Before writing this post, I decided to refresh my memory on the defensive statistics of a 2015 season I’ve been trying so hard to forget. You can call it masochism if you’d like — you’re probably not far off — but such was the reality of being a Chargers fan this season. The unit, namely the defensive line, was dismal. In fact, if you were to line up the top-70 defensive linemen in order of tackles recorded in 2015, you wouldn’t find a single Charger amongst them.
So, why were they so bad?
I’ll do my best to explain:
Watching our defensive line was a task not unlike watching Season 6 of “Lost”: it had tremendous upside, but an weathered “central” premise that couldn’t quite cover up the gaping holes that ultimately became its undoing. Now, if that sounds like a less than ringing endorsement of the unit’s interior players, then I’ve likely done my job in relaying my distaste for their lack of production.
For a defense to be successful — especially one so dependent on it’s edge rush — it requires a stable anchor to take the pressure off of the players beside him. It’s part of what made the San Diego Chargers defenses of the early-mid 2000’s so successful: Jamal Williams commanded attention in the middle (while inhaling running backs) and forced offenses to collapse on him. He was much of the reason that players like Shawne Merriman had so much space to wreak havoc — and the absence of a similarly skilled defensive tackle has been the reason that players like Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu have not.
With any luck, the 2016 free agent class should buck that trend.
Sporting household names like Haloti Ngata and BJ Raji, the class offers no shortage of game-changing talent, but today, for mostly selfish reasons caused by a sudden bout of Jamal Williams nostalgia, lets focus on the player who most resembles JW: New York Jets defensive tackle Damon Harrison.
Dec 6, 2015; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; New York Jets defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson (96) and nose tackle Damon Harrison (94) celebrates beating the New York Giants in overtime at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports
At 6’4” and a slender 350 lbs, Harrison is a mammoth up front who flattened offensive lines to the tune of 72 combined tackles in the 2015 season (more than the top two Chargers linemen combined). He commanded attention and served as a high-motored anchor to a defense that allowed less than 85 rushing yards per game (for reference, the Chargers were gashed for just over 125) and helped pave the way for the Jets to finish as the league’s fourth-best defense (by yards allowed) on the year.
And while the argument could be made that Harrison’s task was made easier by nature of lining up beside guys like Muhammad Wilkerson and Leonard Williams, one look at the tape will show you that such a claim really doesn’t hold any weight.
Go on. Watch. I’ll wait…
Harrison is a force to be reckoned with – both physically and mentally – something that should endear him to defensive coordinator John Pagano. Pagano likes his players fiery (just read his recent comments about Denzel Perryman) and if you recall, was the linebackers coach for the dynamic Chargers defenses of the mid-2000’s, who were anchored by…
So, while a player like Harrison may not necessarily render the Chargers’ defense an overnight stalwart, at worst, he would certainly go a long way toward bringing a semblance of respectability to the defensive line — something San Diego hasn’t seen in quite some time.