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Chargers’ poor run defense has returned and won’t leave

CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Running back Phillip Lindsay #30 of the Denver Broncos scores a touchdown to take a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center on November 18, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - NOVEMBER 18: Running back Phillip Lindsay #30 of the Denver Broncos scores a touchdown to take a 20-19 lead in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Chargers at StubHub Center on November 18, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Los Angeles Chargers seemed to have improved their once horrible run defense, but a Week 11 loss to the Denver Broncos and key defensive injuries may mean the opposite. 

2017’s edition of the Chargers’ run defense seemed like a distant memory through nine games this season.

After finishing second-worst in run defense last year, the Bolts had shown clear signs of improvement in stopping the ground game in 2018. Opposing running backs have not been racing up and around the defense like they were a season ago. L.A.’s upgraded rush defense was a big reason why the Chargers bolted their way to a 7-2 record this year.

But after L.A.’s 23-22 Week 11 loss to the Denver Broncos, those haunting memories of running backs thriving against the Chargers are back, and might not leave for a while.

There is no denying Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers made costly mistakes in this AFC West collision, snapping L.A.’s six-game winning streak. But, if Broncos tailback Phillip Lindsay did not excel against the Bolts’ defense, the final outcome may have been different.

Denver’s speedy scat back raced his way to 79 rushing yards and two touchdowns off 11 carries in the Broncos’ upset win. Lindsay’s standout performance included a 41-yard run to the end zone where he burst his way through and around the ‘Bolts defense. The Broncos gained 108 total rushing yards in the game.

Is Denver’s 108 rushing yards a large amount? Not necessarily. But considering how pedestrian Broncos quarterback Case Keenum was up until their final drive, stopping the run could have been a game-changer for the Chargers. Denver’s veteran gunslinger racked up 204 passing yards and zero touchdowns with a 59.4 completion percentage.

What does not help the Chargers re-emerging woes is the key injuries suffered in their defensive front-seven. Linebacker Denzel Perryman, possibly the’Bolts best run defender, suffered a season-ending knee injury in their Week 10 win over the Oakland Raiders. Another stout run-stuffer is defensive tackle Corey Liuget, and he also sustained a season-ending knee injury in Week 11.

These two injuries are massive blows to the Chargers’ run defense. Without Perryman or Liuget, the Bolts will most likely struggle to defend the opposing ground game over their last six games of the season. And when looking at the running backs they will face in the coming weeks, those concerns are justified.

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Although the Arizona Cardinals have been a mess all season, running back David Johnson has played at an elite level over the last two weeks. The former All-Pro tailback will look to continue his hot streak in Week 12 against the Chargers.

After Week 12, the Bolts will face, in order, Pittsburgh Steelers’ running back James Conner, Cincinnati Bengals’ running back Joe Mixon and Kareem Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs. All three of those playmakers are top-15 NFL rushers this season, with Conner and Hunt third and fourth, respectively.

The Chargers’ final two games will see them face off against the Baltimore Ravens and the division-rival Broncos. Baltimore may enter Week 16 with a strong one-two punch of running back Gus Edwards and rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson. The season finale will see Lindsay looking to replicate his Week 11 performance against the Chargers.

With a pair of key run-stuffers sidelined for the remainder of the year, the Chargers rush defense could be looking at a 2017-esque output for their final six games of the regular season.

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