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……