Jan 5, 2014; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) runs while being pressured by San Diego Chargers outside linebacker Melvin Ingram (54) during the second quarter during the AFC wild card playoff football game at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Pat Lovell-USA TODAY Sports
As we all know, in OTA’s, Melvin Ingram received the bad news that he had torn his ACL during practice. This was awful news for Charger fans, as the team was counting on him to be our #1 pass rusher. The signing of Dwight Freeney helped to soften the blow, and Freeney was playing at a very high level. Then we received even more bad news. Dwight Freeney also went down with a torn pectoral muscle early in the season. He was placed on IR, leaving Larry English to fill in. But, then Larry English suffered a knee injury, and was put on season-ending IR. Jarret Johnson was the only veteran to stay somewhat healthy, and even he sat out a couple games with a hand injury. This was after he started out the season hot, and was showing major improvements in his pass rush game. This left Thomas Keiser, Tourek Williams, Reggie Walker, and whatever healthy player they could find to throw in there to apply pressure on the quarterback. Early injuries to Manti Te’O, and Donald Butler only exacerbated the situation.
To say that we have had major health issues with our linebacking corps, would be a gross understatement. It was bad luck, after bad luck. The back-ups filled in admirably, and did their best. But, having even just one or two of these guys healthy for the entire year would probably have made a huge difference. I will concede that, if Freeney stays in 2014, I am happy that we were able to go out and get a player of his caliber. Had Ingram not gone down, we would never have brought in a veteran like him, who could show some of these younger guys how to get to the quarterback. An Ingram / Freeney one-two punch would be a beautiful thing next year, and allow us to focus on other positions in the draft. Especially now that the guys behind them have gotten more playing time, and our depth should be improved at the position. However, this season, having an anemic pass rush didn’t help our cornerbacks, which were already struggling. We may have one a game or two more, had it not unfolded the way it did.
When they put Ingram on the IR with designation to return, it raised some eyebrows. Technically he could make it back by the end of the season, but I think we all thought it was a long shot. The Chargers organization did not think that way, and it paid off. From the beginning, there were reports, tweets, and rumblings that Melvin had committed to returning before the end of the season. Up until that point, most people (including myself) thought that he would not be back this season. The coaching staff had been very conservative with strong safety Brandon Taylor, and wouldn’t put him on the field, despite the fact that we had no real answer at strong safety at the time. He had suffered his torn ACL months before Ingram. The Chargers had been very tight-lipped about Taylor’s injury, and didn’t share that he had reinjured his knee until late in the season. So, in the eyes of the fans, it seemed unlikely that Ingram could return this year. A lot of fans were of the belief that it would be a terrible idea to put him back on the field, and that we should rest him for next year. Even if he had a quick rehabilitation, it would be a miracle if he could play after 6 months. It would be an even bigger miracle for the “play it safe” Chargers coaches to put him on the field, and possibly risk losing him to injury for another season.
Well, miracles happen. Melvin Ingram had one of the fastest recoveries I have ever seen a football player have. The ultra-conservative Charger staff shocked us all, activated Ingram for the New York Giants home game, and started to ease him into the lineup. He was a little bit rusty, as expected. But, he started getting in the mix immediately, and had an instrumental pressure from behind, almost forcing an Eli Manning fumble. Ironically, this was when our defense, which had been somewhat shaky before this game, suddenly put their most complete game together. Since then, they haven’t looked back.
The return of Melvin Ingram seems to have motivated this defense in a major way. It isn’t even something you can put on paper, or point to stats, or examples. I realize that there have been other changes on the defense, as well. Butler is healthy again, Cox has been replaced by Marshall, Te’O is getting up to speed, Addae is playing great at strong safety, Gilchrist is playing his usual nickel corner position wonderfully, and Lissemore has raised Cam Thomas’ game. But, I can’t shake the feeling that when Ingram returned, this defense got a much needed shot in the arm.
Last weekend, it was an absolute pleasure to watch Ingram play. He was pressuring Andy Dalton all day, and was a big reason that we beat the Bengals. On one play, he came around the corner, and put a punishing blind-side hit on Dalton. Somehow, Dalton managed to get the pass off a nanosecond before Ingram could lay the wood to him, but he never looked right after that play. Andy Dalton threw multiple interceptions in that game, and Melvin Ingram came up with one of them. Ingram’s sack numbers weren’t through the roof in his rookie season, but he was constantly in the backfield, forcing quarterbacks off of their mark. The Cincinnati game was no different, and Melvin seems to have taken it up another notch, even after coming off of a major injury.
You know who else gets frazzled after taking a blind-side hit? Peyton Manning. Earlier this year, Manning went back home to face his old team, the Indianapolis Colts. The key turning point in the game was a blind-side strip sack by ex-teammate Robert Mathis, which resulted in a safety. After that play, Peyton Manning’s numbers plummeted, and they ended up losing the game in shocking fashion. If Melvin Ingram can do the same thing that he did to Dalton this Sunday, the Chargers will have a considerable advantage. Denver has absolutely loaded their offensive line, trying to protect Manning, as he has had 4 neck surgeries, and is not a mobile QB. Everyone knows that one of the keys to getting to Peyton Manning, is to sack him. After seeing what I saw last weekend, I have no doubt in my mind that SuperMel can do exactly that.
The Chargers have been extremely successful against Peyton Manning over the years, when he was in Indianapolis. Since he has been in Denver, he has beaten the Chargers 3 out of 4 times. But, two of those were from last year, under Norv Turner. This new & improved 2013 team lost a close one the first time they played Denver, mainly because they were riddled by injuries, and were still getting their legs underneath them. Then they went into Denver in week 15, and showed the Broncos that they would have to play a lot better if they want to reign over the AFC West. The Chargers will soon be en route to Mile High Stadium, to face the Broncos again. This time it’s for all the chips. The San Diego Chargers will be ready to show Manning & the Broncos that they are the bullies of the block, and Melvin Ingram is going to be at the front of the line to punch them in the mouth. Manning will likely be hearing the pitter-patter of feet behind him all night. He will be feeling Ingram’s breath constantly snorting on his neck. He will be making quick decisions, while feeling the ghost sack coming.
Ladies, and gentlemen… The T-Rex has awakened.
Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!