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What Gus Bradley’s Defense Means for the Chargers Defensive Line

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San Diego Chargers v Oakland Raiders Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With the recent hire of Gus Bradley, it’s important to know the type of scheme he’ll be employing with the Chargers. Today we’ll just start with his multiple fronts. We’ll get to coverages later. In Seattle, Bradley was very multiple. They were more of a hybrid defense that ran a bit of everything. In Jacksonville, he was strictly 4-3. The good news is he bounced back and forth between fronts. In the 1st series against the Chargers back in week 2, the Jaguars lined up in 3 different types of fronts. That’s what I want to go over so fans are familiar with what Bradley is bringing to the table.

Before we get into the type of fronts that Bradley used, if you’re going to be multiple up front, you have to have players that can succeed at multiple positions. We’ll get into examples from other teams. Let’s get into the fronts for now.

For reference:

The 2nd play of the game the Jags came out in an “Eagle front.” A front usually called when you’re expecting a run.

The arrows show which gap the player is responsible for. In this case, the defensive end to the tight end side is responsible for both C & D gaps. So he’s 2-gapping. Everyone else is responsible for just one. In an ideal world, the nose tackle and the 4i to the right get enough of the guard that way the linebacker behind him is free to get to the running back.

This is a good front if you have fast, attacking linebackers, or a badass 4i that can consistently win 1-on-1 match-ups from the strong-side.

Here’s how I am lining up in an eagle front with how the roster is currently constructed, from the offenses left to right:

6t-Melvin Ingram

4i-Corey Liuget

Mike LB-Denzel Perryman

0t-Brandon Mebane

Will LB-Jatavis Brown

4i-Joey Bosa

Sam LB-Kyle Emanuel

I’m putting Brown to the strong side, even though it’s still the “will linebacker”, because I know I can count on the Bosa/Emanuel duo to do their job & keep Brown clean, if not make the play themselves. On an outside run, Brown can “scrape” over the top and make the play. In the event of a pass, Brown is on the tight end with a safety in the flat as well. In the event of a run to the weak-side of the offensive formation, Brown is also kept clean because Perryman is there as a “thumper” type to eat of blocks. So in any run situation, hypothetically, Brown is free to make plays. Also, Ingram and Liuget are backside 1-on-1. Both with 1 gap to execute and nobody behind them to worry about keep clean to make a play. Expect this front to be sprinkled in on short yardage situations.

The next play, Jacksonville came out in an “under front.” Bradley runs this front quite a bit.

I wanted to show this example first because it kind of messes with our rules since there are 2 tight ends. The Jags have set their “strength” to the offensives left. So their Sam linebacker is responsible for setting the edge, or the D gap. Then working left to right each player is responsible for 1 gap. There are occasions where the 5 technique is responsible for both B & C gaps, and we’ll get to that in a second. Your linebackers will have to cover more ground here as well. The Sam(linebacker next to the 5t) is likely responsible for that whole flat area up to 8 yards. So he has to bail on a pass. The Will LB(backer in front of Fluker) won’t have a safety to his side so he’ll have even more ground to cover. Technically this is the most “simple” defense because you’re only responsible for 1 gap. Which allows you to be fast and aggressive.

Usually, with no tight end to the right, that 6 technique would be another shade or so wider. Since he’s responsible for that gap, however, now he has to be head up. That’s the rule breaker here. On obvious passing downs, under fronts are fine. I’m not a big fan on a down to down basis just because you can see how easy it is to get to the linebackers. There’s a reason the Chargers rushed for 7, 21, & 23 yards on this drive. It’s because if the offensive line gets a hat on a hat, you’re doomed. There’s not much backup here & once you blow your assignment, the offense gashes you.

How should the Chargers line up to this? Good question.

Sam-Korey Toomer/Josh Perry

5t-Bosa

Mike-Perryman

1t-Mebane

3t-Liuget

Will-Brown

6t-Ingram

This is already problematic for me. It’s almost like hanging Brown out to dry. I almost at 6t & Ingram at Sam. Then again, I want Ingram going forward. Do you trust Liuget on a run his way to not get blocked out of the picture on a double team? I don’t. You’re putting too much of the onus on the back 7. You better pray the safeties fly up and make the play.

The 4-3 over front is what I’d expect Bradley to deploy the most. That was and is the go to in Seattle. Was ran more and more this year in Jacksonville as well. The main difference is you’re swapping the strengths of your defensive tackles. So in an under front, your nose tackle, Brandon Mebane, is on the strong side. In an over front he’s on the weak side. Vice Versa. So the thought process by most would be Liuget goes to the strong side. I can already see your eyes rolling. First, let’s look at the diagram.

Using the Pete Carroll tree of defenses, it’s a tad different. In this over front, the defensive end to the far right lined up over the tight end, is responsible for 2 gaps. As is the shaded 1 technique. This is & the next diagram is what Charger fans can get used to seeing in a base defense next year.

Teams that have dominant “3 techs” run over fronts. The Rams and Aaron Donald. Tampa Bay & Gerald McCoy. Some of the top defensive tackles in the league are featured in over fronts. Guys that you likely want to double but are so quick off the ball or so strong that they’re going to win their match-ups. Malik Jackson the last couple years has thrived in this role as well. I mentioned at the beginning if you’re going to be multiple up front, you better have moveable pieces.

The good news is the Chargers have the ultimate piece in Bosa, who can line up at any of these front 4 positions and excel. Bosa would wreck shop if he played 40% of his snaps as a 3-tech. He’s quicker, stronger, and better with his hands than the majority of guards. He’ll be able to out-athlete most and win with technique on the rest. Putting him as the “base end” head up on the tight end, limits his impact, as does putting him weak-side. In an over front you want your best player smack dab in the middle, that’s what I’d do with Bosa.

The other big change is the linebacker duties. In an under front your Sam LB is rolled up on the line of scrimmage. In an over front you can expect all 3 backers to be 3-4 yards off the line of scrimmage. I also think this is a good situation to move Brown to the strong-side. I think the “run and chase” linebacker is overrated by most, even coaches. I want my best players on the strong side, especially if they’d be protected. Again, the Sam LB here has the most ground to cover as well. Who better to do that?

From left to right:

Leo-Ingram

Will-Perry/Toomer(it’ll be Brown)

1t-Mebane

Mike-Perryman

3t-Bosa

Sam-Brown(it’ll be Perry/Toomer)

Base end-Emanuel

Another twist is that the base end under this scheme the Carroll coaching tree is a “jumbo” base end that 2-gaps. In previous years that is, anyways.

Jags fans were quick to assume that Bradley would ruin Bosa by making him be the 2-gap end but you’d have to be really short-sided to limit him to that role. Since we’re going by how the roster is currently constructed my guess would be Damion Square in this role. The issue with the jumbo end is teams have been able to throw on Bradley’s defenses because they left the end 1-on-1 and focused on the other pass rushers. If he scrapped the whole 2-gap idea altogether, that would be great. We’ve seen how bad it can be the last few years that when players aren’t the aggressor. You also limit your athletes when you don’t let them “just play.” We will see how it works.

This is just a general guide of what to expect from Bradley up front. Next up, we’ll go over what the change means in coverage for the back 7.