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Breaking down the Chargers defensive game plan against the Bills

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

If there is any good news following the Los Angeles Chargers sloppy and humiliating loss to the division-rival Kansas City Chiefs, it’s that it’s squarely in the rear-view mirror – and thank God for that. After a full week of practice, and hopefully a whole lot of film study, they’re headed to Buffalo for a Sunday tilt with Josh Allen and the hapless Bills.

As you probably know by now, the Bills lost to the Ravens by 44 points last week in a game that saw Nathan Peterman and Josh Allen take six sacks and turn the ball over twice. This is not an offensive unit that did much of anything well in its season opener, as you might expect from a team that managed only three points, was 2/11 on third down, and recorded a measly eight first downs in 60:00 of football.

Based on what they did, or didn’t do against the Ravens, as the case may be; the Bills look like a perfect get-well match-up for a Chargers defense that struggled in its own right in its season-opener. With that in mind, let’s take a look at my defensive game plan for Sunday’s game against the Bills…

Stack the box

Everyone knows Bills head coach Sean McDermott wants to run the ball, and Sunday should be no different. It obviously gets LeSean McCoy involved early, but it also helps them protect Josh Allen as he makes his first NFL start. The problem is, his offensive line is brutal and, as mentioned above, everyone knows it’s coming. Yes, even Gus Bradley should be prepared for it.

That’s why I expect to see eight and nine-man boxes on early downs. Look for the Chargers to attempt to eliminate running lanes by crowding the line of scrimmage. I’d also expect a steady diet of slants from the Chargers defensive tackles and, hopefully, a focus on A-gap blitzes as Gus Bradley looks to challenge the interior of the Buffalo offensive line.

Gang tackle

As mentioned above, we all know the Bills will try to run the ball early. And, as we saw in this matchup last year, LeSean McCoy isn’t exactly easy to bring down in tight quarters, or in the open field. He shredded the Chargers nickel and dime defenses for 114 yards on 14 carries last season and will look to repeat that performance in front of his home crowd on Sunday.

The Chargers must rally to the football as a team and gang tackle McCoy. They can’t afford to stand and watch their teammates try to bring him down one-on-one in the open field when one missed tackle could lead to a 70-yard house call. The second level of the Los Angeles defense, in particular, has to play through the whistle and bring Shady down the first time, or it could be a long, long day in Buffalo.

Fire in the hole

Aside from a general lack of accuracy, the biggest thing that plagued Josh Allen in college was an inability to identify and adjust to on-coming blitzes. He would frequently misdiagnose blitzes, hold the ball, and take bad sacks in his haste to push the ball down the field – and that hasn’t really changed to this point in his very young NFL career.

The goal for the Chargers defense should be to create an immediate sense of chaos in the pocket by making the rookie feel trapped and crowded on every pass drop. That starts with twists, slants and stunts designed to drive the Buffalo interior line into Allen’s lap, but it also means hammering the A-gaps with blitzes and sending players like Derwin James, Desmond King and Kyzir White off the edges. If all goes to plan, the Buffalo signal-caller should be confused and more focused on the pass rush than he is on his receivers by the start of the second half.

Press on

The Buffalo receivers looked lethargic against Baltimore. Zay Jones, Kelvin Benjamin and Jeremy Kerley struggled to separate, dropped balls, and didn’t seem overly interested in going out of their way to help their quarterbacks. This is a group that played slow on tape and, perhaps even more alarmingly, a couple of them appeared to check out and alligator-arm balls once the team fell behind.

They represent the perfect matchup for the Chargers secondary, which thrived on being physical and aggressive in 2017; even if they weren’t given the opportunity to do that against the Chiefs last week. I’d like to see Gus Bradley let them crowd and jam Benjamin, Jones and Kerley as frequently as possible, daring the receivers to beat them over the top and creating tight windows for Josh Allen in the passing game.

Despite what unfolded against the Chiefs last week, I do not anticipate the Bills posing much of a challenge for the Bolts on Sunday. I just don’t think they’re very good on either side of the ball and I expect the visitors to find ways to speed the game up and force critical errors from Josh Allen in his first career start. As long as they stack the box, gang tackle McCoy, attack Allen from multiple angles and press those wide receivers, this should be a fairly easy win for Anthony Lynn’s team.

That’s my game plan, what’s yours? Let me have it in the comments section…