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Chargers Roundtable: John Pagano apparently can coach defense after all

The Bolts from the Blue staff tells us their thoughts on the game plan executed on Monday night by San Diego's much maligned defensive coordinator.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Howdy, gents. Tell me your thoughts on the game John Pagano called on Monday night. As always, please try to be reasonable with the length of your contribution.

The floor is yours.

David Marver

Pagano gets way too much crap around here in general, so I'm glad we can finally say something definitively positive: his game plan worked well, even if it was aided by a few timely drops (like the two third down drops the Colts had) and long Chargers drives. Despite having no pass rushers, and no quality corners, he was consistently able to coax one of the league's best quarterbacks to throw in front of the sticks; the Colts third down conversion rate speaks for itself.

The best defense of the day, though, was the Chargers offense keeping the Colts offense off the field. The Bolts' four consecutive 10+ play drives ate up significant clock, kept the defense fresh, and gave Pagano and crew time to analyze exactly what the Colts were trying to do when they actually had the football. That won't happen every game -- it has happened in the NFL just nine times since 2001 -- but the Chargers have seen an increase in sustained drives under Ken Whisenhunt's offense so far in 2013. Which is exactly what a team with little defensive depth needs.

I'm actually surprised that the first person up today kind of defended Pagano. I was expecting to read, "This was only one week, blah, blah, blah." Good stuff, Marver.


If the Colts make two or three of the big plays that their receivers dropped, we aren't sitting here today praising Pagano. Perhaps we would still be praising how he kept the Bolts in the game with a depleted roster, but we would write that off saying that all DC's have to deal with that at some point. Pagano is frustrating because he puts together games like the Colts game, showing what he can do against a good young QB to fluster him, but just the week before he couldn't even figure out he needed to flush Pryor to his weak side instead of his strong side. We have all seen the creativity and talent from Pagano to put together a stellar game plan, whether he has a depleted roster or not, but he just doesn't seem to be able to do that every week.

I will say that very few DCs are able to field a shutdown defense week in-week out in this league. Maybe, as fans, we expect too much?

Ah, there it is. That's more like what I was expecting. Don't fans, for the most part, always expect too much? Quality work, JKV. Who's next up?


The 'what if' scenarios are endless... I mean, even if the Colts receivers make some of those catches, give them a TD over a FG and that's an extra four points. Holding the Colts to under 20 is something to praise Pagano for regardless, because no one has done it this year, and they average 27 per game. The math? They were limited to a third of their normal output. By one of the worst defenses in the NFL. And then there's the other side of the 'what if': Would the Chargers play so conservatively had the Colts gotten a few extra catches that may or may not have resulted in points?

Anyway, the defensive game plan worked. Oakland was a mess, but the poor tackling attempts by Charger defenders on Pryor overshadow that game plan, that on paper, was fine. Besides, the secondary was a mess and the turnovers didn't help. It's one of the reasons I don't do the typical thing and blame coaching. Put the blame where it should go: Injuries and poor execution by the players. Seeing the grades on PFF, there is twice as much red as there is green. You see plenty of players not winning their match-ups, but what can you do? There isn't any depth. When there is, the depth is worse. Bring in another DC with this same group of players and what can you realistically expect? The overall 4th worst defense to improve to 5th worst? C'mon, man.

I'm not sure everyone agrees that the Oakland game plan was fine, but I won't get into that here. Do you really think that Ron Rivera or Rex Ryan wouldn't be able to get more out of this defense? Hmm. Anyway, good argument, nonetheless, SDB. Atten-HUT! Fearless Leader in the house, y'all.

John Gennaro

I still have no idea how Pagano got that performance out of that defense. I'm not sure if it was the perfect play calls, or simply the level of deception that the defense was showing (and hadn't ever shown before). On most of the important plays, the entire front-seven was standing up and moving around. It was a wrinkle Pagano has never used, and Andrew Luck and Pep Hamilton never really figured it out. Will Pagano use it more? Hopefully. Will offensive coordinators figure out ways to attack is successfully? Probably. Do the Colts win the game if their receivers don't drop the ball, as jkvandal stated? There's a good chance they do, yes.

