SAN DIEGO - OCTOBER 24: Stephen Cooper #54 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates a pass interference against Aaron Hernandez #85 of the New England Patriots during the second quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on October 24 2010 in San Diego California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Doesn't today feel like we're waking up after losing to the Jets in the playoffs again? I know, but it'll be okay. Contrary to what the negative Chargers fans in your life will tell you, this is not a "rebuilding year". Rebuilding years are for teams that have nothing, and need to spend a year losing just to buy their kids some experience. This team has a strong foundation, and a big part of that seems to be Ron Rivera and a strong Chargers defense.
Here is how many points Rivera's defense has given up each week of this season:
Week 1: 14
Week 2: 13
Week 3: 13
Week 4: 10
Week 5: 20
Week 6: 20
Week 7: 23
For a team that is averaging 25.3 points per game on offense, even with all of their fumbles and mistakes, that should equal out to a winning record. Ron has done a fantastic job this season, and part of what he's done is get his players in position to make big plays. After the jump, we'll break down a few examples of that from the Patriots game.
Stephen Cooper - 9 tackles
Although he was his normal average self in coverage, Stephen Cooper was good enough in run defense that it made it worth him to have him on the field. He lead the team in tackles, by a lot, and looked healthy and strong doing it.
Shaun Phillips - 5 tackles, 1 sack
Phillips was a very good player that has transformed into a great player in Rivera's system. I don't know what has changed, and maybe it's just Shaun getting more experienced, but Rivera needs to be given some sort of credit for using Phillips in the right ways.
Antwan Barnes - 3 tackles, 2 sacks
When Rex Ryan and Sean McDermott can't find a way to get you to rush the passer, you probably can't rush the passer. Yet, Barnes shows up in San Diego and is suddenly a dominant pass-rusher. Credit can either be given to motivation (this might be Barnes' last chance to make it in the NFL) or to a coaching staff that knows how to use him and teach him.
Antonio Garay and Travis Johnson - 4 tackles, 1 sack
I paired these guys together because it's a similar story. Both were guys that were known to be talented, but had a tough time staying healthy or being real effective when they got on the field. Hand them over to Ron Rivera, and suddenly they're playing their best football and ready to go every Sunday. I give a lot of the credit here to Don Johnson, who is a great defensive line coach.
Steve Gregory - DNP
Maybe the biggest success story since Ron Rivera took over has been Steve Gregory, once thought to be nothing but a backup Safety and Special Teams fodder and then transformed into a top-flight Nickel CB and then again transformed into a great starting SS. Come back soon, Steve, the defense misses you. (it's no surprise that the team has given up the most points in the three games Gregory has missed).