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Need Improvement: San Diego Chargers Missed Tackles

With the regular season a month away, we preview the ten biggest areas where the San Diego Chargers must improve to have a successful season in 2013, starting with better tackling on defense.

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This is the first post of a series of ten in which we will go in-depth on each of the ten biggest issues the Chargers had last year, and need to improve this year. Let's start with a problem on defense that has seemingly gone unnoticed...

Missed Tackles

The Problem

Per Football Outsiders, the Chargers had the 12th most broken tackles on defense last year with 63 (explained in-depth here). The Charger with the lowest percentage of broken tackles was Takeo Spikes, who is no longer on the roster. Just to make sure that wasn't a bogus stat, I went over to Pro Football Focus to check out all inside linebackers, and Spikes had the highest combined tackling efficiency, which is the number of attempted tackles per miss, by a whopping 12.5% over 2nd place. So, in a sense, he'll be missed, and rookie Manti Te'o has even larger shoes to fill. Fan favorite Donald Butler ranked 37th in the same category.

Below is a chart that lists each player, how many snaps/missed tackles they had last year, their tackling efficiency per PFF, and their tackling efficiency ranking by position (save the rookies, obviously). Not listed are former Chargers Shaun Phillips, who ranked 31st out of 34 eligible outside linebackers, surprise. Quentin Jammer, who ranked 26th amongst Cornerbacks, while Antoine Cason ranked 35th. Lastly, we have the Safeties. Corey Lynch and Atari Bigby were 59th and 60th, among the lowest tier of Safeties.

Player Snaps/Missed Tackles Tackle Efficiency Position Rank
Donald Butler 731/8 9.6 37th
DJ Smith 385/3 19.5 11th
Jaret Johnson 525/5 7.6 29th
Melvin Ingram 475/7 7.3 30th
Dwight Freeney 768/1 N/A 1st
Derek Cox 776/15(!) 5.2 100th
Marcus Gilchrist 640/8 7.6 80th
Shareece Wright 120/2 12 Not Enough Snaps
Eric Weddle 1,062/9 12.2 15th

After getting a good look at the numbers for each position, a tackling efficiency at around 9 is average, and this chart backs up most of what I saw last year from the Chargers. The tackling was below average. The majority of the Chargers were below average when it came to tackling last year. I can't really pinpoint the issue or blame one sole person, because it was the entire team that was the issue.

The problem is, it was a domino effect. We know how they were horrendous on 3rd down, and tackling has as much to do with that as anything else. Missed tackling led to less aggressive calls, which led to easy conversions for the offense. It became a trend many of us hope is reversed this upcoming season.

The Solution

Wrapping up is an obvious solution, but the personnel that was added this offseason should help the Chargers greatly. I think fans will be pleasantly surprised with the addition of D.J. Smith. He's athletic, physical, and a sound tackler. Shareece Wright showed above average tackling skills last year. I recall, in his limited action, he made a handful of key tackles on 3rd down for stops.

I wonder if we'll see more and more of Eric Weddle playing near the line of scrimmage to help eliminate these tackling issues. Being one of the better open field tacklers in the game, he would be a significant upgrade from last year's in-the-box Safeties. Gilchrist worries me, because at Safety last year he was more passive than aggressive. When he blitzed, he was great, but he'll have an entirely new role this year.

I do think the passive scheme last year with all the off-coverage on 3rd down had somewhat of a trickle-down effect and hurt the team tackling all together. If the Chargers want to take the next step on defense, they're going to have to improve their tackling. That starts with the aggressive play-calling by the Defensive Coordinator, and confidence in the players.

Can Te'o be a consistent tackler? Will the Linebackers be good enough in coverage to be in a position to make the tackle? Can the new starting Cornerbacks be physical enough? Eyes will be on the second level to see if they can make the tackle and get off the field. It will be something to watch early on in the season and throughout training camp.

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