Through two games this season, the secondary for the San Diego Chargers has been the obvious weak point for the team. The back end of the defense has given up 375 passing yards per game, worst in the NFL through two games. They rank 30th in passing defense according to DVOA, ahead of only Green Bay and Washington.
Chargers fans were subjected to watching DeSean Jackson get open deep on the sidelines over and over again, only for Michael Vick to repeatedly miss him. Plenty of the blame is being heaped upon CB Shareece Wright, and it is well deserved. Many are also wondering...where was the safety help over the top? Isn't that their one job? Let's evaluate how Gilchrist did, and since the running diary went so well last week, we'll do it that way again.
- Gilchrist had an uneventful first series. Philadelphia did not try to challenge down the field, and they spent most of their efforts trying to establish running game first.
- The first play of the Eagles second series is the LeSean McCoy 70 catch and run that made Weddle look silly in coverage. Jason Avant was running the opposite direction across the field about 5 yards deeper than McCoy, and Gilchrist was shading over him. The result was Gilchrist was running full steam in the opposite direction as the play, giving more room for McCoy to rumble down the field. I can't say Gilchrist was wrong to play this as he did, but the route combinations did effectively take him out of the play.
- Backed up against the goal line, Gilchrist lined up closer to the line of scrimmage to help against the run. Gilchrist is blocked very easily for the rest of the series.
- The Celek non-touchdown on the second drive shows some confusion between Weddle and Gilchrist on who exactly is supposed to be covering him. This leads to them both covering him from about two yards behind, leading to Celek dropping the potential touchdown.
- On the second play of the Eagles third drive is the first time we see a sideline bomb to DeSean Jackson. The Eagles saw the Chargers putting Weddle in the box with only one high safety, and ran streak routes up both sidelines. Gilchrist froze and, instead of running to help with one or the other, stayed in the middle of the field until Vick released. Vick's throw leads Jackson out of bounds, and a disaster is averted. You can bet they'll try this again, though.
- The Eagles get moving on the next drive, starting with a pass over the middle to Jackson. Gilchrist does a good job keeping the play in front of him and keeping Jackson from breaking loose.
- The very next play, Vick goes to Jackson over the middle again. Jackson run in the zone between Weddle and Gilchrist for a wide open catch. Gilchrist takes a terrible angle, and Jackson goes for a big gain before being pushed out of bounds by Cox. Gilchrist was slow to react to the pass, and then failed to respect Jackson's impressive speed to try and close the gap.
- On the next play, Gilchrist does a decent job closing the gap on an open Riley Cooper in the end zone. He was once again a little slow to respond, but quick enough to keep Vick from launching a pass to the end zone.
- On the touchdown to Cooper, Gilchrist is on the line covering Celek, and does a fine job. That play was not on him.
- The remaining two drives of the first half, the Chargers had Gilchrist line up to cover Celek, and place Addae as the deep safety. Addae doesn't fare any better as Vick overthrows Jackson on virtually the same deep play design as earlier. Then, Addae takes a bad angle and misses a tackle on a short McCoy pass on the next play. The Chargers are hurting at strong safety.
- The third deep shot to Jackson, and this time it is Weddle failing to provide help. In all fairness, the Eagles sent Celek (who Gilchrist was covering) right at Weddle deep in the middle of the field. When given the choice, go with the deep route in the middle, and trust the corner to use the sideline to his advantage on the sideline streak route.
- Jackson goes deep again, and Gilchrist rightly goes to help. Vick throws to Zach Ertz who was running a route about 10 yards shallower for a big gain.
- Gilchrist rightly helps on the sideline route on the DeSean Jackson touchdown called back due to penalty. It looks like zone coverage from the Chargers on this play, and Weddle fails to pick up Jackson after Johnny Patrick lets him go after 5-10 yards.
- Vick and Jackson finally connect for a touchdown. Take a look at the screenshot below. Does it look familiar? It should, because it is the exact same play design as the screenshot earlier. Gilchrist plays it exactly the same as well, camping in the middle, and not choosing a direction to run until it is too late to help. This time Jackson catches it and speeds away for a long touchdown.
- On the second play of the Eagles third second half drive, Vick fakes a handoff to McCoy, and Jarret Johnson falls for the fake hard, losing backside containment. Vick ends up with a whole lot of open field in front of him with only Gilchrist in the way...
...and here is how he ended up...
Gilchrist makes a perfect form tackle, maintaining his balance when Vick attempts to juke, wrapping Vick up and taking him to the ground. This was a great play by Gilchrist to prevent a big gain.
- Gilchrist takes a terrible angle on another Vick run a few plays later. That brief bit of goodwill is lost.
- Backed up in the red zone again, Gilchrist covers Ertz very well. Vick was looking for him but the play wasn't there, and Vick is forced to throw it away.
- On the Eagles final full drive of the game Gilchrist fails to cover McCoy well at all, then takes a terrible angle, allowing McCoy to pick up an extra 5 yards before going out of bounds.
- Chargers are going with 2 deep safeties on the final Eagles drive, with Addae on the other side. Not surprisingly, Gilchrist does much better with only half a field to account for.
- On the Eagles final play of the game, Gilchrist does a great job breaking up the pass intended for Avant. Even if Avant catches it, Gilchrist has a good chance of preventing the touchdown and forcing the Eagles to either kick a FG or go for it on 4th from the 2.
This was a bad game for the secondary altogether. The corners put too much pressure on the safeties by letting their receivers get open time and time again. The safeties failed to response properly by providing coverage over the top, often arriving after the play is decided.
Gilchrist did well when asked to cover tight ends, but was fairly poor in his other duties. Most of the time, it was due to slow decision making. He would not choose where to run until it was too late to make an impact on a play. With DeSean Jackson streaking up one sideline, and Riley Cooper the other, there shouldn't be much choice on which way to go.
Safety play is not complex, but it does involve making decisions very quickly after the snap. Gilchrist doesn't make those judgments quickly enough yet, but perhaps he will given enough practice and coaching. If not, the Chargers should consider exploring other options as soon as possible. Kerry Rhodes, for instance?