The Week 6 loss to the Rams has brought a lot of criticism towards the Chargers as a whole. The Coaching staff and players are under fire, but I think it's all unfair. Here are a few intriguing stats followed by the D-line player average on the day.
First off, the basics:
- Steven Jackson held to 3.8 ypc
- Sam Bradford held to 6.4 ypa
- 5 of 17 first downs by offense (2 by penalty, 7 total)
- Only two "big plays" allowed
Defensively, the team played great considering the Injury situation. Cason had a bad day, with 3 bad plays, and yes, the Rams were fortunate on 3 questionable penalties, including a pair of non-calls. The offense was the culprit of this loss, with special teams playing but a small part of the failure, but a noticable part regardless. However, this post is about defense. Certain players on the defense had a fantastic game overshadowed by silly coverage breakdowns, and the aforementioned offensive slump. Take a peek at the analysis summary, and after the jump, you'll see that I discovered something a bit disturbing, and a cause for worry.
Observation: Newly acquired OLB Antwan Barnes is much more effective than Applewhite or Lang. I believe he will see the field more often as he learns the defense and gets more reps.
Finished viewing the sheet? Notice anything the past 3 weeks? I went back and checked out the first 3 games as well, where I wasn't doing any analysis yet and found out a critical situation in the Linebacker corps.
John might get mad for me saying this, but Kevin Burnett is a liability in run support. He is, in fact, a Monster in every other aspect though. Watching the games and the plays over and over I took notice of Burnett in run stopping and found that he is not effective unless he has a running start. His speed and agility are a plus in blitzing and coverage, but the trade-off is his weight and bulk are lower than most ILB's. He struggles mightily to shed blocks and come off lineman and sometimes tight ends.
Think of Adrian Wilson. 6'3" and 225lbs. Whoa, that's the same as Burnett. What position does he play? Safety. Now, Wilson is a perennial pro-bowler and Burnett can only fill 85% of his shadow, but that's saying a lot. Had Burnett been blessed with a little more speed and ball skills, he could be a safety.
What's so bad about Burnett being good at everything but run support? Well, for that we look at Brandon Siler and Stephen Cooper. Watching the film, Siler is somewhere in between Cooper and Burnett in coverage, but greater than both in run support and block shedding. Cooper is marginally better than Burnett, but his trade-off is ineffective speed in Man coverage and blitzing. What's worse, Cooper doesn't seem as strong as he did in 2008 when he was an above average block shedder.
The point of this article is to show light to the importance of quality depth. King Kong is needed, and soon. Of all the ILB's, he's the best at block shedding and is the best run stopper. Coop and Burnett can't handle the load themselves. Of the OLB's, guess who's the best at shedding blocks? If you guessed Merriman, you're right. Phillips is second best, but he struggles with bigger lineman. Everyone else is below average.
So how is it that the team is so good at stopping the run? For that, look to 3 things. First, lineman. Castillo and Garay are block-occupying walls of men that give the rest of the team a shot at making a play. They consistently improve the front 7 as a whole. When they're in, the team allows a full yard less per carry than when they aren't. Travis Johnson is the next best guy, and the coaching staff knows it, which is why he's been seeing lots more playing time. Bottom line, the Chargers have an excellent rotation at the front 3.
Secondly, is Ron Rivera. Yes, he deserves some heat where I called him out in the analysis, but there has been more lack of execution on the players' part than a lack of good playcalling, take my word for it, please. He's run this defense like few DC's could. He knows about the weaknesses I've just pointed out, because he's found ways to make up for it. By playing a huge variety of sets and looks up front, with alternating technique. He's kept a safety in spy over the box to help out with the deficiencies in LB play. Speaking of which, reason number 3 the defense is so good: Eric "I'm coming!" Weddle. He's within 5 feet of the ballcarrier on damn near every play. Making stops in the backfield, and before a RB can reach the first down marker. Football Outsiders was right to say he's the most underrated defensive player in the league. The guy does everything well. For every good play he makes, he'll make 5 more good plays, a great play, and after he's done that twice, a bad play will inevitably come as it does for any player.
In conclusion, the Chargers have a top 5 defense for the first time since I first became a Charger fan, and I think they're capable of winning a division title for the team. The Chargers lost due to offense. Philip Rivers lost Gates, Naanee and Floyd and had to settle for the deepest options on the depth chart. Some might say, "well Bradford lost his top two receivers as well and he outplayed Rivers". First of all, go suck a railroad spike. Second, Bradford wasn't beaten to a pulp via 7 sacks and 9 hits. He was well protected by his line. He also had receivers that didn't drop 8 passes. I have faith that this team can turn it around, and you should too. If you want to. Please share your thoughts and give me any questions about the front 7 you would like to have answered and I'll do my best. Recs are appreciated.