Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle (32) and cornerback Shareece Wright (29) celebrate during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. The Chargers defeated the Bengals 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

How Did the Chargers Defense Make That Shift?

Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) celebrates with teammates Reggie Walker (52), Manti Te

The Chargers defense started dreadfully bad this season. Players were out of position and injuries hampered the unit.

The team had used a new combination at linebacker for almost the first half of the year. Manti Te’o was injured to start the year and the team has to wait for his development. When he returned Donald Butler was hurt. Then Dwight Freeney went down with an injury and then Jarret Johnson was down for an injury. We weren’t even sure if Melvin Ingram would be back this season. We found out early that Bront Bird was not a starting middle linebacker. Reggie Walker showed some toughness and versatility and has become a nice part of the rotation. Thomas Keiser was signed and stepped in to become a pass rushing specialist.

Dec 29, 2013; San Diego, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Chase Daniel (10) is tackled by San Diego Chargers linebacker Manti Te

Toward the end of the year, the linebackers starting getting healthy and we added Melvin Ingram back in the mix. Manti Te’o has consistently gotten better and has shown a lot more confidence on the field. Donald Butler came back and made his presence felt. Jarret Johnson brought his toughness back on the field as well. Having all 4 starters healthy at the end of the season has helped tremendously.

John Pagano is able to do more with all of these guys on the field. They are athletic and versatile. Having all of them back also has allowed Eric Weddle to roam around on defense a bit more. At the start of the year, Weddle had to play in the box to help against the running game. Now he is getting a little more freedom to play his free safety spot and is running all over the field.

Marcus Gilchrist started off the year as the starting strong safety. He wasn’t really cutting it there and now he has shifted over to the nickel position and is covering slot receivers. He has done much better at that spot and the undrafted free agent Jahleel Addae has stepped in at the strong safety spot. Addae has grown a lot from the start of the year, but now he has the trust from his teammates that he can get the job done at the safety spot.

Out at corner we started with Shareece Wright and Derek Cox. This was Wright’s first chance as a starter and there were a bit of growing pains. He has grown this season though. Where was A.J. Green last week? You can give props to Shareece for that. Derek Cox has since seen the bench and Richard Marshall has been given the starting gig. Marshall was the starting corner for the Miami Dolphins last year, but he was released in the offseason and we snatched him up. Marshall has been much more consistent than Cox and has shown the willingness to help out against the run. He has been a much more physical corner.

Up front, the Chargers started with Cam Thomas at the nose spot. He wasn’t getting the double teams that the team needed and it was showing. Sean Lissemore was picked up from the Cowboys in a trade in the offseason and has fought his way to get more playing time and eventually took over the starting job at the nose. He wasn’t able to play against the Bengals in the offseason, but he has helped things up front for the Chargers. Cam has picked up his play of late as well. With everyone back healthy on defense and others playing well, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget have been doing a better job of fighting off of their blocks and making plays.

There has been a lot of movement on the defensive side of the football, but I think the team has finally found the right mix of players to put on the field. We are forcing turnovers now. It didnn’t just start last week against the Bengals either. Toward the end of the season, during our run to the playoffs, we have been able to force some turnovers. Now we will wait to see what the guys do against Peyton Manning on Sunday.

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  • http://www.BoltBeat.com/ Peter Thompson

    Our defense got hot at the end of last year, too. Hopefully, they carry the momentum over into next season, and not come out as flat as they did this year (even though I know there were a lot of new players, and shuffling of positions). They can add a few more pieces.. and I mean good pieces. I LOVE the way this defense is playing lately, but sometimes they show their actual level of talent. It could be the difference between a top ten defense, and an average defense that LOOKS like a top ten defense, at times. We need consistency on that side of the ball.

    • Stefanie Smith

      Without Von Miller, I think our defense (when it plays crazy and Melvin is in) is better than the Broncos. Melvin is going to get to Peyton. We can definitely add pieces but that will be done later.

      Right now, they have to play like they mean it and beat the Broncos. Get Peyton off his spot.

  • Tazzster

    I’m curious…. How many starters on our defense, had started less than 16 games prior to the season. And how many are still in there first 3 years in the league.

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you used the term growing pains. A lot of these dudes have been learning on the job.

    It was great to see the safety get over on the deep pass to Green and swat the ball away. Compare that to the end of the Titans game. They are learning and getting better.

  • w1LLz

    I was waiting for an article praising the defense as of late. They have all been contributing. Darrell Stuckey and Andrew Gachkar ( hope I spelled that right) Have also been big for special teams. I think Stuckey was the one to knock the ball out of AJ Green’s hands last week also. I was a huge doubter of this defense mid-season and on. I’m SO glad I was wrong. Bolt up!!!

  • w1LLz

    Also, the difference in pressure on opposing QB’s Melvin has brought with his return is amazing!

  • Trey P

    I think thats the best part. No one can really gameplan against our D because this unit was barely on the feild together therefore not that much film on them. So offenses are seeing new looks from pags they never seen.

    • http://boltbeat.com/ Ernie Padaon

      great point

    • Stefanie Smith

      Fantastic point. They don’t know much about the D.

