Who’s To Blame For Chargers Defense?

Oct 14, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano reacts during the game against the Indianapolis Colts at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Colts 19-9. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Derek Cox has been benched in two straight games. He continues to struggle and still gives up big plays. How does ONE CB continue to make mediocre and back up quarterbacks  look like “superstars” and be the reason the Chargers lose close games? Players need to play, but Cox doesn’t make them. After ten games, I’ve seen enough.

The 2012 Chargers defense was ranked 9th in the league. That was mainly due to the healthy mix of solid veteran players. The Chargers had their problems, but it was easy to see, now as well as then, that the defense wasn’t one of them. The combined playing experience of that starting unit was 62 years. The 2013 unit? 43 years. That drop off cannot be overlooked. Tom Telesco and company made some decisions in the off-season, that may have been good for the future, but not so much for the here and now. When Telesco was asked about the defense in October he said, “…If you look at stats there are four I look at…”, so I’ll roll with that as well.

The 2012 unit ranked (29th at 42.06%) 3rd down defense, (32nd at 70%) Redzone D, (13th at 20.2%) points allowed, (23rd with 1.8) takeaways.

The 2013 unit after 10 games, (23rd at 40%) 3rd down defense, (17th at 55.56%) Redzone D, (12th at 20.2%) points allowed, (31st with 0.7) takeaways.

Looking at the numbers side by side, they look eerily similar. The only thing that jumps out is the redzone D, down by 15% from last year. Encouraging right? Not so fast. “Context”, this is after 10 games with 6 left to play. After looking over the last three games the redzone D is 70%. Trust me, there is still time left for the Chargers to close that gap. Derek Cox was not on the roster in 2012, yet the numbers are almost identical.

So what is the common denominator? John Pagano.

Now the popular opinion is , Tom Telesco let too many veteran players go and that is the reason for the poor play. That is a reasonable assumption with over 20 years of playing experience separating the two squads. Unfortunately the numbers are too close, to support that theory.

Another is the lack of depth, sighting better free agents and better draft picks will fix things. Again if the squad is so vastly inferior in talent to the 2012 bunch, why are the numbers so close?

I have three thoughts on this.

  1. Pagano has been covering up for the lack of talent since last season and we given him far to little credit for his schemes.
  2. The 2012 veterans players experience and time playing together, made Pagano’s job easier. It’s not like Pagano swept anyone off their feet. He was hired for “continuity” sake. Surviving the Manuski, Rivera, Cortrell era.
  3. 3) The “youth movement” on the defense is actually better than we want to admit. Their inexperience, lack of playing time together, a mediocre playcaller that isn’t doing them any favors.

I’m going to lean on # 3. Why? Look at all the numbers, in context. The lack of experience and time playing together can’t be overlooked. Knowing how someone is going to play a receiver and be able to cover their back isn’t something that can be coached. It takes time an reps to develop that chemistry. Yet the young players are almost equal in stats to what the more “experienced” players accomplished last season. Also, all those numbers are consistently below average, which tells me the same scheme is in place.

While Pags “bend don’t break” defense gives up a lot of passing yards, and low points, for every takeaway and 3rd down conversion they fail to make, is another lost opportunity to get the ball back to their offense. The Players may have changed, but the results remain the same. At the end of the day I don’t know anything. Better players will always make something better, however being consistent with a mediocre play calling will only hinder that talent. This unit needs more playing time together to be more effective. And the schemes need to compliment the talent to help them be more successful, with stunts, twist, overloads and press coverage.

Then again? There’s the other coordinator……

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Topics: Chargers, NFL, San Diego Chargers

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  • boltup

    Pagano injuries

  • RZ

    You figure Pags would at least learn something when Rivera was here…He’s gone next year if the D doesn’t turn it around starting this Sunday…and I wouldn’t miss the dude either.

  • Mark Viguri

    Great take but you should have a #4 ALL OF THE ABOVE. It’s the offense that is losing games and a lot has to do with McCoy willing to punt from the opponents 36 and settling for FGs inside the red zone. Unless McCoy changes it looks like Telesco hired another Mike Riley.

    • arnie

      Thanks. Here’s my thing, I believe it’s not one side or the other, it’s a “team” effort that is losing football games. Rookie coaches, rookies, players starting for the first time, new offensive schemes, new OC, coaches not familiar with the talent available, etc. There is a large amount of unfamiliarity this year and i’m not ready to pin it on just “one” area or person.
      We”ll see about McCoy, i know he’s responsible for all this like Turner, the difference is this team is running Whiz system, NOT the one McCoy coached in denver. Inspite of all the turnover in players an injuries this team is still competitive with what they have.

  • Mark Viguri

    Shame AJ didn’t offer the HC job to Rivera back in the day but Pagano working with the talent he has is a pretty good Def Coordinator and like Manusky will get snapped up by another team if the Chargers decide to throw him under the bus.

    • arnie

      I don’t see Pags leaving. They believe in him and like everything else he will get a chance to prove he’s not the problem.

  • tubbs45

    The combo of Pag’s schemes, Zero pass-rush, and our de-void talent Corner backs it just doesn’t work. I loved Jammer but I miss Philips pressure more than anything. I would still give him 1 more year with Ingram, freeney and hopefully some new talent at CB, NT, and SS… (Did I really just say that???)

