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Phillips takes systematic approach to Chargers' defense

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Nov 13, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.nctimes.com/articles/2005/11/14/sports/professional/chargers/111305184604.txt" target="_blank">North County Times</a>


    SAN DIEGO ---- In 2004, Wade Phillips took over a defense in desperate need of a tourniquet and a transfusion. The year before, the Chargers just couldn't seem to stop the bleeding during a grisly 4-12 campaign.

    They couldn't stop the pass, allowing a league-worst 36 touchdowns through the air.

    They couldn't stop the run, surrendering 2,218 yards and 4.3 yards per carry.

    They couldn't rush the quarterback, tallying just 30 sacks all year.

    Since then, the Chargers have taken a surprising leave from professional football's infirmary to become a lively playoff contender. And, though it still has its trouble spots, the 3-4 defense installed by Phillips has been a big reason for the remarkable change in prognosis.

    "He's got a system that is a very, very effective system," Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "He's been doing it for a considerable length of time. He's really done a terrific job for us because we had a long way to go."

    Terrific or not, Phillips has been seen but not heard by Chargers fans for his first year and a half on the job. Schottenheimer does not allow his assistant coaches to speak with the media.

    During the bye week, however, Schottenheimer took the muzzles off his coordinators, and Phillips finally got a chance to talk about his defense ---- and the scheme that has made it so successful.

    "The system is to try to get the players that are on the field to utilize their talent," Phillips said. "They say 3-4, but the guys that can rush we try to rush ‘em ---- you saw (Steve) Foley last year and (Shawne) Merriman this year ---- and players that do things, whatever it is they do well, we try to get them (there). Whether it's playing man-to-man, play zone or whatever it is."

    Nowhere is that more apparent than in the linebacking corps. Because of injuries, Phillips has had to mix and match to patch holes.

    Alongside the venerable Donnie Edwards ---- the unit's only constant ---- have been run stuffers Randall Godfrey, Stephen Cooper, Ben Leber and Matt Wilhelm, and pass rushers Foley, Merriman and Shaun Phillips.

    Despite constant shuffling, the unit's effectiveness has stayed constant.

    "We've had three and four starters out the last few games and we've played well," Phillips said. "We've got a lot of good linebackers, but you have to.

    "(Management has) done a good job of getting us strengthened at areas."

    But the 3-4 front (three down lineman and four linebackers) has allowed those players to thrive. The scheme puts more emphasis on aggressiveness than containment and keeps opposing offenses guessing about who will be applying pressure.

    Last season, it helped the Chargers move to 18th in total defense and third against the run. Even with the revolving door at linebacker, the team is 21st overall and third against the run so far this season.

    In the two years before Phillips, the team was 30th and 28th in total defense.

    And this season, thanks in part to the addition of rookies Merriman and defensive end Luis Castillo ---- players whom Phillips considers the best rookie tandem he has ever coached ---- the pass rush has improved. The Chargers have recorded 27 sacks in just nine games.

    Still, a problem area is the secondary. The Chargers rank 30th against the pass and have only one interception by a cornerback.

    But in this scheme, Phillips says the secondary is, well, secondary.

    "Our philosophy is to try to win. We're going to get a lot of passes, we know that," Phillips said. "We had the most passes against us in the league last year, and we'll probably have the most again this year because we play well against the run. You've got to stop that running game or you get beat. That's our first priority, and we'll work from there."

    Yet the team's defensive success isn't just attributable to the scheme ---- it's also the man behind the scheme. The easygoing Phillips is an expert at conveying his message to his players.

    "The one thing I've noticed that we didn't have in the two years I was here before is that the communication process is so much better," Leber said. "Not only are his defensive calls easier to understand, getting the information from point A to point B to point C is clear cut and easy. If you've got a problem, he's very approachable.

    "We never go into gameday with questions, and that's huge for us."

    No question about it, Wade Phillips has stopped the bleeding.

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