Rewind to the latter part of the 2012 season: Corey Liuget is continuing his breakout season and Kendall Reyes is emerging as a standout rookie and a guy that can really get to the quarterback. Add Cam Thomas to the mix, a reserve nose tackle that looked like he needed more snaps to break out, and the outlook for 2013 is pretty good. According to Pro Football Focus, Corey Liuget was the 8th best 3-4 defensive end in 2012, with positive grades in both pass rush and run defense. As a rookie, Kendall Reyes was rated number 14, largely due to his pass rushing ability. Considering they were in their second and first NFL season, the sky seemed to be the limit for the duo. So far in 2013, Liuget and Reyes rank 41st and 42nd out of 42. THE worst two starters in the at their position. What gives?
In 2012, the Chargers were 6th in the NFL in run defense. Subtract Aubrayo Franklin, not much is different about the personnel or the coaching. Through 3 games, San Diego is 28th in rushing yards allowed. Beyond the numbers, you can see them get pushed back nearly every play, not penetrating or even taking up blockers to free up others to make plays.
On passing downs, the front three is not getting any push at all either. In 2012, Corey Liuget produced 33 total QB disruptions on 421 pass rush snaps. Reyes was even more efficient, notching 33 total disruptions in only 320 rushing snaps. Cam Thomas was also fairly strong rushing the passer, collecting 16 pressures on 161 snaps. The trio that combined for 82 pressures in 16 games has 7 so far in 2103. 7. For the entire starting defensive line. Thomas has 1 in 60 pass rushes, Reyes has 2 in 88 rushes, and Liuget has 4 in 91 rushes. The productivity has essentially been a third of what it was in 2012, and the effect is felt all through the defense.
Last year, the Bolts had a respectable pass defense (18th) largely due to the defensive line's ability to stop the run and put the offense in tough down and distance situations as well as rush the passer when the time came. They started two sub-par corners in Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer, (who always had fans pulling their hair out) but they still got the job done because they had help. Now, the Chargers have two new corners who are struggling mightily and who could use some help from someone other than Dwight Freeney.
So, what's the deal? Is Liuget still suffering from a shoulder injury? Is Kendall Reyes experiencing a sophomore slump? Is Cam Thomas not able to handle being the starter? Is the coaching not allowing these guys to play to their potential? Whatever it is, these players need to figure it out. This defense is capable of being much better, but that cannot happen unless the young players on the defensive line start to play how they have shown they are capable of playing.