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The Chargers need Melvin Ingram to be a game changer: In the 2nd half, he was just that

Kyle Posey looks at the remarkable second half Melvin Ingram had in 2015.

Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

New nose tackle Brandon Mebane says "there's so much talent on this team it's unreal." He was more referring to the fact that there are nine 1st and 2nd rounders on the defense, which is pretty incredible to think about. So instead of reviewing the 2013 draft I'd rather review the defense as a whole. It makes it easier because I didn't have many positive thoughts for number 50, anyways.

The last few years I've been Melvin Ingram's biggest critic. I try to remain as objective as possible to give you guys a balanced view on things. If a player is doing well, I will tell you. If he is performing poorly, I will tell you. I'm a fan of the team, but I'm not a fanboy and going to sugar coat things. In Melvin's case, the team desperately needed a guy who can close. A guy that could finish. While "pressures" have become more and more of a thing, there were just way too many examples of the Chargers defense, specifically Ingram, for me to really put much stake into them. Even up through the 1st half of this last year, Ingram's impact just hadn't been there. Then about midway through the season, I'd say the Ravens game, something clicked. Ingram added a spin move to his arsenal. He's always had the athleticism, but he was finally finishing. Sacks matter. It wasn't just the sacks, though. He was making impact plays in the run game. He was everywhere.

Where he has to improve

Before we get into where and why Ingram excelled, let's talk about where he must continue to improve first.

  • Freelancing
  • Holding at the point
  • A go-to pass rush move
I'll get into his numbers in a little bit, but it's a testament I guess to how successful Ingram was last year for not having a true go-to pass rush move. All the greats have one. Melvin is still "just an athlete" playing football. Which kind of ties into each of the three bullet points. The majority of Ingram's wins come from him just out-athlete'ing his opponent. As the year went on we saw some technical improvement but for the most part, he's still without a "rip" or an "arm over" that on 3rd down even if you know, it's coming you still can't stop it.

Teams had some success running at Ingram. He would be lined up on the weak side of the formation; teams would motion a tight end his way, and now you have Ingram, Te'o and Reyes on one side of the field. This is why teams had success running the football.  In Ingram's case when he's taking on blocks he's trying to find the ballcarrier instead of setting the edge and force the issue back to the middle. The problem with this is he's playing high trying to locate the ball, and he's losing ground as he's doing it. This ties into Ingram freelancing, but he has to do his job for this defense to work. He can't just do his own thing.

When it comes to keeping contain Ingram just isn't good at this. It's the clear weak link of his game. Bootlegs or any sort of play-action eat him up. He'll come crashing in and leave the edge, whether it's a back to run free or his flat zone in coverage. When I tell you how often he was in coverage, you're going to want to fire the defensive coordinator, but if Ingram is in coverage as much as he is, then we have to account for that. It's clear that he's an athlete and can close. This isn't going to surprise anyone but a guy his size has no business being 10-15 yards down the field, yet 5 or so times a game that's where Ingram ends up. Him not being put into positions to succeed isn't his fault, but Ingram will have to do a better job of being more aware and covering ground if he's going to continue to drop into coverage. As for the whole freelancing thing, if he just cuts 4-5 plays out a game where he's not guessing, he'll be fine.

Another area is penalties. He makes some boneheaded penalties what feels like once a game at the most crucial times that are just backbreaking to the defense. That and some of his reckless tackling has to change.

Being a game-changer

Pressures don't make you a game-changer. Finishing is what makes you a game-changer. Seattle's defense has game-changers. Denver's defense has game-changers. Ingram developed into just that the last half of the year. Here is a video of the impact Ingram had in the 2nd half.

Yeah, he was pretty damn good.

It's weird that he has a spin move, which is a great counter, but no initial move. His spin move was nasty. If you can remember when he was healthy, Derrick Rose had a ridiculous hesitation dribble. That's what comes to mind when watching Ingram. It's 1,2, hesitation, blow by. I guess that's Ingram's go to whether it's a hard head fake to the outside and crossing inside, or just dipping under the tackles shoulder for and getting to the quarterback. Here's how Ingram compared to Attaochu in 6 of the final eight games(I don't have numbers for the Bears or final Broncos game.)

Player Tackle Missed Win Stop TFL QB Hit Sack
Ingram 26.5 4 30 9.5 2 7 6
Attaochu 16.5 3 17.5 9 2 3 1.5

You can see in the video he made plays and had sacks in both games, though. Through the 1st half of the season, I would argue Attaochu was outplaying Ingram. Then, the lightbulb came on. Ingram turned into a terror. From keeping track of this for a couple of years now to put it in perspective, a good game is usually when you have 3 "wins." Ingram averaged five wins a game. The difference between Ingram beating his man in the 2nd half of the season is he was actually finishing. Those numbers, over the last handful of games, are silly.

Where Ingram is advanced at in his technique is he attacks "half man." For whatever reason scouts and media make a big deal out of arms length for pass rushers.  The best pass rushers are taught to attack half a man. What this does is keep the pass rushers outside half free to counter the offensive lineman's move. Ingram is excellent at this. This is why he can win with 1-arm bull rushers or hesitation moves. While his leverage as a run defender is questionable, Ingram's leverage as a pass rusher is superb when he's trying to get around the edge on a tackle. He has powerful hands that cause the tackles to give ground. From there it's either a dip move or he's crossing your face.

Here's what made Ingram's season as a whole so impressive. It's the amount of, or lack thereof, opportunities he had to rush the passer.

I'd love to hear the thought process of dropping your best pass rusher in coverage that many times a year. This isn't just getting fancy on a zone blitz; this was on crucial passing downs. Ingram is 10 yards down field in a curl flat zone while the QB has all day to throw. I could see once or twice a game. That's a 131 more times than my liking, especially considering the pass rushers on the roster. You cannot convince me, especially with how he was rolling the last part of the season, that Ingram doesn't convert 2-3 more sacks with 50 more pass rush opportunities.

What to Expect

Ingram has to continue to ride the wave he was on to end the year. If the Chargers 1st round pick is as good as I think he is inside, Ingram should have continued success. In a contract year, it's hard to imagine a down year for Melvin. All the pieces are in place for him to have a full breakout year. He played like a true "Batman", but now it's time for him to put it all together for 16 games. He will make everyone else better.

He has to fix his tackling. He has to cut out the bonehead penalties. He has to stop freelancing. If he can do this, and build off of his final eight games, Ingram will finally live up to all the potential he has.