years of his career, Merriman has flatlined in terms of production.

    His falloff has hampered Phillips’ ability on the other side to get free runs at the quarterback as teams are able to handle Merriman with a single blocker on most occasions. He may never have been as feared on the edge as “Lights Out”, but Phillips has the ability to turn the corner and wreak havoc on opposing offensive tackles. Only one time did Phillips manage to reach a double-digit sack mark and that was in 2006 during Merriman’s outstanding campaign of 17.5 sacks when team were double and triple teaming him at times.

    Just two quarterback hits all preseason from the outside linebackers is definitely reason for concern in a 3-4 defense predicated on pressuring the opposing signal caller with those hybrid stand up pass rushers. One of those hits led to a completion by Jay Cutler in the team’s opening preseason tilt and the other resulted in a 15-yard personal foul penalty on Phillips for roughing the passer. Needless to say, the Bolts have to be concerned with Merriman’s injury issues which seem to have surfaced once again as the linebacker hasn’t even seen the field yet after returning from his week long holdout to begin training camp due to a nagging Achilles injury. There are fears that these lingering injuries will continue to haunt Merriman and even prevent him from suiting up for the Monday night season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

    For Merriman, this was supposed to be the season where he returned to form one full year removed from his reconstructive knee surgery and fully recovered with an expiring contract. For his own future in the league and with the Chargers, “Lights Out” needed to burst back onto the scene with the same electricity that he once exuded and charge up the rest of his teammates. Larry English is waiting in the wings now to take over the starting job from Merriman should these injuries continue to be an issue, but the Bolts are going to take the necessary precautions to hopefully nip this problem in the bud.

    Instead of lamenting what might have been or worrying about conditional situations, the Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera needs to concoct some exotic looking blitz schemes to help rejuvenate this beleaguered pass rush. Much like the New England Patriots often do, maybe the Bolts need to experiment with two down lineman and five linebackers at times just to confuse opposing offensive lines and get a leg up on the competition by any means necessary. This team has tried a variety of different players in Merriman’s role, but none have been successful enough to warrant any high praise from the coaching staff. Antwan Applewhite, Jyles Tucker, Larry English, Shaun Phillips, and even rookie Brandon Lang all seem to be lukewarm at best without the aid of a big time pass rusher on the other side of the field.

    The real question is will that presence ever return in the form of Merriman, or will the team be forced to look elsewhere for a top flight pass rusher to get after the quarterback?

    YOUR TAKE

    What do the fans think, is Merriman still a feared member of the Chargers defense, or should the team turn the page to a new chapter with English as the starter? Will the Bolts be able to get after the quarterback without blitzing a member of the secondary, or does the team need to employ some exotic blitz looks to generate more pressure? Will Merriman be a Charger in 2011, or will the team move in a new direction at outside linebacker? Let’s get some feedback below!
     
  2. MikeC

    MikeC Well-Known Member

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    It all starts at the NT. If he can demand double coverage, One of you LB's will have an easy path to the backfield. Back when we had Jamal - who demanded double and triple coverages at at times, the 3-4 worked, we could throw just about any athletic LB in there and our defense was great. Since Jamal started going down hill his last active year, our defense has been on a steady decline. Lets hope that Garay, or Thomas step up and can fill the void.
     
  3. Retired Catholic

    Retired Catholic BoltTalker

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    Merriman's problems are his own doing, since he failed to seek surgery immediately after the injury. The recovery timetable for tearing both the MCL and ACL is rather inflexible and last season showed two things. He wasn't fully recovered at the start of the season and he also appears not to have properly rehabbed the injury. His Achilles Tendon problems are probably due mostly to that, since developed a groin problem earlier and the imbalance in his stride is most likely the reason he is having this problem now. We are better off at nose tackle this year and Thomas will improve as the season progresses. He doesn't face the best offensive lines early on, so he can gain experience without facing dominant players right away.
     
