In Focus: Chargers D-line
For some time now the San Diego Chargers have struggled badly up front when it comes to anchoring against the run. The NFL has changed from the days when Jamal Williams used to occupy the entire center of the defensive line and plug anything that was coming towards him. It’s more of a passing league today, but that doesn’t mean that defenders can get away with not being able to defend the run.
I can’t think of a defensive line in recent seasons that has featured as many plays where a defensive lineman is blown clean off the ball and often driven right into the secondary or pancaked to the ground. At times it seems that the Chargers linemen are only making plays against the run if they happen to get rag-dolled into the path of a cutting running back at the second level.
Corey Luiget and Kendall Reyes have been the chief offenders over the past couple of seasons. The pair both finished 2013 in the bottom four places of the 3-4 defensive end rankings in run defense, and there’s no sign of that changing given their Friday night performance against the Seattle Seahawks.
Take this play late in the first quarter for example:
Seattle running back Robert Turbin is being tackled for a 4-yard gain by outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, but circled is Kendall Reyes, already beyond the linebackers and moving backwards at a rate of knots. Reyes ends this play in the secondary flat on his back, pancaked by right tackle Justin Britt. In case you’re wondering, Britt has a run-blocking grade for this preseason of -2.6, so it’s not like Reyes has had the misfortune of running into Larry Allen or anything.
The problem is made worse because linebacker Manti Te’o is at his best when he has the smallest amount of trash possible to work through to get to the ball-carrier. If the Chargers linemen are being blown off the ball in front of him, not only are they exposing a huge hole which the linebackers need to fill, but they are likely allowing an offensive lineman to the second level to take out Te’o or fellow inside linebacker Donald Butler.
A year ago only three teams surrendered a bigger average run than the 4.6 yards the Chargers allowed. That puts enormous stress on the rest of the defense who now have to worry about jumping up to stop the run in a league that focuses on the pass. With Philip Rivers back at his best, the Chargers are once again a force in the NFL. While they will be trying to contend for another playoff appearance in 2014, this kind of work against the run isn’t going to help them build upon what they achieved in 2013.
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