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Chargers' fearsome pass rush losing bite

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Oct 5, 2007.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    Is play-calling stifling Phillips, Merriman?

    By Kevin Acee

    October 5, 2007
    Ted Cottrell acknowledges that who he hasn't had and what he has been facing have influenced his play-calling.
    But the Chargers defensive coordinator vehemently denies he is holding back the league's best pass rushing duo and, by extension, the league's most feared pass rushing front.
    “It's aggressive,” Cottrell said of his scheme.
    When evidence to the contrary was mentioned, Cottrell said, “Well, whatever. I'm not going to argue with you. But I'm not sitting back and playing frickin' coverage – don't tell me I'm not going after people.”
    Well, something is going on (or not going on) – as evidenced by the simple fact the Chargers have just nine sacks through four games, ranking 14th in the league after leading the league last season with an average of almost four a game. And an analysis of the Chargers game against the Kansas City Chiefs this past week and the one against the Chiefs last December reveals severe discrepancies in the way outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and, especially, Shawne Merriman were used. In December's Chiefs game, as in pretty much every game last season, Merriman and Phillips were like kids in the backyard – rushing the quarterback without having to count to even “one alligator.” It was a track meet, stallions running wild. First down, second down, third down, whatever.
    And their aggressiveness bled into the rest of the defense, as the Chargers flew around on seemingly every play.
    This past week was most often more like watching a waltz. In the December game, Merriman and Phillips blitzed on the same pass play 24 times. Both sat out a handful of plays, and while one or both were out, the outside linebackers blitzed together on five different plays. That's an all-out blitz on 62 percent of the Chiefs' 47 pass plays that day.Last week, Merriman and Phillips blitzed together just nine times in 31 pass plays (29 percent).
    Last December, Merriman dropped into coverage 10 times on 47 pass plays, Phillips four times and Carlos Polk twice. Never did the two outside linebackers drop back together. Last week, Merriman was in coverage 14 times. Phillips was in coverage five times, including three times on the same play as Merriman. The numbers would appear to be a reflection and a result of the attack. In December, the Chargers sacked Trent Green six times, held the Chiefs to 241 yards and nine points – and won by 11. Last week, the Chargers sacked Damon Huard twice, allowed the Chiefs 390 yards and 30 points – and lost by14. Phillips had just one sack in that December game and Merriman none. But their occupying blockers and disrupting the pocket resulted in other Chargers getting five sacks among them. Last Sunday, the Chargers had two sacks – one each by Merriman and Phillips. Under former coordinator Wade Phillips, opponents often simply had too many pass rushers to properly block. That's rarely an issue this season. Merriman led the league with 17 sacks in 2006, while Phillips' 11½ sacks were second only to Merriman among linebackers. Cottrell bristled at the suggestion his scheme is to blame for a dropoff. “Those two are good rushers,” he said. “I'm not sitting here talking about, 'Hey, I'm not going to use the tools I got.' But also, you have to be careful with the tools, be (aware) of how people are attacking you too.” Cottrell points to the fact the Chargers' past three opponents have spread them out and gotten off quick passes, which often negates an effective pass rush. That is true. But Huard also had plenty of time to throw on too many plays Sunday, the pocket he had to work in sometimes looking as if it had been parted by Moses.
    “It shouldn't have been,” Cottrell said of Huard's safe work zone. “We had called some things that just didn't – we're working on them.” Cottrell has been somewhat hamstrung by the absence of inside linebacker Matt Wilhelm, whose athleticism is useful in coverage. Wilhelm has missed three games with a calf injury but will start Sunday in Denver.
    “It's going to help tremendously,” Cottrell said. “That affects what you call and the volume of things you can call.”
    As for the players' feelings about the defense as it is currently constructed, what they don't say is more damning than what they do say. “I just run the plays that are called,” Merriman said. And that is all he would say, sometimes a smile forming as he spoke, sometimes a shake of the head, sometimes a blank expression. Phillips went after Huard more than Merriman, who was busy trying to disrupt the routes of tight end Tony Gonzalez. Phillips is loquacious in his support of Cottrell, but he sidesteps questions about any changes. “I don't know,” Phillips said. “I'm not a coach. Me personally, I would want to rush every time. It can't work that way. It's not about me and Shawne. It's about this team and what this team can do better. “It's still football. See ball, go get ball. I like what's going on. I believe in Teddy. I believe in his philosophy. We just need to make more impact plays.”
  2. Alpenbolt

    Alpenbolt BoltTalker

    Sep 9, 2006
    I was willing to give Cottrell the benefit of the doubt...until he opened his mouth. When you don't even admit there is an issue there is no way it is going to get fixed. This could get painful.
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