So last year before the start of the season the Chargers seemed exceptionally deep in both wide receivers and linebackers. Of course it's no surprise that football is both a gentleman's game and a gladiator sport. Folks got hurt and Pagano was forced to shuffle the deck. Football strategy much like life, is a game of exploiting your specific competitive advantage. Remember football’s not like chess where each participant is dealt the same pieces and expected to joust with pure mental finesse and cerebral ability. No, sometimes in football one opponent is David and one is Goliath and the game may be tied in the 4th quarter and the losing team is sour, but really it should be made clear that they had no chance to begin with because they were outgunned. The coaches possibly put their team in a position to win with an inferior deck. That’s the game and it’s one of the things that make it an amazing sport to watch. But ultimately, it’s important to remember that not all chess pieces are created equal in the NFL. There’s a lot more going on behind the scenes than the average fan realizes. It’s an F1 race where some teams are expected to compete with only 3 wheels. And if the home team loses, they’re bat shit crazy they lost by a tenth of a second in a Datsun to a McLaren. Through gentle analysis of the sweet numbers we can notice nuances that some kook at the Titled Kilt yelling at the Vizio doesn’t know about. So let’s dive in.
The numbers above show the snaps that each linebacker played last season. There were 959 defensive plays and we have listed the linebackers ordered by their snaps played. As we can see we saw great production from Butler ( $2.9 million against the 2014 cap). A 3rd round draft pick in 2010 who lost his rookie season to an achilles tear. It should also be noted that the front office traded up 12 places in the 3rd round to select him giving San Francisco their 2010 3rd, 2010 6th, and their 20114th picks. Interesting to note that the 49ers, after receiving two extra picks from the Chargers for trading down 12 spots selected 2 time Pro Bowl linebacker NaVorro Bowman. But whose crying over spilled milk? Yes Butler is a great inside linebacker and we should be glad have him. Total playmaker.
Next up is Te’o ($1.1 million against the 2014 cap) who strangely feels like he’s been around for more than just one year. Drafted last year in the second round after the Chargers traded up to get him. Swapping 2nd’s and dealing their 4th round pick to Arizona. After showing up late to the party because of an injury to his ankle in preseason against the Seahawks. He showed up nicely by week 5 and continued with quite a surprising amount of production for a rookie. Inside linebacker is a more cerebral position than outside linebacker and therefore has a steeper learning curve. A first year player like Te’o should be congratulated for his first year production.
Reggie Walker ($890,000 in 2014) was a jack of all trades ILB who was plucked from Arizona as a special teams captain. He went undrafted in 2009 and had only played 16 games in a season once before (in 2011). He had never had a sack in his 4 years in Arizona. According to the John Pagano via Ricky Henne "Thank god we got him." As we will see later while studying the 2013 linebackers corps, big names and flash were drowned out by blue collar production from several underrated players. I don’t expect Walker to perform as well as he did last year, but it’d be cool if he did.
So far the players we’ve mentioned have been inside linebackers. Veteran Jarret Johnson is our first outside linebacker and he played the most snaps at the position last year for the Chargers (433). This year he’ll suck 3.5 million from the Chargers cap space. Johnson plays the strong-side or Sam position which usually means he lines up on the side with a tight end which on first and second down usually block for the running back. His job is to shed the oncoming blockers and tackle the RB. This makes the strong-side linebacker a natural fit for run stuffers and sure tacklers which Jarret Johnson is. And because the 1st and 2nd down occur statistically more than 3rd downs, strong side linebackers are more often 3 down players (running plays and pass plays). This is why strong side players should have more snaps on the stat sheet at the end of the year. And because they’re often going after running backs or covering tight ends they often have more tackles than the weak side linebackers (FYI Te’o is a strongside ILB, though did switch sometimes). So when comparing tackles amongst linebackers, exact player position and utilization should be kept in mind.
Charger’s 2013 linebacker sack leader Thomas Keiser has been publicly maligned because of a late season bar fight incident that apparently has yet to be legally resolved but probably will end without much chatter. Some folks are calling for his head and suggesting that his off field antics have proven he has no place in the Charger's locker room. Oh but his on field play last year was just too good to let a couple of right hooks knock him out of San Diego. Keiser was an amazing find that cheaply filled a major need mid to late season. If his season saving Manning interception at 55 minutes with the Chargers ahead by seven wasn't enough, he had tons of terrific plays all season. How about Week 7’s game against the Bills? Two unassisted sacks and five hurries. In 2013 Keiser was amazingly cheap ($645,000 against the cap) and amazingly productive for the Chargers. Let’s hope he stays that way. This year there’ll be 40 other Charger players paid more than Thomas Keiser so stop complaining.
Speaking of "Stop Complaining" Next up is Larry English, for some reason Charger fans have a major problem with Larry? Is it because he was a first round draft pick? Get over it. That was then and this is now. Are you sad because he’s been hurt a few times, so have some other guys in the NFL so get over it. He’s not a super star, get over it. Please study other first round draft picks by the Chargers. You should learn to love Larry English. You know why? Because he’s still on the Chargers and he’s pretty cheap. Do you know who else from his 2009 draft class is on the Chargers? No one. What about the year before in 2008? Nope, no one.
