Last week against the Seattle Seahawks, the San Diego Chargers defense was very good. They were put into some tough situations due to turnovers on offense and poor special teams, but they performed well. In fact, through the first three quarters the Chargers didn't allow the Seahawks to cross the 50 yard line on drives that didn't already start in San Diego territory.
The Chargers look to build on last week's performance against the Bears tonight. With the starters expected to play well into the second quarter, here are some keys to watch on each level of the Defense.
Defensive Line Getting Pressure
Let's face it, Dwight Freeney is a defensive end, no matter what the depth chart says. Boy, was he good last week. He looks to be fully healthy, he has his initial burst back, and let's not forget he has an underrated bull rush. We know what he's capable of, but be sure to keep an eye on the rest of the line.
Last week, Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes were underwhelming to say the least. Liuget was still his normal self getting off the ball quickly, but didn't really make any plays that we grew accustom to seeing him make last year. Reyes was in the same boat. I know it was a limited sample size, but the Chargers are counting on these two in a big way to be impact players, so let's see if they can get going a little quicker tonight. If they can constantly disrupt quarteback Jay Cutler, he'll probably just throw it up for grabs.
The second team defensive line stood out to me last week. Kwame Geathers, Damik Scafe, and Jarius Wynn all made their fair share of plays. I'd like to see them build off of that performance and continue to get pressure. The Bears' offensive line rivals the Chargers last year, and in no way is that a compliment. So, this entire group should be in the backfield more often than not. This unit was close last week on several occasions, let's see if this week they can actually finish the play.
Stopping the Run
With Manti Te'o out, insert Bront Bird in the starting lineup. Last week, he primarily played "Mo" (Donald Butler's position) and constantly took poor angles against the run. At times, he would try to run around blocks and would lose ground in doing so. That's definitely something to keep an eye on tonight, how he fares at coming downhill as opposed to avoiding contact. At the "Mike" position you can't really hide from contact. I expect him to be better because he'll be closer to the ball, but will still have my eye on him.
In the two series he played, Donald Butler didn't record one tackle. The main play that sticks to mind, is the long gain he gave up when he was out of position on a play action pass. We know Butler can play, and he knows it too. I'll be keeping an eye on him to see if he's flying around making plays. He'll also have the task of guarding running back Matt Forte out of the backfield, who the Bears love to get the ball to. That'll be an interesting match up to watch for Butler. Overall I'd like to see him be a little more aggressive, but I don't think anyone should be worried. Expect a big night from him.
How the secondary fares when tested
Outside of Josh Johnson giving up a deep ball last game, the secondary played pretty well. They had a few lapses, sure, but it was much better than I expected. The Bears are much different than Seattle, they like to throw the ball around, especially deep. It'll be a good test for Derek Cox and Shareece Wright against the Bears starting receivers, Alshon Jeffery (6'3) and Brandon Marshall (6'4), and we should get a chance to see how physical these two new corners are. There's not many better tests than facing one of the top 10 receivers in the NFL.
Marcus Gilchrist will make his debut at safety tonight. Assuming that he's with the starters, I wonder how he'll be used. Will they primarily drop him back as the "center field" safety? Or will they expect him to come down in the box often? He was a very good blitzing off the edge last year. I know most wouldn't mind seeing that continue.
With the Bears running a West Coast offense this year under new head coach Marc Trestman, expect to see more spread looks than last week, putting more pressure on the secondary. It'll be interesting to see when they do spread it out, if Pagano continues to blitz as much as he prefers to. Last year the Chargers blitzed 37% of the time, which was the second highest rate in the league. If he brings 5 and 6 again tonight, the pressure will be on the defensive backs to perform, especially against their bigger receivers.
Besides Jay Cutler throwing a couple interceptions, what are you looking forward to most out of the Chargers defense?