There is a lot of competition out there that could crack Brooks’ list: Packers’ Clay Matthews/Julius Peppers, Dolphins’ Cameron Wake/Olivier Vernon, Jets’ Muhammad Wilkerson/Sheldon Richardson and Bengals’ Geno Atkins/Carlos Dunlap are a few to name. With a list that drags on, can a San Diego Chargers’ pass-rushing tandem crack the elite list?
In 2013, the Chargers ended the season with 35 sacks, tied for 23rd in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked them 28th overall in terms of team pass rush grade. To be fair, the Chargers top three linebackers-Dwight Freeney, Melvin Ingram and Jarret Johnson (even though he’s their run-stuffing OLB)-played in a combined 19 games. Defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes did play and start in all 16 games, but the duo lacked a solid presence, notching five sacks a piece. What was a strength his rookie year (8.1 Pass Rushing Productivity, the highest percentage (9.94) of all rookies at the DE position), Reyes’ pass-rushing abilities seemed to disappear in 2013; he ranked dead last out of 24 qualifying 3-4 defensive ends. It was a thought that he made a smooth transition from a 4-3 end to a 5-tech player, but 2013 showed otherwise–or maybe Cam Thomas showed otherwise. Liuget, who played with a shoulder injury all season, underperformed from his 2012 “breakout” year as well. There were nine games in which he logged two tackles or less. In order for the Chargers to have better success, Liuget needs to be reliable and consistent every game.
A Similar Situation: the 2012 Saints defense
Brooks’ put Cameron/Galette in the last spot on the list at No. 5. In 2012, Galette played in 12 games starting in one. He picked up five sacks, forced one fumble and notched 18 total tackles while playing backup to starter Will Smith. On the other side, Jordan, a 2011 first-round pick, played and started at left defensive end in 16 games. He led the team with eight sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. The Saints ended the season ranked No. 30 in total team defense and had the second-worst pass defense (sound familiar) and worst rush defense in the league.
In 2013, the Saints hired Rob Ryan as defensive coordinator. Under Ryan, the Saints completely turned it around, owning the fourth-best defense in the league. Not only that, but they went from second-worst to the second-best pass defense, notching a fourth-best 49 sacks and allowing the fourth-fewest yards. Galette, who moved from defensive end to outside linebacker, became a full-time starter and ended the year with 12 sacks and one forced fumble (he had three sub-par years with 9.5 sacks combined). Jordan also tallied a career-high 12.5 sacks. Galette, as well as the entire defense, benefited from Ryan’s scheme which switched from a 4-3 to a 3-4.
Possible Chargers Candidates
Ingram, Freeney, Johnson and Liuget are all back to 100 percent, which is key to having a productive year. With second-rounder Jeremiah Attaochu expected to be part of the rotation, the Chargers could make a statement early on. If the Chargers were to have an above-average, space-eating nose tackle hold down the line and outmuscle blockers (hey Ryan Carrethers!), there is a chance our talented pass rushers can be disruptive at the point of attack (even though the Saints’ rushers proved otherwise). Brooks said his final order was based on “collective talent, performance and production of the tandem.” So the question is, will the Chargers end up with a top five pass-rushing duo in 2013?