Back to the 2013 draft class, kind of, but still concentrating on the front 7 of the defense. If Melvin Ingram is The Ace or wildcard, or if we're playing poker the full house or 4 of a kind, then Manti Te'o would be the pair of 7's. I have no problem being objectively blunt about players. I'm also aware that in certain situations players change. In Te'o's case, he just hasn't been good enough at this point and has played at a replacement level.
The first game of the season Te'o missed six tackles. His situation changed when the team realized that Denzel Perryman/a toddler could not be worse than the player that was wearing number 56. I've seen a lot of comments saying that his play improved when he played alongside Perryman. That's just not true. Here are some numbers on the final seven games, not including week 17, where the duo played together.
There's a reason I'm showing you this. We will get to Denzel next week. In my opinion we actually overrate missed tackles and their value. 8 missed tackles in 7 games isn't ideal but it's also not something to get up in arms about. Sure, there are plays where they hurt, but there are also plenty of times where it's enough to slow the ballcarrier down and allow your teammate to make the tackle. So while missed tackles are what most people think that's Te'o's biggest issue, it's not, it's his angles.
Trusting what he sees
The reason I put those numbers up is because in this defense Te'o is designed to be the player to clean up and make the tackles. There are endless examples of him not coming downhill while his sidekick is already at the line of scrimmage, or he's taking poor angles and completely taking himself out of the play. If there's 1 play that describes the Chargers linebackers as a whole, it's this one below.
The Chargers LBs in 1 play, but really how they played all szn. pic.twitter.com/kttw1dYTPo— KP (@KP_Show) May 16, 2016
1st step forward as a linebacker. That's what's taught to you in pee wee football. A pulling guard right in front of your face is one of the easiest keys you'll ever read. Yet, Te'o is still moving lateral instead of coming downhill. Te'o seems to be a tick slow when reading plays. Whether it's run plays away from him, or passing plays at him.
I don't expect Manti to be a superstar nor should you. What I do expect is a linebacker who has played the position all of his life to come downhill and initiate contact.
There ARE times
When Te'o did trust what he saw. I went back and watched the division games he played with Perryman and there were 4 or 5 plays where he was coming downhill. I would love to sit down with Manti and ask him why this is so few and far between. The very first clip is the type of plays the best of the best linebackers in the game make.
The final clip is 3rd & 2 and him just manning up and making a play. In coverage, when things are in front of him, Te'o is solid. I think he communicates well and is a much better tackler in space, which most players are the opposite. I'm not sure why that is the case but everything about his tackling mechanics are better.
Taking himself out of plays
The missed tackles are going to happen. I can actually live with that. It's the poor angles that are frustrating where he just doesn't give himself a chance.
These aren't because there isn't a nose tackle, these aren't because of number 56, this is a Te'o issue. It's recurring. Questionable angles from your "clean up" linebacker are why there are long runs. Not even the long runs, but consistent 5-6 yard chunks. While I think Te'o is a very good athlete, he doesn't have the speed to make up if he takes a poor initial angle. That's where the issue is.
What to expect
On paper, everything is put in place. This is the best front 7 the team has had in some time. On paper. Injuries are going to happen, we know this. There are absolutely zerio excuses for Te'o not to perform considering he's protected by Perryman and Brandon Mebane. What's refreshing is the onus isn't on him. It's not "If Manti doesn't perform the defense is doomed." After reading this you should know my expectations aren't very high for him. It'd be awesome of he fixed his angles and played more aggressive all the time. I suspect we will see a different set of linebackers in the future. We shall see. What are your exceptions for Te'o in 2016?