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Hayes Pullard: What the Hell Are the Chargers Thinking?

With Denzel Perryman slated to return the Chargers still want Hayes Pullard on the field. Why?

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New York Giants Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Are you confused by the Chargers’ infatuation with MIKE linebacker Hayes Pullard? Are you tired of watching him miss tackles, blow coverage assignments and struggle to cover ground? Were you excited at the prospects of his snaps being mercifully reduced following the return of Denzel Perryman? Yeah, well…prepare to be disappointed.

Unfortunately, the Los Angeles Chargers coaching staff doesn’t share our disdain for the myriad of shortcomings in Pullard’s game. That’s right folks, not even the return of Denzel Perryman, who entered the preseason atop the MIKE depth chart, is enough to convince the coaches to scale back (or completely eliminate) Hayes’ snaps with the first team defense.

Instead of moving Pullard to the bench, where he belongs, the team plans to move Denzel Perryman to the WILL backer spot, which means they’ll field a starting linebacker trio of Kyle Emanuel, Hayes Pullard, and Denzel Perryman. In other words, the coaches are moving Jatavis Brown to the bench to keep Hayes Pullard on the field.

I repeat: the Chargers coaches think they’re better off with Hayes Pullard on the field and Jatavis Brown on the bench.

This is a puzzling evaluation because Pullard has been awful. While he’s posted 59 tackles, he’s probably missing at least one tackle for every two he records (I’m being conservative) due in large part to an alarming lack of athleticism and instincts. Teams have also singled him out in coverage on a regular basis because he lacks the speed and agility to cover running backs or tight ends. If you buy into PFF rankings, which admittedly can be hit-or-miss, he isn’t just the worst linebacker in the NFL – he’s the worse defender in the NFL.

All of this raises the question: what in the hell are the coaches thinking?

This is pure speculation, but I’m hoping this decision is part of a Jaguars-specific game plan, as well as an attempt to keep both Denzel Perryman and Jatavis Brown healthy. What do I mean? Well, the coaches might be sacrificing athleticism for bulk in hopes of slowing down the Jacksonville running game on first and second down. I don’t agree with it, and I’m not convinced it will yield results, but it’s the only explanation that makes a lick of sense.

From a schematic standpoint, it’s a move that could free up Denzel Perryman to make more plays versus the run. Why? Because if everyone is doing their jobs (I know, big IF), Kyle Emanuel and Hayes Pullard should be taking on the majority of the blocks, thus keeping Perryman clean and freeing him up to attack the line of scrimmage. While that makes sense, in theory, it makes the middle of the Chargers defense even more vulnerable to short passes to backs and tight ends, which was already a big problem.

In keeping with this line of thought, the coaches might also think they have a better chance of keeping Jatavis Brown healthy by relegating him to more of a nickel/dime backer role in which he can focus on covering backs and tight ends. This, again, sounds good in theory, but we’ve already seen Gus Bradley struggle with hiding Emanuel and Pullard in coverage with the base defense on the field, and it isn’t always as simple as rotating your nickel backer in on third down.

So, is this the reasoning behind keeping Pullard on the field at the expense of Jatavis Brown? Only time will tell at this point, but it seems like a plausible if fundamentally flawed approach. While I understand the thought process between getting your biggest linebackers on the field with the base defense, and I can absolutely appreciate the interest in keeping Denzel and Jatavis healthy, it seems like a decision destined to backfire on Gus Bradley and Anthony Lynn.

At the end of the day, Hayes Pullard is still the biggest weak link on a defense that features Kyle Emanuel, Jahleel Addae, Corey Liuget and Tre Boston in prominent roles. While most teams strive to be as athletic as possible at the second and third levels of their defense, the Chargers are going out of their way to get less athletic at linebacker. Frankly, I’d be shocked if it didn’t backfire against the Jaguars and Leonard Fournette this weekend.