Louis Murphy #18 of the Oakland Raiders breaks the tackle of Steve Gregory #28 of the San Diego Chargers. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Previously we addressed five reasons for optimism and pessimism about the Chargers' offense. Today we'll begin the same treatment of the other side of the ball. Unlike the offense which is practically guaranteed to be a top 10 unit, the defense really could go either way and I actually am torn when trying to predict how they'll do, so in theory that makes this a more productive use of our time (or something). Time for list making!
1. Last season the San Diego Chargers were the fourth worst defense in the NFL
With free agency all but wrapped up and the draft still a week away, Chargers fans are looking at basically the exact same unit plus a 30-year-old outside linebacker and minus its starting strong safety. No doubt you're thinking,* "but what about John Pagano?" Oh, that's right. This uninspiring collection of defensive talent is going to be coached up by a first year defensive coordinator that the team thought so highly of last off season that they passed him up for the job in favor of Greg Manusky. Manusky, if you'll recall, was so inept that he's already gone.
2. The secondary, outside of All Pro Free Safety Eric Weddle, was simply abysmal in 2011
Quentin Jammer was, by several different measures, arguably the worst cornerback in the NFL. Supposedly he had off the field problems that hampered his on-field performance. I suppose that's possible, but even if it's true, Jammer's on-field production has never matched the level of praise he has received locally in the media, plus in 2012 he'll be another year older and slower.
Across the formation from Jammer was Antoine Cason, another former first round pick experiencing a renaissance of sucking. When I said Jammer was arguably the worst CB in the league, Cason was among the players also in that argument.
The nickel defensive back was Marcus Gilchrist, a rookie out of Clemson. I'll admit that Gilchrist showed flashes of brilliance, but you'll have to admit that he showed even more flashes of fitting in with his fellow Chargers corners. He's a sophomore slump away from giving the Chargers the most pathetic collection of corners ever assembled.** Oh and the starting strong safety, Steve Gregory, is gone. Currently his position is expected to be filled by some special teams players, so there's that.
3. The secondary was bolstered by an anemic pass rush that helped San Diego's opponents convert roughly 100% of their third down attempts.
The aforementioned anemic pass rush has so far been addressed by adding an outstanding run stuffing outside linebacker better suited to a 4-3 scheme in Jarret Johnson. If that's not enough to get you feeling hopeful about 2012's pass rush, well, I guess Larry English hasn't gotten hurt yet. If anything, though, English's continued presence on the roster just makes it less likely that GM A.J. Smith will be looking to add a pass rushing outside linebacker through the NFL Draft next Thursday, so his current good health actually bodes ill for the health of the Chargers' defense. That's somewhat awkward, but it's what we've come to expect and at this point I think we even enjoy the familiar sense of dread. Right? Yeah, I guess not.
4. In 2011, San Diego boasted the worst success rate in the NFL against runs on 3rd or 4th and two or less yards to go
But don't worry guys because they've returned the entire defensive line except for Tommie Harris (who was actually one of the team's most productive linemen). And according to our own John Gennaro there's no room for a rookie along the line (not that rookies tend to produce much in their first year as a defensive lineman in the 3-4 anyway, I guess). Hey, maybe that bodes well for Corey Liuget. I'll bet he can up his production to one tackle every three weeks instead of one every six.*** That'd be swell. People that are glass half full types will tell you that the youth along the line can only get better and they better be right or this unit is going to get run over again this year.
5. The entire defense is littered with guys that are injury prone and/or old and the Chargers training staff is the kind of train wreck where you don't even want to stare because it's just that awful
Luis Castillo, Donald Butler, Jonas Mouton and Larry English have all made recent trips to injured reserve early in seasons. Shaun Phillips has battled injuries the last few seasons and has seen his production diminish because of it. Antonio Garay's entire career leading up to joining the Chargers was spent being unable to get onto the field due to injury. Takeo Spikes is 80 years old. The team doesn't have a starting strong safety and current favorite to take that spot is Darrell Stuckey, a guy that has battled injuries his whole career so far. Basically what I'm saying is, even if they miraculously don't suck, we can expect the entire defense to be on IR by week 3.
Please let me know if I missed any reasons for pessimism in the comments.****
*I honestly have no idea if you were thinking that and if you were I doubt it says anything good about you.
**Or possibly something less hyperbolic.
***Anyone that tries to point out the obvious fact that these numbers are inaccurate and/or that I'm missing the point of a 3-4 defensive linemen can go ahead and report to time out.
****I have higher expectations for the defense than I do for your comments.