  4. scratchnz

    scratchnz BoltTalker

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    I agree with you MIKEC...the level of dominance that NT has over the opp OL is critical to the play of our Linebackers and as a consequence of the linebackers level of pass rush...how well our secondary is able to defend against the opp WR.

    In a 3-4 defence...it begins and ends with your NT! IMO Thats why there is such a premium on these types of players in the draft and FA. We heard every expert tell us this during the year and round draft time etc..

    If Garay and Thomas break out and play well...this team, goes to the superbowl...if they don't...we struggle to even make the playoffs...period.
     
  5. Ride The Lightning

    Ride The Lightning Join the Dark Side, we have cookies.

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    Our DLine and outside backers suck. That's where it went. Throwing 50 scrubs out there on the DL isn't gonna make it improve either, one of them guys needs to step up and become a Jamal type. We already know Castillo isn't gonna do it. Hopefully Cam Thomas pans out.
     
  6. Aggieman

    Aggieman I bleed blue and gold

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    One word - BEEF.
    To a Jets fan that's "B! E! E! F! BEEF! BEEF! BEEF!"
     
  7. The LBC

    The LBC I'm a Real Prick

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    Well... let's consider a few things here too. It's not as though this has been a straight across the board static defense, more has changed than just the personnel.

    When Cottrell was here (you know, back when we still had that vaunted DL and Castillo wasn't nicked up for a quarter of each season) we still had minimal pass rush because the man subscribed to the Rob Ryan school of QB Pressure (i.e. "If I blitz more than one man on any given play, Jesus will strike my mother down dead with a lightning bolt!").

    Then Cottrell was canned (mercifully!) and in comes Rivera. And to tell the truth, by comparison, Rivera's "aggressive" style of defense is still relatively tame by comparison to Wade's. It's been finally showing some teeth this preseason with the willingness to send DB's, but that may have become more out of necessity than anything else. Truthfully, with the personnel that we have, we may be better suited (and I believe I've been seeing it more and more prevalent, though that could just be failed ability to penetrate) for running a 2-gap system over Wade's 1-gap system. Difference being (for those that aren't familiar), that we ask the front 3 to eat up double-teams rather than actually be pass-rushing presences themselves. Collapse the pocket, yes; chase down the QB, no.

    And that said, the line is a work in progress, though by the looks of the presumed time-table this may be the last year it's like that. A good half of them hit FA in 2011, where we'll likely see the cream that rises to the top (if any does, of course) retained and the rest sent on their merry way to Denver or Jacksonville (as they seem content to pick the bones we leave behind).

    Travis Johnson... I really will be surprised if he busts out as anything more than a super-reserve rotational guy (essentially a slightly more talented Bingham). I wasn't at all disappointed when we acquired him last year because we needed beef on the line period at that point. That said, I've always felt he was massively overdrafted and overrated coming out of Florida State, where he really only had one good year (and on a pretty darn good team to boot); great attitude and guy in general, just not ultimately all that special a talent.

    Boone... he's a placeholder and he's depth. I really doubt he's here after this season, assuming he even makes it through this season.

    Garay... he's why I think TJ's probably got a limited future here, unless it's on the cheap. If Thomas had a year of seasoning under his belt right now, I'd wager Garay would be starting in place of Cesaire as he's actually a better fit (in spite of lack of ideal height) at DE.

    Martin... this guy has Igor's ceiling at DE, he's just coming from a far rawer beginning than Igor had (and I'd argue with lesser DL coaches bringing him along than Igor had... I'd kill to still have Wayne Nunnely tutoring Martin and Thomas right now). I still think he can turn the corner, my real question is whether he'll get the necessary reps to do that.

    Castillo... guy just needs to stay healthy for his own sake because the "no one is drawing double-teams away from me" excuse isn't going to last for long. He's talented when healthy and when investing 100%, but he also benefited hugely from both J-Wall and Igor being so freakin' strong that if each wasn't double-teamed they'd just ragdoll a single-blocker. His technique should have improvd to compensate, and I'm not so certain it has.