  • I_Bleed_Powder_Blue_801

    I’m guilty if being harsh about the D….I cringe when the DLine looks like they r wearing roller skates instead of cleats…..got real spoiled when SD had Jamal…..glad they r getting it done when it matters

  • tubbs45

    Pressure and scheme… you can’t run a zone or play man without proper pressure upfront. 54 is bringing the heat, demanding attention which has freed up others to blitz, force QBs into dumb mistakes. Better believe it, he is coming for your QB and he is HUNGRY for a Manning meal… Though removing Cox from the starting line up was EXTREMELY HELPFUL…

  • Mark G

    Blocking and tackling wins games. I love the passion our guys are showing. Great teams don’t stand around when a teammate is attempting a tackle. Those turnovers happened because everyone was watching the ball. To think we beat Peyton and the Ponies on Dec 12th, one month ago this Sunday and how we have improved since then. He doesn’t know what he is in for.

  • joerockt

    It was hilarious reading all the “Fire Pagano” posts over the season. I’ve said it since before mid-season, this defense kept us in many games where losing was only measured by a few points. Pagano did the best he could with the personnel available. He was trying to polish a turd. Now with the last several games with players knowing their role, getting Melvin back and simply playing better, Pagano has proven to be a good D coordinator.

    We’ve got Mannings number. Keep the pressure up like we did in the previous game and we’ll force mis throws and turnovers.

    • w1LLz

      I am willing to admit I was wrong about Pagano at this point, but the defense did cost us games early in the season (Houston, Tenessee, Skins). Our guys were near dead last in every defensive category there is, so people questioning Pagano was definitely justified.

      • joerockt

        Skins??? Guy, we were one bad call away from winning that game. The offense failed more than the defense in that game. Titans game really was more of the same, with the offense handing off 7 or 8 times in a row in the 4th quarter. That won’t get it done. Yeah, they should have stopped Locker on that last drive, but the offense put them in a position to force it.

        Yes, the Texans game was horrible, but again Bolts offense scored zero points in the 4th. Though not much of an excuse to allow 17 by the Texans.

        I think all of this was a combo of bad play calling on offence and too many injuries on D. Couple that with some bad defensive plays and we lost close ones. Good news is that the worm has turned. Let’s see what happens.

        • w1LLz

          All valid points…the combo of the healthiest D of the season and our stout run game has been paying off huge. Having an elite (yeah, I said it) QB at the helm helps. The Skins game was ridiculous in the end and the play calling at the goal line was what sealed our doom. But you’ve gotta admit that the D let an absolutely terrible Redskins team drive straight down the field and not give our offense another chance in OT. That’s why I say that questioning Pagano earlier in the season was merited, but you’re right when you say that injuries on D, play calling and lack of execution by the offense were just as responsible. I was keyed in on only the D’s failures, so thanks for opening my eyes.

          • joerockt

            I think we all know shit coaching when we see it (Norv, Manusky, Ted Cotrell, etc), but at the same time, if you have middle of the road players, you just can’t expect much from them. But when you have a good coach like McCoy is turning out to be (and Pagano), they can find the best in those players to get them to play at a higher level. Very excited for now and the future. Lets hope Rivers can stick around and play at the same level for another 5-7 years, because yes, he IS elite.

  • Sergio Quintero

    They are better defense today then they were at the start of the season, they probably are an above average defense, but at the same time its a defense that can look clueless against the Chiefs’ subs, the coverage can look like a train wreck, and at other times they hold the broncos without point for over 2 quarters, and have one best halfs of any defense in the league like they did in cincy last week.

    The level of aggression and quality of gameplan is something I want to see with more consistency. The positive spin, this team is young they have possible superstars in Liuget, Ingram, Butler, and the last 6 games this team has held opponents to a 16.3 ppg. Negative spin, they have long periods of ineptitude (quarters and full games), where the gameplan is vanilla and the coverage is plain and simple bad. Its pretty clear they still need an infusion of talent from the 2014 draft, where I expect TT to bring in a CB/OLB in the first 2 rounds.

    The chargers have to get a good performance from this group in Denver, a bad half like KC-week 17 and this game is a first half knockout. Pagano has earned the right to be on this staff in 2014, but this defense has to carry over this 6 game run into 2014, and have 12-14 games where this defense was a reason they had a chance to win, not have this offense carry them to victory.

    Final thoughts, they are better and improving, but I’m still not at a point where I know what to expect, and I know they will be good like the offense; I hope that in 2014 I can calmly say they are good and they can be trusted, call me cautiously optimistic for Sunday and for 2014.

  • wiki

    Dude you missed Stuckey, talk about him too, having him there as the 3rd man rotation for Addae and Weddle has done wonders, he’s our dime safety who ran down Green and smack the ball out of his hands and he was jamming Dematriyus Thomas at the LOS in the Broncos game we won, he’s a huge huge factor in why the secondary has become solid and taking away the deep passes.

  • arnie

    I’ll make it simple, “chemistry”. There are lot of new faces on the D or, just new at starting. Toss in all the injuries and it makes it worse. I’ll admit I was hatin’ on Pags, but I wasn’t ready to throw him completely under the bus, because of what he had to work with.
    Chemistry. It takes time to build, to know what your role is. To get familiar with who you’re playing with, and knowing there tendencies. Now they can see what they are capable of, the confidence in their abilities and each other is showing up on the field. Also keep in mind, HC Mike McCoy said before the season started, ” …it doesn’t matter what your contract is…they want the best 53 on the field… and will turn over the roster throughout the year…”. Point blank? If you don’t perform, you will be replaced. Cox was the first to feel this, and I suspect lit a fire under Cam Thomas.
    I apologize Coach Pags. Good job.