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Chargers' defense is under pressure -- to get more pressure

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Nov 7, 2008.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    Thursday, November 6, 2008

    The Chargers defense arrives at the second half of the season knowing it is largely to blame for a 3-5 record.

    “We definitely have a chip on our shoulders about our part in not making this team what it should be,” linebacker Matt Wilhelm said this week.

    The question on the minds of all Chargers fans is what the defense will look like come Sunday, when Ron Rivera makes his debut as the team's defensive coordinator.

    There was a mandate from above, stated and implied, when Ted Cottrell was fired last week and Rivera elevated from inside linebackers coach: Get more pressure on the quarterback.

    While General Manager A.J. Smith was Cottrell's friend and until the end his biggest backer, he was also the force behind hiring Wade Phillips as defensive coordinator before the 2004 season.

    Put that together with Smith's assertion last week (and forever) that he wants a dominating defense that dictates games, coach Norv Turner's not-so-subtle statements that the Chargers' basic problem on defense is not enough pressure and Rivera's acknowledgement he has studied Phillips' Chargers defense ... and it's enough to make anyone dream.

    Maybe Sunday against Kansas City and going forward won't be 2006 all over again, but it will be reminiscent of that time under Phillips in which the Chargers defense played almost every snap as if invading a small country.

    “He's going to do his own thing,” cornerback Quentin Jammer said of Rivera's philosophy and play-calling. “But this is getting back to that Wade style of defense. It's not dictated off what someone is going to do to you. It's 'We're going to go. Here. Stop it.'”

    Rivera and Chargers players have tried to show deference to Cottrell. The emphasis has been on what players can do better to improve a defense ranked last against the pass, 16th against the run and 26th overall.

    But, Rivera said Thursday, “We have some guys with ability, and we're going to try to put those guys in better position to make plays.”

    Simply put, Phillips' philosophy was that his front seven was better than the offensive front they were facing. Whatever the offense did, the Chargers defense was going to bring pressure and force action.

    “He didn't want the offense to dictate what we were going to do,” nose tackle Jamal Williams said.

    It resulted in the secondary getting burned for big plays on occasion, and the Chargers got down in some games. But over four quarters, they were going to make more game-changing plays and let their offense get back in the game (anyone remember record deficits overcome in Cincinnati and Denver in '06?)

    That season, when the Chargers led the league with 61 sacks, was the culmination of three years of Phillips rebuilding a mentality and Smith stocking the defense with quick, athletic, strong linemen and linebackers.

    Conversely, Cottrell was more selective and conservative with his blitzes He dropped linebackers into coverage regularly and leaned on his secondary.

    Needless to say, there is a consensus as to what the Chargers are better at doing.

    “If you have an aggressive, athletic, fast front, you have to play to that strength and attack,” outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. “We have young, eager guys around here. We want to attack.”

    Fortunately for Phillips, who had 20 sacks over the past two seasons and just 3-½ this year, Rivera agrees – that Phillips and Jyles Tucker (and Shawne Merriman before him) were dropped into coverage too much by Cottrell.

    “You've got a very aggressive group of players,” Rivera said. “The players they brought here are solid football players that, to me, you want to at least give them the opportunity to make plays, put them in positive position, and that's what we'll try to do.

    “Shaun Phillips, to me, is the guy you line him up and let him go and let him do what he does best. We've got Jyles Tucker back healthy; we'll let him do what he does best.”

    The Chargers spent much time and effort this spring and summer adding to the defensive playbook. It showed – and not in the way they would want. Not only have there been more yards and points allowed, there have been more shrugs and finger-pointing on the field.

    The playbook has been halved.

    “Ron has done a good job simplifying things, so we understand we don't have guys out there doing too much thinking.” safety Clinton Hart said. “That's what we've had. We have a lot of young guys.”

    Said Rivera, a stickler for detail in practice: “We're trying to get these guys to practice faster, play faster. We had some problems, issues we needed to get worked out. The biggest thing we took away from our evaluation is we were asking guys to do a lot.

    “What we're trying to do is pare those things down and try to eliminate the mistakes by limiting what we ask them to do. ... We're trying to get them to, instead of thinking, they just go out and play. It's important for these guys to play fast. ... What we do well, we're going to do.”


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