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Revolving door on Chargers defense

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Nov 13, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006

    Rotating linemen keeps Bolts fresh

    By Kevin Acee
    Friday, November 13, 2009

    With Alfonso Boone at left end, Ogemdi Nwagbuo at nose tackle and Jacques Cesaire at right end in the Chargers' base defense, Giants running back Danny Ware gained 3 yards on first down.
    On second down, with Boone at left end and Travis Johnson at right end, linebacker Stephen Cooper and safety Kevin Ellison lined up over the center. Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman were the bookends outside. When the ball was snapped, everyone rushed except Merriman, who dropped off as safety Steve Gregory tore in from the opposite side and blitzed quarterback Eli Manning, who dumped a pass to Mario Manningham for a 2-yard loss.
    On third-and-9, Luis Castillo came in at left end and Cesaire lined up over center, with Cooper immediately to his right, Phillips behind him and Merriman farther down the line. Everyone rushed Manning, who threw incomplete to Steve Smith.
    On display in those three plays in the second half of Sunday's 21-20 victory, the rotation and aggressiveness that characterized a defense that just might be what we thought it could be.
    “We're getting better,” coordinator Ron Rivera said of a unit allowing an average of 112 fewer yards and almost 10 fewer points over the past four games. “That's promising.”
    It can't be discounted how well the secondary is playing and how much communication and trust among the players has improved. Inside linebacker Brandon Siler was monstrous in his first career start, playing aggressively and smart in making eight tackles. Stephen Cooper's knee is getting healthier, and he shone in his first game at the “Mac” linebacker spot on the weak side, making 13 tackles.
    But it was readily apparent Sunday, as well, that the resurgence of the Chargers' defense starts up front — and it goes beyond the re-emergence of the two-headed Shaun/Shawne at outside linebacker.
    The defensive line, finally healthy, consistently dominated what is considered an excellent Giants front, pushing back the line of scrimmage, penetrating, re-routing running backs and collapsing Manning's pocket.
    “Part of it is the coaches are doing a great job in what they're teaching, part of it is what they're calling, part of it is we have veteran guys in here and we have a rotation,” Castillo explained this week.
    And there are the three reasons the line is markedly better.
    Technique. Scheme. Rotation.
    They all play together, helping the Chargers be more aggressive.
    It may simply have seemed the Chargers are playing more physically up front. But it has to do with how they're playing as well.
    Line up pictures of the line playing against Pittsburgh and New York, and they hardly resemble each other. The guys playing now are getting lower, not getting stood up and pushed back.
    “We cleaned up a lot of things technique-wise that made us more physical,” Cesaire said. “Instead of catching and trying to read things, we're just attack, attack, attack and just let things happen.
    “It was our D-line coach (Don Johnson), tirelessly working with us on our technique, getting more penetration, being more physical, more stout. We got issued a challenge after the Pittsburgh game. And we had to step up.”
    But to consistently change their technique might have been impossible if not for an infusion of players.
    An active defensive line thrives on a rotation. And after Jamal Williams and Travis Johnson went down in the season opener, there wasn't much of a rotation. The revolving parts were even fewer after the third game, when the Chargers had to face that rookie Vaughn Martin couldn't be counted on to play as much as he had been asked to.
    Johnson returned for the Denver game, and the Chargers signed nose tackle Ian Scott that week as well. Both have been excellent in limited roles. Those two being in the lineup allowed the Chargers to move Boone from nose to end and lessen the demand on Castillo and Cesaire.
    Castillo did not come off the field Oct. 4 against Pittsburgh, as the defense was on the field for 73 plays. Sunday, he played 48 snaps, most of any of the six linemen.
    Cesaire played 40, Scott 25, Boone 24, Johnson 23 and Nwagbuo 20.
    “I think it's helped us all,” Castillo said. “When you have confidence in the next guy in . . . it lets you go out and play with a confidence and reckless abandon and go full speed and not worry about the next play.”
    Castillo, who looked about to fall over in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh, was still hopping around as he played the final 10 defensive snaps in New York. He plowed guard Chris Snee back and prompted Snee to commit a holding penalty that helped prevent a game-clinching touchdown.
    Also on that drive, Cesaire, who played nine of the final 10 plays, came off his block to get a hand on Brandon Jacobs and re-route him into a tackle.
    “The thing you're starting to see is guys later in the game are fresher,” Rivera said. “ . . . It really takes the early on pressure off them to perform constantly at that level . . . they can go hard every snap.”
    With players getting healthier and able to play harder, Rivera can dial up the pressure.
    The Chargers blitzed a season-high 24 times Sunday and have averaged five more per game over the past three versus the first five. And the looks Rivera is concocting are like a rainbow, linemen inside on some plays, outside on others, safeties coming, linebackers lined up in myriad spots and nearly constant pre-snap movement.
    With injuries and inexperience, Rivera was reluctant to dial up his true dream until recently.
    “We're starting to get a little cohesiveness, a little continuity,” Rivera said.
    And a lot better.

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