This year, Jon Ledyard and I will be collaborating our scouting reports. We’ll play to our strengths – he’ll be focusing on the individuals while I’ll be looking at overall scheme. These reports will be broken down into two articles, one for offense and one for defense.
Our reports for the San Diego Chargers’ defense.
ALEX’S SCHEME REPORT:
Statistically, the Chargers have one of the worst rush defenses in the NFL. They allow the fourth most yards per game and are tied with the New England Patriots for the most yards per carry allowed at a whopping 4.9.
Their five sacks on the season is tied for 27th in the league. Zero of their sacks come from their defensive line which includes talented ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes.
Rookie outside linebacker Kyle Emmanuel is having a nice season. Despite just 104 snaps, he already has one sack, one pass deflection, and one interception. Corner Patrick Robinson has also decorated his stat sheet with a pick and a forced fumble.
Though they have yet to find the quarterback, Liuget and Reyes have combine for 5 tackles for loss.
Eric Weddle is their only defender to play 100% of the team’s snaps. He, Manti Te’o, Melvin Ingram, and Jimmy Wilson are the only players above 80%. Compare those four to the eight Steelers at that mark or above. It’s interesting that Reyes has only played just over half of the team’s snaps.
The Chargers are a base 3-4 defense. They’ll often shift over to the strong side of the formation, like what the Steelers did a lot in the preseason, putting their regular nose tackle as the three technique and their defensive end – usually Liuget since he’s the left defensive end – as the one tech.
They have adjusted out of that when it’s hurt them, the Minnesota Vikings were able to bust off some big runs in Week Three, but I’d watch for how they align. Especially vs two tight end sets.
They Chargers appear to initially respond to shifts but won’t shift again with more motion. The Vikings actually make a terrific playcall here. Motion the tight end to the other side, causing the Chargers’ defensive line to shift down and get the three tech over center. The Vikings motion the tight end into the backfield and have him block across the formation. The Chargers don’t respond to this late motion and the nose tackle is now easily sealed by the right guard. Would have been more difficult to block if he was still the three tech. Adrian Peterson beats the safety in the alley and rips off a 21 yard gain.
Like I wrote, they are a traditional 3-4 but have shown some wrinkles in subpackage. I can’t quantify it but on at least one occasion rolled out a 3-4-4 with three cornerbacks and one safety.
In coverage, they will lock down into man coverage on get-off downs. Third and fourth down. Like any team, they’ll play a lot of Bandit/Robber coverage, switching off the robber safety between Weddle and Wilson.
Here’s an example of them in man coverage versus this three receiver spread side. No one passing off. Just taking their man. Actually got an INT in the end zone out of it.
They are a light blitzing team that won’t send pressure until they get ahead of the sticks. Usually on 3rd and 6+, they’ll stunt linebackers and bring safeties. Outside of that, they are generally a “safe” defense that asks its core guys to make waves. Here’s a safety coming on 3rd and 8.
But there are blitz checks based on certain formations, something every defense has. Blitzes aren’t just generated randomly. They are often checked to or out of depending on formation and personnel. Against the Cleveland Browns, the Chargers would blitz their slot corner versus Twin receiver sets. Looked like they were concerned with the Browns’ boot game.
Blitz checks change each week with the gameplan and the Steelers don’t run many of these sets but it’s something to keep an eye for.
Eric Weddle serves as the team’s upback on punts.
Fake alert! You know I love these. Since 2011, the Chargers have run five fakes with Weddle. All runs with him as the upback. The trend is…easy to spot. I’ll list the down/distance and yard line for each.
4th and 2 on the Chargers own 30
4th and 2 on the Chargers own 28
4th and 1 on the Chargers own 28
4th and 1 on the Chargers own 29
4th and 2 on the Chargers own 28
So 4th and 1-2 on their own 28-30? Prepare for the fake. And hope you can stop it. Weddle has converted all 5. Tough to stop an upback. They haven’t run one since 2013. They’re due.
JON’S INDIVIDUAL REPORT:
The Chargers were hoping that their blend of youth and experience would give them one of the league’s best defenses this season, but allowing almost 28 points per game has certainly sullied that process. The unit has plenty of talent, but has struggled with injury issues and an inability to rush the passer.
Five sacks in four games (T-2nd lowest mark in NFL) isn’t gonna cut it, but the Chargers just don’t have that one pass rusher who can dominate a specific matchup. They are hoping second-year edge rusher Jeremiah Attaochu or rookie Kyle Emmanuel can grow into that role, but right now Melvin Ingram continues to try and make good on his 1st round status from four years ago.
In reality Attaochu and Emanuel split time at one outside linebacker spot, while Ingram mans the other. All three edge defenders are high-energy, physical players, but none are technically advanced yet.
Attaochu has had a solid start to his sophomore campaign, an encouraging sign for a prospect that I had a tough time getting a feel for pre-draft. His hand usage is coming along, coupling with his explosive first step to win the edge.
Great burst off the line of scrimmage, little bend around the edge, and an active upper half to work around TJ Clemmings for the pressure. Based on what I’ve seen on tape from Attaochu, he needs to be playing far more than just 45 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, especially with the unit in desperate need of pass-rushing prowess. Let Emanuel come along slowly and get time as a situational pass rusher who can rush from a two or three point stance.
Ingram, like Attaochu, is tasmanian devil like in his attacks, but is often too much aggression without direction. He can overreact to play fakes, and spends too much time on the ground due to his out of control pace at times. He’s quick though, and makes up for his lack of raw strength by eluding blocks rather than taking them on.
