What's wrong with the San Diego Chargers? Is it talent or is it coaching?

Stephen Dunn

Obviously, there is plenty wrong with the 2013 Chargers, but Kyle Posey breaks down the biggest problems facing the team moving forward.

Before the season, many fans of the San Diego Chargers thought the team's defense would be anywhere between a top 10-15 unit, and the offense would struggle, more in the 16-20 range. The reasoning was that there was a lack of talent on the offensive side of the ball, and that the defensive front 7 would carry the team. With the same players, now most have flip flopped, saying there's much more talent on the offensive side of the ball than the defensive side.

Is that the case?

Injury Bug

The injury luck for this team has been disgusting. I think we forget how bad the offense has suffered this year. We know about the the starting receivers, and the slew of combinations that the offensive line has had to play with. Then you sprinkle in the in-game injuries of Ryan Mathews & Eddie Royal, the fact that Philip Rivers has only been sacked 22 times so far is a quite the feat. I'll touch on that in a little bit.

Not to be outdone on defense, the Chargers have lost 3 outside linebackers, now it appears to be 4, with Jarrett Johnson, who's already missed a lot of time. Add Donald Butler to the list, who has missed 3 games.

Quality of Players

Is there really that much more talent on the offensive side than the defensive side? Let's break this down.

Obviously, this is subjective. This is personally how I'd group how each player has played this year, combined with how good of an overall player they actually are. There's no fancy formula, this is strictly the eye ball test.

Here's how I broke down the offense.


Elite Above Average Average Below Average Poor
Philip Rivers Keenan Allen Eddie Royal Vincent Brown Jeromey Clary
Antonio Gates D.J. Fluker Johnnie Troutman
Nick Hardwick Ladarius Green Seyi Arijotutu
Danny Woodhead Ryan Mathews
Chad Rinehart


You could argue Green & Mathews could both be higher, but due to lack of touches, I put them both as average.You could also argue that Allen is only an average player, and is more a product of not being game planned for.

Here's what I think of the defense.


Elite Above Average Average Below Average Poor
Eric Weddle Corey Liuget Donald Butler Cam Thomas Derek Cox
Jarret Johnson Kendall Reyes Manti Te'o
Reggie Walker Shareece Wright
Sean Lissemore Johnny Patrick
Marcus Gilchrist Thomas Keiser

I realize I'll take some heat for where I've put Gilchrist & Reyes. Especially this year, for Reyes. He's been a let down, but after his performance last year, knowing what he's capable of, there's no way I can call him anything less than average. I will tell you why, soon.

So arguably, of the 14 most important players on both sides of the ball, the offense appears to have the advantage, but not as greatly as it's made out to be.

So why is there such a discrepancy between the two?

Coaching

The reason the offense has moved the ball up & down the field on just about everyone is because they maximize their talent, by minimizing their flaws.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt came has installed a scheme where he uses his best players to attack what is usually the other teams' weaknesses, the middle of the field. He has a plan and sets his plays up for them to work.

A good example is the touchdown on Sunday. San Diego had run inside zone to Woodhead a few times up to that point, so he used play action to get the linebackers to bite up, and Green got behind the defense for a score.

Back to minimizing your weaknesses. Last year, the line was the laughing stock of the league. This year, we've seen a quick passing game, with a run game that is evolving every week. For example, this LSU pitch play, as well as more stretch runs to the outside.

The passing game has become more vertical in recent weeks, so the sack number has been higher, but that's because Whisenhunt has become confident in Rivers making the right throw and the line giving him the proper amount of time, which they have for the most part. This is all what makes a good coordinator.

Adjusting & Evolving

Whisenhunt understands that the line might miss a block and give up a sack, but the reward of a big play down the field, which we've seen much more of lately, is worth the risk. This is why the Chargers have the 2nd ranked offense per DVOA.

Conversely, the defense has yet to evolve this season. There is a scheme (which is a bad fit), but there is no plan. It's not as if San Diego is over committing to stopping the run, and that's why they're 32nd in DVOA against the pass. They're dead last against the run, too.

Why?

No, not talent. Look at the Saints roster right now. That scheme should be exactly the one the Chargers run. A very multiple, aggressive scheme that sells out to stop the pass. Do you expose your corners when you blitz more? Of course. It also allows them to cover for a shorter amount of time.

How many times against the Bengals did it seem Andy Dalton (who I'd argue is the worst quarterback San Diego has played this year) had all day to throw? A lot. This is because of the lack of creativity, and it is not a first time thing. Every week we see it. We might occasionally see two guys blitzing up the A-gap, or a corner blitz. However, the majority of the time we're treated to vanilla blitzing schemes, or asking 3rd & 4th stringers to win 1-on-1 and it is maddening.

When you have the 5th worst defense of all-time, you get crazy, you pull everything out, and we're not seeing that, and that's why we are continually seeing the same results. Like giving up 250 yards in the second half alone Sunday.

It's been brought up to me that "we only gave up 17 points" a few times. You have to look at the process versus the results. The Bengals had 10 drives against the Chargers.

  • Dalton bad throw-punt
  • Touchdown
  • Dalton bad throw-punt
  • Dalton interception
  • End of 1st half-run the clock, punt
  • Defense makes a play-stop
  • Touchdown
  • Field Goal
  • Gilchrist Forced Fumble
  • Bengals run the clock out
10 drives, and the defense truly got one stop.

Much like the offense, this defense needs a plan, and a coach that can put it in place, and assistants that can teach it. I know after losses it's easy to pull the "this team sucks fire everyone" card, but the difference between the offense and defense isn't just the talent, it's the coaching.

The offense is so far ahead of the defense as far as production because the offensive scheme fits the players so well, that even Whisenhunt's spotty play calling at times can't stop it. The problem on defense is, that there's a bad scheme and play calling. When the Chargers are in their 3-4 look, the 3 down lineman of Reyes, Thomas, and Liuget are all attacking, pass rush heavy players. Instead of allowing them to attack, they are asked to hold up their blocks, so the 2nd & 3rd level players can make plays.

This is a double negative.

Not only are you asking 3 players to do what they're worst at, but this current scheme asks the linebackers to come in and clean up the mess. Based on what you've seen this year, does it seem like our inside linebackers are capable of making continuous plays at the point of attack? Good answer.

There's been no adjustment. Absolutely none. That's why this defense is ranked where they are. Instead of adjusting for injury, or, you know, using your players to their strength, it's continually the "my way or the highway" method.

This doesn't work. You can see it, but you keep trying it.

Square

Until there is a better plan, we'll likely continue to see the same results on defense. There's no progression, and that's my biggest frustration. It doesn't take four Dwight Freeneys to create a pass rush, it takes a creative blitz. Watch Arizona play, and they bring triple A-gap pressure. It doesn't take two Richard Shermans to play sound pass defense. Watch the Bills or Patriots play, they look back for the ball, they run different coverages predicting what's coming, there's no guessing.

Don't be frustrated with the talent. You can't fix the injuries. You can fix your game plan.
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