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Which Injured Chargers player does San Diego need back the most?

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Of all of the injuries the San Diego Chargers are currently facing, which player would help the team the most if he returned before the next game?

Stephen Dunn

Before we get into this I want a full disclaimer that this is not an excuse post. The Chargers have lost three games because of critical mistakes or simply being outplayed. Unfortunately, two of the most important players on the roster are out for the year. As we get closer to the bye week we're hearing that more and more players are "close" to returning.

These aren't exactly special team players we're talking about here. San Diego expects to get back its #1 running back, #2 pass rusher, #2 corner, and starting inside linebacker. That's four high quality players that all have a huge impact on what the Chargers do. I will make an argument for each player on why San Diego needs them back the most.

Run Game is Rough Without Ryan

Branden Oliver has showed he belongs in the NFL. You don't force or break 21(!) missed tackles on 106 touches on accident. While Oliver is a hard-nosed runner that has shown he can be a big play threat, he isn't Ryan Mathews.

Here's something that jumped out to me from last Thurday's game against Denver. Oliver had 20 touches, 10 of those went for 1 yard or less. Ten! I couldn't fathom Mathews getting that kind of opportunity and not taking at least half of those and falling forward. While it's easy to blame the line for not creating holes, Oliver missed some good running lanes where he could've had big plays, and he simply missed the opportunities. Specifically, back-to-back carries in the 2nd quarter and this carry in the 3rd quarter that went for 2 yards when it could have been 20+.

a

Oliver has a two-way go here. He chooses to go left, where it's not only clear that Antonio Gates is already beat, but there's less room to navigate. To the right, Rich Ohrnberger has yet to disengage the linebacker and there's plenty of more green to work with.

1

Ohrnberger ends up sealing his man and a big play opportunity is missed. Instead, it's a 2 yard gain.

Now, this isn't a slight to Oliver. He's been fantastic in this role and 1,000 times better than any of us could've ever imagined. That said, he's not Ryan Mathews.

I also think Frank Reich is still trying to figure out the right running plays where Oliver succeeds at. Reich really hasn't found a rhythm in the run game without Mathews. He knows what plays fit Mathews. The run game compliments the passing game and it's why we haven't seen the offense, as a whole, click consistently. Mathews helps solve this, as he showed late last season. This team needs Mathews the most because he helps the team on both sides of the ball.

Missin' Melvin's Mojo

That pass rush we all loved those first couple games? Gone. Here's a look at the edge rush production since Melvin Ingram's been out.

Player

Snaps

Wins

Stops

QB Hit

Sack

Melvin Ingram

88

5

2

4

1

Dwight Freeney

346

22

2

9

2

Jarret Johnson

274

5

10

1

1

Reggie Walker

116

2


4

0.5

Tourek Williams

100

1


1


Jerry Attaochu

65

5

1

1

1

Cordarro Law

50

2

2


1

Wins are the best indicator to understand how many times the player is beating their man. As you can see, outside of Freeney, the production isn't there.

Freeney's production has taken a hit as he's been forced to play way too many snaps (he was in on the final two drives during San Diego's 31-0 victory). Freeney has been forced into Ingram's full-time role and that's taking away from his ability to stay fresh late in the games and be an effective pass rusher.

Ingram (and Attaochu) bring a level of energy that other players feed off of. It's not just energy but it's production. Ingram made enough plays in the run game early on to prove he's not a liability and showed he can at least move the quarterback off of his spot. San Diego hasn't had that consistent threat opposite Freeney. We know how much better this defense is with Ingram on the field. Ingram brings energy and production while keeping the veteran players fresh for late in the game. He's the injured Charger the team misses the most.

I Never thought I'd say this....

"I miss Manti." After everything I said about him last year I'm sure those of you have your pitchforks ready. I just tell you what I see. If Ingram isn't making plays, I'll tell you. If Philip Rivers is missing throws, I'll tell you. Manti Te'o wasn't making plays last year and I told you. Over and over. This year Te'o looked more comfortable, more aware, and like he belonged. That's what you want in a second year player, progression.  Here's how the inside linebackers have fared this year:

Player

Snaps

Tackle

aDot

Missed Tackle

Wins

Stops

Te'o

134

12

3.3

1

2

5

Donald Butler

496

29

8.6

9


7.5

Andrew Gachkar

211

8

5

6

1

2

Kavell Conner

105

6.5

6.2

1

1

3

When I'm looking at inside linebacker numbers I'm looking at "aDOT", or average depth of tackle, or stops. The simple description of stops can be defined as tackles within 3 yards of the line of scrimmage. As you can see, Donald Butler is having a train wreck of a season. In 362 more snaps than Te'o, he only has 2.5 more stops. That's unacceptable. Not only is his win column awfully lonely, but that aDOT is spectacularly bad. The starting linebacker, who plays a position where he can run free to make tackles, is averaging a tackle over 8 yards down the field. This is without getting into Butler's coverage. He has been targeted 10 times, given up 8 completions, 3 first downs, 1 touchdown, and has 8 blown coverages. Just...wow.

It's hard to fault Gachkar much for his performance, he's a core special team player that just isn't an every down linebacker. Conner has been okay. His mentality as a linebacker is what it needs to be: Aggressive. The other two don't have that and it's showing.

For what San Diego does on defense, the inside linebacker play doesn't have to play at an all-pro level. You just fill holes in the run game and make tackles on the short passing plays. The defensive line, mostly, is far from the reason that the inside linebackers are struggling this year. They're just not making plays they should. A change is needed and that change is Te'o. Te'o would help the team get off the field quicker, which in turn would keep the defense fresher. The team needs Te'o back more than anyone.

The rookie completes the secondary

(Assuming Brandon Flowers is back)

I said before the Broncos game that Jason Verrett was the answer to the Chargers secondary problems. What happened in the Denver game, in my opinion, exposed each corner for who they really are.

Player

Penalty

Target

Completion

PBU

Shutdown

In Position

Blown

1st Down G/U

TD G/U

Verrett


3

3



2

1

1

1

Weddle


1

1







Gilchrist

1

3

3




3

1


Addae










Wright


12

7

1

1

4

7

5

1

Marshall

1

2

2




2

1

1

One problem is no longer here. Shareece Wright shouldn't be guarding Demaryius Thomas 1-on-1 on an island. When he does, these are the numbers that happen. It was a rough, rough night for Wright. This route pretty much sums it up.


We saw how Verrett held up against a very speedy receiver and he was just fine. Verrett can play on an island. He allows the safeties to get back to their normal roles. Marcus Gilchrist no longer has to guard slot receivers. Eric Weddle doesn't have to do everything. He can go back to guarding tight ends and short area zones. It's a domino effect that really hurts every level of the defense.

When Verrett is on the field, the secondary is complete. Without him, the secondary is once again leaky like last year and that leads to results like last week. Verrett is the missing piece to this defense and is the injured player the Chargers need back the most.