The 2018 Los Angeles Chargers have a defense, and overall roster, to make them a fringe Super Bowl contender in the AFC . But with a run defense that was second-to-last in 2017, the presence of a healthy Denzel Perryman at middle linebacker will be vital to solving their run-stopping woes and could lead the Chargers to extensive postseason success.
Having a deluge of exceptional players on an NFL roster automatically makes that team a trendy pick to have prolonged success in the postseason. Is it an obvious statement? Quite possibly yes. Have there been teams in recent memory to boast a talented roster that fall short of expectations? Absolutely. Especially if they are coming off a formidable previous season.
One team that stands out is the 2017 Oakland Raiders who were considered by many to be a sure-fire Super Bowl contender after going 12-4 the year prior. Combine an MVP-caliber season from quarterback Derek Carr in 2016 with household names such as Khalil Mack, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Marshawn Lynch and Bruce Irvin on the roster, and what churned out was a belief this team was going to light up the league last season.
After a 2-0 start, the lights went out rapidly. Oakland was a shell of its 2016-self, as they went 6-10 and finished 3rd in the AFC West.
This year’s Chargers smell of that same hype-driven elixir. Not saying they will fall flat on their face, but the Chargers need to reflect on teams of this same nature in the past and learn from their shortcomings.
The offensive side of the ball is, for the most part, one of the most complete in the NFL. Quarterback Philip Rivers is a borderline top-10 quarterback that guarantees around 4,200 passing yards and 25 touchdown tosses. The receiving corps is backed by Keenan Allen, who is one of the top all-around wideouts in the league when healthy. He is supported by pass catchers such as Tyrell Williams, Travis Benjamin and Mike Williams’ potential at least. Behind Rivers is running back Melvin Gordon and he is primed for another strong season.
Defensively, this Chargers unit is oozing with top-heavy personnel. The pass rush duo of defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram are already one of the finest in the NFL. Cornerback Casey Hayward has emerged as one of the league’s best interception threats. And if rookie safety Derwin James lives up to his first-round billing, then the sky is the limit with his skill set.
Both units have exceptionally talented players on it and the Chargers are coming off a 9-7 season last year where they finished 9-3. But if Perryman stays healthy and elevates his game to a different level, then the anticipation surrounding the Bolts will be further justified.
The aforementioned pass-rushing combo of Bosa and Ingram are the driving force of this defense. When they are on the field, Los Angeles boasts one of the league’s top overall pass rushes.
The Chargers’ run defense could not be more polar opposite.
Last season, the Bolts allowed 131.1 rushing yards per game, which was 31st overall in the NFL. Only the Washington Redskins had a more deplorable mark with 134.1 yards per game given up. To put that into perspective, the league average for ground yards allowed per game was 109.7 in 2017.
Enter a healthy Perryman at middle linebacker, and the ground defense can improve significantly. The former University of Miami Hurricane has been a consistent tackler since entering the league in 2015. And while that may sound like an obviously necessary element to stopping the run, the Chargers need it immensely.
Perryman made his presence felt as a rookie by leading the Chargers in tackles with 64 solo tackles. Although the run defense was still 27th overall in 2015, the following season was where Perryman’s defensive prowess really made an impact. In 2016, the 5-foot-11 linebacker was second on the team in tackles with 56 total tackles, helping the Chargers crack the top-10 in rushing defense. They allowed just 97.9 yards per game on the ground.
Staying injury-free has been a challenge for Perryman since 2015, and it wasn’t more apparent than last season. The former second-round pick played just seven games in 2017, with Los Angeles going 5-2 when he was in the lineup. He recorded 25 total tackles in those appearances.
What makes Perryman truly valuable to the defense is not just his thumping physicality as a run stuffer, but the simple fact that inside linebackers are the cog holding together a solid run defense. Having a consistently reliable player at the position is usually what divides the exceptional run defenses from the atrocious ones.
Take last season’s top run-stopping units as an example. The top-five went as follows: the Philadelphia Eagles, Minnesota Vikings, Carolina Panthers, Tennessee Titans, and Denver Broncos. What do they all have in common? A difference-making inside linebacker.
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Philadelphia had Jordan Hicks leading the way before he suffered an achilles injury midway through the season, but fellow middle linebacker Dannell Ellerbe was a competent replacement. A healthy Hicks will put the Eagles near the top in 2018 once again.
The Vikings’ vaunted run defense was spearheaded by Eric Kendricks, who should be considered in the top-five range amongst inside linebackers. Carolina has had the luxury of having Luke Kuechly on the roster since 2012, as the dynamic middle linebacker is arguably the NFL’s gold standard at the position and is one of the premier overall defensive players in the league.
Tennessee may not be boasting an elite-level linebacker up the middle, but the duo of Wesley Woodyard and Will Compton is nothing to scoff at. And while the Broncos have a stout defender inside in Brandon Marshall, the mere presence of superstar linebacker Von Miller on defense is vital to their success.
If Perryman can stay healthy and continue to build on two-and-a half years of consistency, then the Chargers’ run-stopping headaches could be solved. And if the Bolts’ blindingly glaring hole on defense is plugged, then they sky is the limit for this unit.