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Three Defensive Adjustments the Los Angeles Chargers Must Make

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

While the Los Angeles Chargers didn’t leave Denver with a win this past Monday night, they certainly came out of the game with some things upon which they should be able to build as the season progresses. That said, while there is reason to be optimistic about the Chargers prospects in 2017, I think we can all agree a number of adjustments are needed in all three phases of the game.

While I’m sure the coaching staff is hard at work identifying and making these adjustments, I thought it would be a good idea to outline a few of the adjustments I’d like to see when the Bolts take on the Dolphins at the StubHub Center on Sunday. We’ll be addressing the offensive and defensive adjustments in separate articles and, as the title of this post suggests, we’re going to start with the three defensive adjustments I believe Gus Bradley needs to make for week 2.

Adjustment #1: More disciplined pass rush angles

While I’m sure Gus Bradley was thrilled with the Chargers pass rush, particularly late in the fourth quarter, I have no doubt he’s working hard to adjust the rush angles taken by Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Chris McCain. Why? Because the pass rushing trio frequently took undisciplined routes to the quarterback, making it easy for Trevor Siemian to both pick up yards with his legs (6 rush, 19 yards, 1 embarrassing TD) and buy time for his receivers by escaping and extending the pocket.

Ingram, Bosa, and McCain have to be more aware of the running lanes they create (both for quarterbacks and running backs) in their haste to get to the passer. While we certainly don’t want to take away from what the three-headed monster does best, they absolutely need to work harder to keep opposing quarterbacks in the pocket. Not only does this increase their chances of registering sacks in bunches, but it should also create more opportunities for turnovers by making opposing quarterbacks feel trapped in cluttered pockets.

Adjustment #2: Less Kyle Emanuel

I know the Chargers want Kyle Emanuel to succeed as the starting OTTO, but it’s pretty clear they can’t hide him in coverage. This was something I discussed when I wrote about the LB roles in Gus Bradley’s defense, and it came to fruition Monday night when the Broncos made a point of creating and attacking favorable matchups against Kyle in the passing game. Jeff Heuerman and Virgil Green accounted for 64 yards in such matchups – and that was in two plays. Imagine what Travis Kelce might do.

Considering the team’s inexplicable infatuation with Hayes Pullard at the MIKE, the most logical adjustment is to feature Korey Toomer at OTTO. Korey is one of the best and most reliable run defenders on this team, he excels in coverage and has proven himself to be an effective blitzer – he would thrive in this role and give Bradley two very good coverage linebackers to work within the base defense. I would also pair Korey with Jatavis Brown when the team goes 4-2-5, make Emanuel as a role player at both OTTO and LEO and prepare James Onwualu to share OTTO with Toomer by mid-season.

Adjustment #3: More Des King

No real explanation needed here when your best and most consistent playmaker during the preseason only sees two defensive snaps in the season opener. The fact that one of King’s two defensive snaps resulted in a crucial Denver turnover only accentuates just how valuable he is to this defensive unit. I would expect Gus Bradley to incorporate more nickel packages moving forward in an effort to get as much out of King as he can. This should help eliminate some of the third down conversions that came so easily to the Broncos and, hopefully, lead to more turnovers. It would also have the added benefit of upgrading the quality of coverage in the middle of the field, which was a huge issue for the Chargers in week 1.

*Author’s note: As I write this, Jason Verrett is sitting out his second consecutive practice this week and won’t play against the Dolphins. So, while it seems likely we’ll see more of King, the circumstances leading to that inevitability are less than ideal.

Assuming the Chargers maintain more disciplined rush angles, find more playing time for Korey Toomer as the OTTO and second nickel linebacker, and make better use of Des King, I think this defense will be in a much better position to force a couple turnovers and slow down the Dolphin offense. If I’m being honest, I could probably think of a few more adjustments for Gus to make, but this is a good starting point and making these changes would show he learned a lot about his personnel in Denver.

What adjustments do you think Gus Bradley needs to make in order for the Chargers defense to succeed? Let us know in the comments section…