As Jerome pointed out, it was a Ron Rivera-like game for Pagano. He got a good performance from his defense, which was stocked with Eric Weddle and a bunch of other random guys. Rivera found ways to do it game after game, so maybe Pagano can do it consistently as well. It'll be really interesting to see how he does against the Redskins after the bye. I'm less interested in how he'll do against the Jaguars, who the Chargers should be able to beat in a shootout if they need to.

I'm a little scared how much we're all overlooking the Jaguars. Yes, we're not playing the game, but if we're doing it, you know players are to some extent as well, regardless of whatever they're saying publicly. Anyway, I digress. What say you, Nikki?

Nick Shepherd

John Pagano is a frustrating cat. He seemingly changes his style on a week to week basis. This would be a good thing, if multiple styles seemed to work for this D. But they do not. Before, when he still had playmakers like Butler and Freeney, he seemed content to sit in base D. We saw how that worked when the likes of Mike Vick and Jake Locker looked like Joe Montanas against us.

That said, his performance against the Colts was masterful. He understood their tendencies (power run, play action) were predicated on a fairly simple blocking scheme, and he had the defense moving pre-snap like we've basically never seen before. He dialed up exotic blitzes at the right time, moved the pressure points of his defense from side to side, and allowed his only playmakers, the defensive line, to line up, beat their man, and get up the field. I'd love to see this moving forward.

I still have a bone to pick with Pagano (surprise!) and it's how he's using Derek Cox. Cox showed he can be an above average corner in Jacksonville when playing press-man and mirror-man coverage. In San Diego he's become a zone CB. I don't fully understand why this is the case, especially when the biggest weakness of the D seems to be their Strong Safety having no fucking clue what coverage their in, or where he's supposed to be.

Look, I hope that this is a sign of things to come for Pagano. He'll need to keep it up, too. He's the easy scapegoat for a Chargers poor season: the offense has been terrific, the defense is ranked dead last in the league and he's not "McCoy's guy." Unless you believe that Pagano has the worst defensive personnel in the league (I don't, but it's close) then he's underperformed. 1 good performance after five terrible ones does not make me a believer.

Strong showing there, Nick. God bless Pagano, though, because once Nick has a bone to pick with you, he's likely to hold on to it with the deathliest of all death grips. (See: Mathews, Ryan). Which reminds me, Nick, PETA called; they want to talk about your treatment of horses.

Richard Wade

I'm not ready to believe in John Pagano yet, but what his defense did on Monday night was truly impressive. I thought Ron Rivera was calling the plays again. Here's to hoping he keeps letting his best players play to their strengths and scheming situations where the numbers are on his players' side. I'm not going to hold my breath, though.

Boy oh boy, are we ever still infatuated with Ron Rivera in San Diego.


I did not see too much in the way of creative or outlandish defense scheming from Pagano. And that was OK. Against a vanilla offense, a well executed vanilla defense can be all that is needed. I will give Pagano some credit for dialing up the 4th rusher from different spots on the field. The defense was playing decent, disciplined football, but let's be honest here, the Colts damn near handed the Bolts the game on a silver platter.

Exhibit 1: the dropped passes. Much was made on the lack of 3rd down conversions, but of the six drops I counted on Monday, five of them had to have come on 3rd downs. Exhibit 2: an uninspired offensive game plan from Pep Hamilton. It looked as though the Colts thought they could just show up and score 28 points. Except for the lack of deep balls, it was like watching a Turner-esque dive into the pile running game. Anyone claiming that the Colts run a West Coast offense needs there head examined -- the pass routes I saw would have been considered unimaginative at a high school level. That is not a West Coast offense.

Exhibits? Did we all just get lawyer'd by Robert? I think so - and I kind of liked it.

That's all for this week, boys and girls. Don't forget to vote and tell us your thoughts in the comments.