As for the Chargers inside linebackers, I watched a good bit of Manti Te’o, and came away mostly unimpressed. I wasn’t a fan of him pre-draft, and my feelings haven’t changed much. Great motor and solid tackler, but takes tons of false steps and allows easy angles for blockers to get on top of him.
There’s getting faked out, and then there’s this. Several steps toward the line of scrimmage before correctly identifying the play and finding the ball. Hustles hard in pursuit, I’ll give him that.
Donald Butler is a tough player to figure out at the other inside linebacker spot. Aggressive blitzer, physical demeanor, but I feel like the dude has never made a splash play. Not out of position much, but rarely on the other side of the line. Stay at home guy who will make stops in his assigned area, but won’t take many chances or beat up many blockers.
Where the Vikings defense has been strong is on 3rd down, where they allow opposing offenses to successfully convert just 33 percent of the time, tied for 7th in the league. Big reason is their secondary, the strength of their defense. Starting cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett are fantastic man-cover corners, with a physical edge to their games. Both have been banged up a bit this season, but appear to be good to go against Pittsburgh.
I’m admittedly a huge Verrett fan, as the TCU corner was one of my top corners in the 2014 draft class. He might be the most fluid corner I’ve ever scouted, an easy-mover with exceptional athleticism and blink-of-an-eye acceleration. Look how smooth he adjusts to carry this out-’n-up vertically against Golden Tate.
Moves laterally to prepare to break on the out, then adjusts instantly when Tate accelerates up the field. Stays with him stride for stride and knocks away a well-thrown ball. If Verrett had been two inches taller with a little more bulk, he’d have been a top five pick. Kid eats and sleeps football, is a workaholic and will bring it as a tackler. He’s the full package.
Steve Williams is similar to Verrett in that he’s undersized (5’9) and scrappy, with good physicality and tenacity at catch points despite his lack of length. He’s done a nice job for the Chargers this season, even intercepting a Teddy Bridgewater pass in the end zone.
Never been much of a Patrick Robinson fan, but he’s playing much better in San Diego than previously in his career as a Saint. He’s the Chargers biggest corner at 5’11, 190 pounds. If you thought the Steelers corners were small, this group has them beat I believe.
Great hips to turn and run vertically, then the awareness and ball skills to make a play on the football without losing feel for the receiver. Top-notch stuff from the third-year corner.
Eric Weddle is the wild card of the defense, perhaps the closest thing to Troy Polamalu we have in the league today. Weddle will play in the box a good bit, but can also man a center-fielding, single-high role, with exceptional instincts and range. He’ll miss too many tackles for my liking, but his versatility and added value as a blitzer make him an invaluable piece of San Diego’s defense. As smart as Weddle is, he’ll still bite on play-action fakes, a tendency Pittsburgh should take note of with many of the Charger defenders.
If you’re gonna run the ball, stay away from Corey Liuget, or hit him with a double team. The Chargers big money defensive end isn’t quite the pass rusher Cam Heyward is, but brings similar disruptive abilities to the run game. His stack-and-shed is easily some of the most impressive in the NFL for a 3-4 defensive end.
Liuget is just so powerful at the point of attack, that it makes him a tough handle for any offensive lineman one-on-one. Hands are violent and quick, and he consistently plays with good leverage.
Doubles can neutralize him, but most teams find success running at Kendall Reyes and Sean Lissemore, both of whom leave a lot to be desired. Similar to the way Pittsburgh’s defense has struggled to replace Casey Hampton, the Chargers have found it difficult to fill Jamal Williams shoes at nose tackle, as Lissemore hasn’t been the answer. He’s stout at the line of scrimmage, but outside of clogging up space, he can’t be counted on for much. In a 3-4 defense, that nose can be a game-changer, and San Diego simply hasn’t found the right piece for their front yet.
The Chargers have seemingly been trying to replace Reyes forever, but the rest of their defensive line rotation has not proven themselves yet. You’ll see a number of bodies in there, especially on third downs, but not one sack has come from a defensive linemen, and very few pressures from the three games I watched. Gotta start getting some pass rushing production from that crew if I’m defensive coordinator John Pagano.
Quick note about Jimmy Wilson, the team’s other safety. He’ll tackle and bring a physical brand of football, as well as having experience at corner from college and his time in Miami. Interesting story about him, he spent two years in prison for murder, before he was acquitted when the shooting was found to be self-defense. Some scumbag boyfriend of his aunt’s was abusing her for a long time, Wilson went to the house to defend her, he and the guy fought, gun went off, and he ended up spending two years in jail waiting for a verdict. Sad story with as happy an ending as you can hope for now that Wilson is in the NFL I guess, but pretty wild stuff.
Mike Scifres has been the Chargers punter for a long time, and the 35 year-old has been one of the best in the league at his job, but he’s struggled a bit this year early on. Shanked a punt off the side of his foot each of the past two weeks, but can still boom the ball when he gets a hold of it. Has had only one punt blocked in past three years.
Opponents are averaging a whopping 14 yards per punt return and 31.1 yards per kickoff return, so the Chargers coverage units have their issues. They have not have enough speed on the field, as I felt lanes were filled late on a couple of returns against the Lions early in the season.
Branden Oliver and Darrell Stuckey are the gunners, while Weddle serves as the up back once again, a role I believe he has filled for many years there. He’s on kickoff coverage too of course, despite being a perennial top five safety in the NFL. Team-first kind of guy who just loves the game. Oliver is small for a gunner, but man is he feisty, as I saw him work his butt off to split dual jammers against Cleveland. Stuckey takes wide angle to the ball and needs to show more tenacity to get involved and be the first tackler to the ball. I think Antonio Brown is gonna have a shot at some nice returns on Monday night.