Not that it even deserves a response but to the folks who complain that we could have gotten Clay Matthews, he’s 8.5 million more against the cap this year than English. For that much we could have 3 Donald Butlers or 13 Keenan Allens. Last year Matthews had 5 more sacks than Larry English, this year that’s costing Green Bay 1.7 million per sack! Beyond the stupid ‘what-if’s’ is the fact that Larry English sorta produced a lot last year. With English it’s best to forget the early years when he was drafted by AJ Smith, and think of him as a veteran from another team we now have for 2.4 million against the cap. BTW, last year Dwight Freeney cost us 3.5 million against the cap but I don’t see you pissed off at him. This year Freeney was gonna cost us 3.8 million.
So how was English last year? Well like all the other weak side OLB he got hurt last year, but at least we got a good first half of the season from him. He got hurt 14 plays into week 10. How was his playing time for the first 8 games? The coaches continued to ratchet up his playing time throughout the year. Although some of that was due to injuries at the position, some of it was his skill. To quote Jarred Johnson, Larry can be "unblockable."
He played well considering we had the lamest cornerbacks ever (ranked 29th-31st throughout the year). When your corners continue to blow assignments and lose space, those are the extra seconds the QB needs to release the ball. When the QB looks for his assignments and starts checking down, sacks ensue. Larry’s had shit corners supporting his pass rush his entire career. No pass rusher in San Diego has done well since we had solid corners. In 2006, when San Diego led the league in sacks, our cornerbacks were Drayton Florence and Quentin Jammer. Two players still playing at the NFL level 8 years later. But back in 2006 they were in the prime of their careers. The stats prove their 2006 ability with both players having a career high number of passes defended. Florence had 16 and Jammer had 19. To put that in perspective Richard Sherman last year had 16. Passes defended is a stat relatively uncorrelated with a pass rush, more so than something like interceptions (2006 was the high watermark for INT’s for Florence and Jammer too). So the PD stat is mentioned here to prove how solid our CB play was in 2006 which undoubtedly helped our pass rush effectiveness.
When you watch the tape of English you actually see a good bull pass rusher who is often just about to get a sack before the QB gets rid of the ball. And the numbers back this up. Although English played for half the season he had 8 QB hurries. Shaun Phillips in Denver had 9 QB hurries last year and played 16 games.
Footage more rare than the Zupruder film, a Larry English Sack!
One of the this author’s biggest peeves is when arm chair experts throw out the win-loss record of a team with and without a particular player playing. This is a poster child example of "correlation does not imply causation." Common sense shows that 92 players suit up for a game each week and there are 130-ish complex plays per game. So the Chargers were 4-4 when English played but who cares, there were too many variables for that to mean much for an outside edge rusher.
There are reports that the Charges are able to void his contract because he didn’t meet the playing time requirements allowing them to pay him 1.4 million this year. For a guy this familiar with our system he can be extremely productive so why not root for the guy. You know the coaches are. And at that price, why not keep him. He held his own for the first half of last season when no one else could. We would absolutely have been worse off last year without him. So be thankful English is on the roster and be glad when he’s here in 2014.
Moving on to Tourek Williams, here’s a 2nd year guy that played well on special teams. Last year he was new and had to fill in on both sides at OLB. That hopefully helped his progress and experience. He picked up the slack when English went down. Cheap, blue collar, I’d buy him a beer for his output. At $522,515 a year he can barely afford one. Keep it up Tourek.
So Freeney played four games and cost a shit load. People talked about his help in the tape room. Not sure if the players had a question they couldn’t just ask on Quora or something. Everyone knew he was overpaid, so this year all parties involved thought it made sense to drop his 3.8 million salary this year to 2.5 million. I’ve got a prediction about Freeney, I know it sounds wacky but I think he’s gonna get hurt.
I know more about the female menstrual cycle than I do about Andrew Gachkar. Andrew Gachkar carpools with Carmen Sandiego. If Andrew Gachkar were in a Where’s Waldo book…You get the point.
Melvin Ingram (2.2 million against the 2014 cap) started really playing well at the end of last year and into the post season. We’re all expecting good things this year from Ingram. I’m still shocked he played last year after tearing his ACL in May of 2013. You know that used to be a career ending injury? Now guys are coming back in the same calendar year as the injury. Meanwhile I’m still nursing a blister on my foot I got from running on a treadmill in new Nike’s 2 months ago.
Sunflower seed manufactures made more money from Bront Bird than it cost to keep him on the roster (probably).
So that's a glimpse into last years linebacker production, almost everyone got hurt and those that didn't were kept on the bench because they were just not good enough to play anything but special teams. However it was a resilient group that got the job done to some degree. I remember LT on Darren Smith last preseason nonchalantly commenting that the 2013 Charger defense was gonna be good, it was the offense he was wondering about. I think that was several people's prediction. The irony is the offense was other worldly and the defense was beset by injuries. Many of which came in the form of the Linebackers. But our pass defense in the secondary was abysmal and our DE's were adjusting from the heavy turn over. Before last season our defense was set to be good. Then the season started and Pagano had to plug holes like a six year old playing with his Lite-Brite (Nick Canapa Impression). Pagano did an admirable job considering the pieces he had to work with. When life gives you lemons you make lemonade. Someone give Pagano a lemonade bath from one of those Gatorade coolers. Even if he doesn't quite deserve it, at least it's been hot.
There's no telling who will make this roster, Telesco might get rid of some young cheap guys with potential or cut the higher priced veterans to make room for some of the UFA he sees a magical glimmer of potential in. Though Telesco's MO is to count on the past production over future potential. He's a realist not a dreamer. That's a good thing for a front office man.
2014 should be interesting. The rookies are beginning their OTA's and pretty soon the whole groups gonna get going. There's bound to be some insights between here and September.