    Nwagbuo... best suited as a weakside DE. Hopefully 'when' Castillo gets nicked up (I'd like to think it won't, but it always seems to happen), we have the perceived depth at NT with Garay and Thomas now that OG will see snaps at RDE and we can see what he's got. Otherwise, he's pretty much akin to the Pats' Mike Wright... a fairly-solid-but-never-going-to-be-great utility guy who will stick until someone else beats him out for his spot because he fits well in special packages (i.e. goal-line). For the record, if the Pats finally draft another legitimate 5-Tech player in 2011, I'd wager Mike Wright is cut-fodder that season. I'm just sayin'.
     
  8. SDRaiderH8er

    SDRaiderH8er Well-Known Member

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    Our pass rush has never been the same ever since Merriman served his 4 Game suspension.
     
  9. MikeC

    MikeC Well-Known Member

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    If Riviera wants to switch to a 2 gap 3-4, we are going to need bigger DT/DEs, or we will get run over consistently. Neither Castillo nor Cesaire have the size to fend off guards long enough to cover 2 gaps. Thankfully, Johnson, Boon and Martin are all around 320+- so they should be strong enough, but they all lack 2 gap experience. That and a massive dominant NT is even WAY MORE important for 2 gap defenses. If you are going to run 2 gap - you want a NT over 350, preferably around 380 and DT's around 330.

    In Wade's 1 gap system, we used LB's to fill the extra gaps, if we go to a 2 gap system, we will also need to re-think our MLB's as well.

    I'm not saying it's not possible, but it is quite a change from what we have been doing for a very long time, and the NT spot becomes that much more important.
     
  10. bigmike.x.09

    bigmike.x.09 Well-Known Member

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    It's in my pocket...
     
  11. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    You need athletic D-linemen to play or be responsible for 2 gap and we don't have it.
     
  12. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    Yup.

    When we go to the 4-3 front, we suck even harder because we do not have the personnel to run that scheme.

    If there is no dominant nose tackle, the 3-4 is basically crap.
     
  13. The LBC

    The LBC I'm a Real Prick

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    Eh? The most known Bulloughs-Fairbanks/Parcells (2-gap) 3-4 out there is New England's. Where the NT is 325 lbs (less than some of our DE's), and the DE's are actually heavy than the NT (it's just they have frames that carry the weight a bit better).

    I'm not saying I totally disagree those "planet players" as Parcells used to refer to them are difficult to find coming out of today's "built for speed" college football environment. I think it's part of why we've seen more and more teams (even the Pats) incorporating more hybrid and Phillips-ish 1-gap looks.

    What I'm referring to in seeing in Rivera's 2-gap tendencies is that he's employing far more zone-coverage from everyone outside of the front 3, which has typically been a trait far more associated with the 3-4 Parcells ran with the Giants (it just seemed to be more aggressive than it was because of one Lawrence Taylor).

    Everyone on here should be well aware of my opinion on Cesaire by now; realistically he was an OK backup to Castillo on the weak side, but he doesn't have the size or strength to play the strong-side and it shows mightily. Honestly, bringing in (unless Martin develops something fierce overnight... or Thomas develops ahead of schedule and we can move Garay over) a legitimate 5-Technique DE would do wonders for this line and likely this pass rush. As is, guys like Castillo and Cesaire aren't providing enough of a threat that teams aren't just going to chip the OLB off the snap then move to double-team either DE and still be 80% effective.
     
  14. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    What helped the Patriots is the number of first round picks they had on the D-Line who could MOVE and play 2 gap otherwise; asking what we have to play 2 gap will not work (not that you are suggesting this). Castillo is probably the ONLY guy on the D-Line who can play 2 gap because he is quick enough and strong enough.
     
  15. The LBC

    The LBC I'm a Real Prick

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    I think you're thinking of 2-gap as more the Lebeau-style zone-blitz style 3-4. Which isn't really the case. That is a hybrid that is far more similar to the Phillips 3-4 than a traditional 2-gap.

