John's post on the need for a defensive playmaker ties in really nicely with a post I have been working on and now seems to be the time to post it.
I am a firm believer that winning in the NFL, particularly now with the strength of the passing game, lies in winning the possession game. Now the key here is that I don't mean winning the "time of possession" but that you get your offense more opportunities with the ball than your opponent's offense. This is particularly true when your team has once of those much sought after "franchise QBs".
The top 4 teams in the regular season in the turnover battle were as follows:
The Chargers? 24th with a -6 turnover differential.
Do I really need to convince you that getting the ball to Philip Rivers more often will result in more success?
After the jump I will dive into the keys for the Chargers to improving their success in winning the turnover battle.
First and foremost, we need to drill ball security into the heads of our offensive backfield. I can think of a time this past season when every running back had a lapse in judgement and/or ball security that resulted in a turnover. Ryan Mathews and Michael Tolbert had their fumbles (each had 5 fumbles, and 3 lost fumbles), and Hester had his lapses (e.g. the lateral that he assumed [potentially correctly] to be a forward pass), and all resulted in turnovers. Removing those 7 turnovers alone, that gives the 2010 Chargers a positive turnover differential. This should be the easiest aspect to correct. I could also mention Sproles here, but there is no guarantee that he is back next season so I won't.
The trick with the Chargers offense is that Rivers and Norv like to take chances in the passing game. Norv likes to dial up a deep pass to take advantage of his QB being one of the best long–ball QBs in the game. This is a risk that I feel Norv will continue to take, and as such there will continue to be sacks and turnovers in the passing game due to this aggressive playcalling on offense. Frankly, I'm okay with that because defenses will have to focus on the threat of a deep passing game, and that will open up the short passing game and the running game. The biggest key to decreasing these turnovers is to ensure that the Bolts are not always trying to come from behind for a win, allowing the passing game to be less predictable.
Rushing the Passer
This is the biggest key to creating turnovers in the NFL. Lots of things happen when you pressure the QB: incompletions, INT's, sacks, and fumbles. Any one of these things either results directly in a turnover or puts the offense into a situation where the defense can predict what the offense will do, further increasing defensive success and likelihood of a turnover.
The Chargers were fairly successful in rushing the passer this past season, but the pressure did not result in as many turnovers as you would expect. I attribute this to the fact that our best pass rusher was coming from the QB's non-blind side. This allowed the QB to tuck the ball and take the sack rather than unknowingly putting the ball up for grabs with a tipped pass or strip-sack which will commonly be created by the weak side pass rush. The Chargers need a blind-side pass rusher who can consistently get to the QB to complement the force that Shaun Phillips has become on the strong side. It would be nice to be able to get pressure without having to blitz, but however you slice it, we need more consistent pressure on the opposing QB.
The Chargers have done this. Ron Rivera cooked up a masterful gameplan every time he faced Peyton Manning, yet would revert to a fairly predictable and vanilla gameplan against every quarterback not wearing #18. I never understood this and hope that this changes with Manusky. All QB's in the NFL know how to read some sort of coverages otherwise they would not be playing the game; the key is to keep the QB guessing on what coverage you are running so that he has to make his reads AFTER the snap, allowing more time for your pass rush to get to him. When a QB like Jason Campbell can pick apart your defense, you are playing too predictably.
I won't dive into this too much since John covered it pretty well in his post that is linked above, but defensive playmakers make the whole defense better. I will touch on a few key positions and their impact on other areas of the defense:
- Dominant NT's make the DE's better. I think the Chargers have a dominant NT in Antonio Garay as long as he can stay healthy, and he makes everyone around him better.
- Disruptive DE's free up OLB's to pressure the QB. I like Luis Castillo and think he looks a lot better when Garay is in the game next to him, but the team could use another quality DE opposite him that can more consistently occupy blockers and running lanes.
- LB's pressuring the QB create more off-target passes to be picked off by the DB's. Phillips was about the only guy out there able to get to the QB semi-consistently, and most of those were on missed blocks by a RB or TE (no idea why teams were allowing that matchup so often). However he still isn't at the quality of a "game-changer" who can come up with that defensive play that you need to swing the momentum of a game. The team definitely hasn't found an answer on the blind-side either. I'm fairly content with the ILB corps as I think it will be good enough (including Butler's return which is essentially a free draft pick at ILB this season) if we can improve the OLB corps. Better OLB's will free up the ILB's to run around and make plays as they need to.
- DB's creating turnovers. There were far too many dropped INT's this season in our secondary. The days of guys becoming DB's because they can't catch the ball well enough to be a WR are over. I'm okay with CB's going for a pass-breakup over a pick when matched up in single coverage, but you can't have your safeties dropping balls that hit them right in the hands (I'm looking at you, Weddle). Weddle definitely has the smarts and awareness to put himself in the right places at the right times, but I've been on record for a long time now saying that he is not a good fit at the FS position. I think he is much better suited to playing more of a rover/SS type of role like a Jim Leonard type of player who is more flexible to run around and make plays in the running game or blitz off the edge. The FS position needs to have a player with natural ball skills, athleticism, and awareness to allow him to read the QB, break on the ball and come up with a turnover. I'm hoping with Ron Rivera's departure that Weddle will slide more into a SS type of role and the team finds a player to plug in at the FS position.
This dead horse has been beat up enough. Blocked punts/kicks are essentially turnovers that are costly in that they entirely change up the field position game. Also, we need a returner with better ball security than Sproles exhibited this past season.
This is my case for building the Chargers into a Championship caliber team. I think we can change around a couple pieces here and there and can swing the turnover differential wildly in our favor, giving the 2011 Bolts a much better chance at finally winning that ring. So what do you all think?