    • arnie

      Tubbs, it wasn’t working last year WITH Jammer an Phillips. The broncos have 29 sacks and the Chargers have 26. This defense lacks experience an playing time together, and they are still as good as the 2012 squad. Better players and more time to build chemistry will help. I simply believe almost similar mediocre results will appear regardless. Pags isn’t running the 3-4 correctly. He never did.

      • tubbs45

        All I’m saying with Philips is he was the sack leader of the team and it is hard to replace that production. What we are really missing to me is a strong NOSE TACKLE that demands double teams and can collapse the pocket. With Abrayu gone it has really amplified Thomas’ weakness. I do agree that Jammer was not meant for this team any more. But with the ‘youth movement’ there still needs to be a degree of veteran leadership that creates the transition to the younger team. If this teams effort were simply to create a younger faster team we would have never brought in Freeney after Ingram went down.

        For Pags to run a true 3-4 D we need GREAT linebackers and a giant NT. I know that under sells the roll of the DE and the CB, but you get my point. Our OLBs are woefully lacking and Te’o aint been great in the middle.

        Oh and by the way Arnie, great article as usual!

        http://i1276.photobucket.com/albums/y462/staffpicks/Animated_GIFs/chuck.gif

        • arnie

          Hey i hear what your sayin’ we need better players, but who doesn’t. The only reason i put up the numbers is to really make a comparison to what we had last season, to this. And despite what we think about Cam, Abrayu, Phillips or any other LB, the production is basically the same. To not see this isn’t based on facts, but bias. That’s something i’m trying to let go of. This defense is “consistently” mediocre.
          That leaves us with Scheme. The 3-4 is being run like 4-3. Every LB an DL in the same spot and beat your man. In a “real” 3-4 the LB line up to attack the weaknesses in protections. Meaning Freeney wouldn’t come from the weak side, every down. He would line up over the middle, on the strong side, between tackles anything to confuse the blockers. Pags doesn’t do “overload” blitz or stunts. That is 3-4 101.

  • Will

    People who think cox is a bad corner either don’t know football, or have never played corner at any level before. His play proves pagano is the problem. Cox has been a good corner his whole career, but apparently something magically turned him bad. Bull. Pagano runs a system where everyone plays to the scheme instead of their own strengths. That’s why cox appears to be playing poorly. Every cornerback in the league is good at one system. And it’s impossible to play the opposite of what you’re good at. It doesn’t matter how good you are. Look at nnamdi asomugha. He went from being the best cb in the league in Oakland to an underachiever in Philly for the SAME REASON. The system worked for jammer and Cason based on their skill set, but it doesn’t for cox’s and that’s not his fault, it’s paganos.

  • Will

    Cox is one of the better cbs in the league and with pagano gone and a dc that lets players play to their individual talents instead of a dumb scheme, he’d be just as good as he’s always been. People who say cox is a bad player are stupid. And the chargers being ranked the number 9 defense last year sounds way better than it actually was. They got burned all the time lay year too. But knowing telesco, he’ll just sit on his hands and keep pagano. But it’s easy to have a defense be worse when u replace Phillips with nobody, bigby with nobody, franklin with nobody, garay with nobody, Martin with nobody, and spikes with Te’o who is one of the worst lbs in the league by far.

  • shane

    as far as last years d being better than this years…you’re absolutely smoking crack…and the good stuff. the rankings point that out, the 3rd down and redzone. both units have been TERRIBLE. the only reason last years d was 9th overall is b/c they feel behind early and teams were in clock kill mode most of the game. this year offenses haven’t let off in any game b/c each game has been close. what the problem is…who knows, i personally feel weddle is overrated. good player but not a true game changer and he’s only as good as those around him. whether it’s coaching or players…prob a combo of both. cox was solid in jax, now he sucks? wtf? lotsa holes to fill, hopefully the unit can come together, teo, ingram, addae/taylor step up…hopefully. seems like johnson is the only guy who has his head on straight, smart hard nose dude. he shouldn’t be leading the team in sacks shows our lack of pass rush. wright’s a cocky sob (saying he could now shutdown d. thomas…ya right!) it’s like they don’t put in the work they think they’re sweet now. its been years since our defense was a true stout unit, getting teams off field on 3rd down…like the merriman roid days. since then…eh. alright that’s all.

    • arnie

      HA! the only thing that is correct is the “context” of them falling behind, this is very important to ranking as well. Everything else, i respect your opinion.
      That’s why i stuck to numbers to suggest “the 2013 squad is better than we WANT to admit”, NOT better that last season.

  • blu3ny3llow

    It can be all thee above…but honestly I don’t see any other DC making this squad any better…Numbers from last yr. To this yr. Are very similar the pass rush was just a bit better in 2012 but the DBs just as bad… I believe Pags should be given some more time(1yr) with some talent hopefully less injuries before we boot him….many are starting to bring Manunsky up but he’s doing okay due to Chucks D style……just saying though maybe just like Pags too much….either way just hope they keep the 3-4 never been a fan of the 4-3 regardless….. BOLTZ UP

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