The Los Angeles Chargers first preseason game is in the books and, needless to say, it provided the team and its fans with plenty of fodder conversation. While the game was sloppy and ended in a loss, it certainly took baby steps toward providing answers, some expected and some unexpected, to a variety of training camp questions.
I, for one, was very impressed with the play of Uchenna Nwosu, Geremy Davis, Artavis Scott, Russell Hansbrough and Detrez Newsome; all of whom outplayed my expectations in some way and added some intrigue to their position battles. On the flipside, the run defense didn’t look terribly improved and, to what I’m sure was the dismay of the coaching staff, Cardale Jones did little to help himself in the backup quarterback battle.
With that game and some key developments under our belt, there should be no shortage of things to watch for during this weekend’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. With that in mind, it’s time to take a look at my list of What To Watch For On Defense Saturday night at StubHub.
Front Seven vs. The Run
The Cardinals long runs to open the game were near carbon copies of one another at the first two levels of the defense. One defensive tackle over penetrates, the other gets washed out, a second level blocker mauls Jatavis Brown, and Denzel Perryman gets lost in traffic (either getting bowled over by the fullback or leaving his gap exposed to chase down a back-side cutback that wasn’t there, to begin with). In other words, nothing went according to plan up front.
I’ll settle for baby steps in one or two of these areas after a week of practice. For starters, I’d like to see more disciplined, more purposeful penetration from Brandon Mebane and Darius Philon as opposed to just getting upfield with no sense of where the ball is. As for the linebackers, I’d really like to see sharper, more decisive reads and, hopefully, a better feel for those big uglies at the second level.
Jatavis Brown vs. Second Level Blockers
I mentioned this briefly in the previous entry, but Jatavis was so bad in this aspect of his game last week that it warranted its own entry. On each of the first two long runs by David Johnson, Brown got caught thinking/peeking and never saw a pair of second level blockers (Mike Iupati and Mason Cole) before they picked him off and ran him out of the play. He was manhandled and didn’t free himself until Cole and Iupati decided to let him go.
While I grant you that Jatavis isn’t the biggest or strongest linebacker on the field, you’d think a third-year player would have a feel for blockers in his area and, hopefully, be playing too quickly for them to pick him off. If that isn’t the case, and it certainly wasn’t in Arizona, he’s going to have to work on shedding those blockers before they run him out of the play. Let’s see how he handles those situations against a suspect Seattle offensive line this weekend.
How Uchenna Nwosu handles misdirection and other window dressing
As impressive as Nwosu was as both a pass rusher and a run defender in his preseason debut, the second round pick displayed some vulnerability against what I like to call “window dressing.” Uchenna was too aggressive in attacking the mesh point of an RPO on one play and bit hard on Bryce Williams as he dragged underneath a bootleg on another. Both mistakes ended in receptions, with Williams reeling in a fourth-quarter touchdown pass.
I’m sure the Seahawks will come to town looking to counter the speed of the Chargers defense with some RPO and misdirection plays so it will be important for Uchenna to show improved patience and discipline when he sees them. I’m sure this was a point of emphasis during practice this week. Hopefully, we’ll see some improvement.
Challenge Jahleel Addae and Rayshawn Jenkins at free safety
It’s only one game, but it certainly seems as though the coaches are preparing Derwin James to play the bulk of his snaps at his natural strong safety position. If we are, in fact, headed in that direction, it means the free safety position will more than likely come down to a choice between Jahleel Addae and Rayshawn Jenkins; neither of whom was challenged last week in Arizona.
I’d like to see both players challenged deep early and often this week. I have concerns about the ability of both players to cover the ground they’ll be expected to cover in centerfield, as well as the speed with which they diagnose and react to plays that far away from the ball. I’m also interested in getting a glimpse of their ball skills.
Defensive Tackle Rotation
The Chargers defensive tackle rotation was reasonably predictable in the preseason opener, with Brandon Mebane and Darius Philon comprising the first team, Damian Square and Corey Liuget making up the second team, and undrafted rookies Steven Richardson and Bijon Jackson making up the third team. It won’t surprise me in the least if that rotation gets shuffled a bit.
For starters, I’d really like to see Steven Richardson get some snaps next to Damian Square on the second team defensive line. Square and Richardson were probably the two most effective defensive tackles on the roster regarding statistical production (38 combined snaps, four pressures, four tackles), and there is no doubt they need to get Richardson ready to contribute during Corey Liuget’s season-opening suspension.
It might also be a good idea to give Damian Square some run with the first team defense. While I’m not suggesting he should start on this defense, I do think it would be wise to get him ready for a more significant role considering the fact that the 33-year old Brandon Mebane probably won’t be here next year and figures to need more frequent rests if the team expects him to make it through a full season.
Brandon Facyson Working With The Second Team
Brandon Facyson had a very encouraging preseason debut while playing with the third team defense. He played 21 defensive snaps, was targeted twice without allowing a completion, excelled in bump and run coverage, and made an acrobatic interception of a tipped pass. Brandon also exhibited near perfect technique on a back-shoulder fade as he squeezed Greg Little to the sideline, leaving him no room to get both feet in before going out of bounds. He admittedly looked better than I expected.
While Brandon played well, much of it came against wide receivers fighting for roster spots at the bottom of the depth chart. By bumping Facyson up to the second team defense, the team would have the opportunity to evaluate him against big-bodied receivers like Brandon Marshall and Jaron Brown, both of whom figure to contribute to the ‘Hawks’ offense this year. It would be an excellent step up in competition for a kid the team reportedly likes and give a better indication for where he should slot in on the depth chart.
And that’s what I’ll be watching for on defense this weekend. I’m hyper-focused on the front seven for obvious reasons – concern over the state of the run defense and the position battles at SAM, WILL, and free safety. I’m also very curious to see how the depth charts at cornerback and defensive tackle take shape as the preseason progresses.