    The Bulloughs-Fairbanks 3-4 is what's more of a bubble 3-4. BIG, strong DL that's actually asked to man all the gaps and a LB corps that are each responsible for the "bubbles"/gaps between each DL.

    Lebeau's zone-blitz 3-4 is unique in and of itself with characteristics of both Burroughs-Fairbanks and Phillips 3-4's as well as traditional 4-3 schemes. The DL are expected to act as pass-rushers and not just block-eaters (as in the Phillips 3-4), however the LB's are required to be multifunctional (each and all LB spots have to be able to survive as both a blitzer, a run-stopper, and in coverage) as in the Bulloughs-Fairbanks.
     
  16. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    I am not sure what you mean by all the different variants on a 3-4 with respect to playing a 2 gap technique ?

    Despite what variation of the 3-4 employed, the two gap assignment requires a d-lineman to be accountable for two lanes of traffic off either shoulder of the o-lineman in his assignment package. Having this accountability and ability allows the LB's to shoot whatever gaps are vacated.

    I guess what it boils down to is having the players who can play that scheme. Asking ALL your D-linemen to play 2 gap requires athletic fat bodies otherwise, they are not good enough and they will get exploited.
     
  17. Trumpet_Man

    Trumpet_Man Well-Known Member

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    I think in another post you referrred to having DE's who can play a 5 technique would be a plus which is true. Now ask any DE other than maybe Castillo to play a 5 technique which requires 2 gap responsibility and penetration and it is really not fair because nobody can play it on our line because we basically lack that skill. The same would be true of the d-linemen. They can either play it (2 gap) or not.
     
  18. MikeC

    MikeC Well-Known Member

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    he is one of the smallest NT's playing a 3-4, and really does not have the strength to play 2 gap. Watch teams run on NE - they target the middle much more than they do the b/c/d gaps.


    Also, I think Wade Phillips modified his defense from Bum's. Bum was strictly a 1 gap defense. Wade, having a huge NT modified the 3-4 to a hybrid. The DE's played 1 gap (say C gaps for arguments sake), the MLB's covered B gaps, and Jamal played 2 gap - covering both A gaps. Remember there can be 7 total gaps (with a TE on the strong side). What wade did was cover 6 gaps with 5 players. What this caused was both of the OLB's to always have a very easy path to the QB. One had to deal with a TE, and the other had to deal with a RB trying to block him.


    That is the entire reason our defense was great. The ability to cover 6 gaps with 5 players leaving an OLB to cover a gap incase of run, or incase of a pass play freeing him and the other OLB to rush the passer. In case of run - the MLB's were always in position to help stuff it, and in the case of a good coverage MLB like Donny Edwards - they could drop into coverage on pass plays and take away the offending QBs check-down plays, thereby forcing him to either throw it away, take the sack, or make a bad throw.

    Yes. I'm way over-simplifying the defense, but the point I'm trying to make, is to answer the question asked - what happened to the pass rush.

    In the end it comes down to a change in NT, and a defensive coordinator change as well. Rivera is not a 3-4 disciple, and he has had to adjust as well and that is why you see more zone blitzing/blocking. As our personnel changes to something Rivera is more comfortable with, I believe we will see more improvements. He has already started changing our front 3 - look at the size of the guys we have drafted to play the DL - they are all growing in size. I believe we may be making a transition to a 2 gap system or prepping to move to a 4-3... I rule out Lebau's 3-4 because the DL we have drafted don't have the athleticism / size to drop into coverage.

    In the end, realize we went 13 and 3 with virtually this same defense last year, so it's not like all hope is lost, we just need to adjust our expectations as fans. We have been transitioning from a dominant pass rush/blitzing defense to a bend but don't break defense. Nothing is wrong with either as long as you are winning games, and that is exactly what they are doing. As long as it continues I'm fine with it. It won't be as much fun to watch as Wade's defenses were, but hey, I'll take a "W" any day.
     

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