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Chargers' defensive improvement a matter of trust

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Nov 11, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    By Chris Jenkins
    Wednesday, November 11, 2009

    When your season is only five games old and you're 2-3 and already more than three games out of first place, when it's mid-October and you still sometimes look like you don't even know the other guy wearing the same uniform as you, you do more than lick your wounds.
    You concentrate a little harder, a lot harder, on things. Things like the weights, the drills, the coaching, the playbook, the film work.
    The mirror.
    “It's not about anybody else,” said safety Eric Weddle. “Now it's about us.”
    To a man, the members of an oft-beaten and much-maligned Chargers defense sound as if they went through some self-realization a short while back. Realizing, that is, that what they were doing wasn't working. And that plenty had to change.
    “We got our energy from each other,” said linebacker Shawne Merriman. “Our backs were against the wall, and we had to go win some games.”
    So far since, they've won every game, Sunday's upset of the New York Giants being the Chargers' third-straight victory and second-straight road win.
    Merriman received much of the post-game attention, not unjustifiably, since he came roaring in to sack Giants quarterback Eli Manning twice in hyper-crucial moments of the game's last four minutes. Clearly, the Chargers defense is feeding off Merriman's ferocity the way at it did two years ago.
    “He's destroying people,” said defensive end Jacques Cesaire. “He's being Shawne Merriman.”
    The linebacker on the opposite side, Shaun Phillips, also has become a terror. He's recorded five sacks in those past three games.
    Too, the Chargers' secondary play has drawn raves from teammates for its play the past three weeks. The defensive line has stiffened despite the season-long absence of Jamal Williams, the injection of relative newcomers into the trenches and the fact that most of the half-dozen linemen are banged up.
    At the same time, players say it's precisely because no single aspect of the defense is overly dependent on the other that the Chargers seem to have jelled on defense. Moreover, while spirits are soaring with the win streak, there's still enough humbleness remaining from that debacle in Pittsburgh that nobody's declaring themselves the ThunderBolts or anything boasty like that.
    “We're just getting better,” said Merriman, essentially reciting what's become the team mantra. “We're getting better as a team, getting better as a defense.”
    Thing is, even if you include the critical post-bye loss to the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium as the starting point for improvement, the Chargers have been playing like a different defense.
    They've become more aggressive with the blitz, posting more than twice as many sacks (15) in the past four games as they did in the first four (seven). Partially as a consequence, the San Diego pass defense that ranked 20th in the NFL with its 2-2 record has ranked first overall in going 3-1 since.
    Of course, there were missed tackles and blown assignments and an astonishing inability to stop New York on third-and-long in the first half last Sunday at Giants Stadium, but therein was an example of a Chargers defense that's been both resuscitated and rededicated.
    “We didn't get fazed,” said Weddle of the first-half flaws. “In the past, we would've dwelled on it, let it affect us. Now we understand it and move on. It was frustrating, but we knew it was us not executing and doing what we were doing, not something (the Giants) were doing.
    “If we just do our job on third-and-16, let them throw the ball and get a 10-yard gain, who cares? We've contained them and they're punting. We've done what we're supposed to do.”
    Elaborated inside linebacker Stephen Cooper: “It's just a matter of playing smarter, learning from situations, guys doing their own jobs and not trying to do somebody else's job.
    “That's what we've been doing (the past few weeks). Everybody's doing their own job. Do your work during the week and show up on Sundays.”
    If the season does continue on this upward path — and the dual dynamics of the Chargers and Broncos already have put San Diego back within one game of the AFC West lead — more than a few of the Chargers feel they can pinpoint when things really began to turn around. They'll tell you it was the one week they didn't even play a game, the week after Pittsburgh.
    “I think something happened in the bye week,” said Weddle. “We all had to change. We all had to get better, all had to work harder. We had to become a family, know what each other's doing. Trust each other.
    “That's what you count on in crunch time: How much do we trust each other?”

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