Where do the Chargers go from here?
It's a fair question given the current state of the roster, the listless play, and the complete lack of discipline. The team clearly needs fixing, but what can really be done to fix a mess like this during the season? It is even possible to right this ship considering the apparent lack of leadership?
The truth is, there isn't much the team can do about the injuries aside from plugging holes and creating new depth with a series of desperation free agent additions. That said, there are things this coaching staff can do from a motivational and schematic stand point to at least give some of their struggling players a no-to gentle kick in the pants.
Let's start with the defense, where the Chargers have currently have more options by way of healthy bodies than they do on offense. I believe there is a clear-cut three step plan that could help motivate, maximize personnel and, hopefully, improve on-field production.
The first step in this plan is to return to something that benefitted this team greatly in 2014 - utilizing the entire defensive roster by way of frequent an continual rotations on the front seven. This does a couple things.
First, it keeps everyone engaged in the defensive game plan by defining roles for each and every defensive player. Second, it creates competition throughout the depth chart because players will know they need to produce if they want to play (yes, I'm looking at you, Manti Te'o and Donald Butler). And last, it keeps the key players fresh (and hopefully healthy) by giving them more rest during games.
As an added benefit, this approach would also result in more time for players like Ryan Carrethers, Darius Philon, Kyle Emanuel, Denzel Perryman, and, maybe most importantly, Darrell Stuckey. Stuckey, in particular, is an instant source of energy when he's the field and I'd have to believe teammates would be fired up to see someone who has played such a crucial role on special teams get semi-regular snaps on the defense.
The next step to fixing the Chargers broken defense would be installing a handful (to start) of base 4-3 packages.
This is actually really simple. The Chargers don't have adequate personnel to run an effective 3-4, which is why they spend so much time in nickel packages. We know it, the players know it, and opposing offensive coordinators know it; eventually the Chargers will figure it out...right? The time has come to figure it out.
The core defense in this alignment, at least in my mind, would feature Ryan Carrethers (1-technique) and Corey Liuget (3-technique) flanked by Kendall Reyes (7-technique) and Darius Philon (9-technique). This should close down run gaps by getting two big bodies in the middle of the line, free up Reyes and Philon to rush the passer rather than taking up space, and hopefully prevent opposing offensive linemen from steamrolling their way to the second level. It's a win-win.
This alignment also gives John Pagano some room to be creative with his edge rushers. For example, it would give him the opportunity to get Melvin Ingram, Jerry Attaochu and Cordarro Law on the field in certain situations, which could create some mismatches if properly executed. Again, finding ways to get and keep everyone involved just might produce some surprising returns/
Finally, this defense needs to take more chances via the blitz.
John Pagano is generally far too prone to only rushing three or four players at one time. While I realize he's concerned about getting beat deep, he doesn't have the personnel to generate pressure with a three man rush and his zone defenses are a sure fire way for an opposing offense to bleed the Chargers dry five or six yards at a time. Not to mention, the Chargers have invested heavily in their secondary in recent years, so why not trust those investments by giving them a chance to make plays one-on-one?
The defense, like the offense, simply plays too tight, seemingly always waiting for the other shoe to drop. As a result, they seem robotic and don't appear to be having much fun. Let's open things up, throw the kitchen sink at opposing offenses, and bring pressure from everywhere on the field; see if maybe they don't start feeding off of that confidence and start having fun again.
The Chargers defenders need someone one to hold them accountable when they underperform, but more importantly they need to loosen up and have some fun for a change. Getting everyone involved should help provide some energy, while installing some new packages and being more aggressive might help them actually enjoy what they're doing. I don't know about you, but I can't think of a better way to pump some life into this group than by infusing some youth, getting creative, and letting them attack for a change.