LA Chargers: The x-factor that will turn the defense from great to elite
By Jason Reed
The LA Chargers have a great defense in 2020 that has the potential to be elite.
The LA Chargers are going to have a different identity in the 2020 season. Gone are the days of slinging the ball around the field and replacing it will be a more risk-controlled offensive scheme that capitalizes on the weapons on the field and the athleticism at the quarterback position.
The one thing that is not going to change is the talent on the defensive side of the football. The Chargers have quietly had a really solid defense over the last several seasons that did take a small step back last season because of injuries.
Heading into 2020, the Chargers are projected to have a great defense and are undoubtedly a lock to be a top 10 defense in the league. However, this team has much more potential than just having a great defense: they have the potential to have a truly elite defense.
What is the difference between a great and elite defense, you may ask? A great defense is one that helps win games and can make teams successful. An elite defense is one that opposing teams are afraid of and can single-handily win games.
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The production from Linval Joseph and Kenneth Murray is the LA Chargers’ defensive x-factor
The difference between the LA Chargers having that great offense and that truly elite offense is going to come from the production of two new faces on the defense: veteran nose tackle Linval Joseph and rookie linebacker Kenneth Murray.
These are not the two best players on the defense, as that honor goes to Joey Bosa and Derwin James, but what they contribute to the team is the most impactful. The reason being is because both guys are going to decide how the team fairs against the run.
The Chargers really excelled in allowing yards in the passing game because of the secondary. That projects to be even better in 2020 with the addition of Chris Harris as well as a healthy Derwin James.
What gets lost when you look at just the passing numbers, though, is how bad the Chargers were in early downs. The Chargers had one of the worst third-down percentages on the defensive side of the ball and it was because they were so poor in stopping the run. Third and longs turned into third and mediums or shorts. Teams knew they could run on the Chargers early.
And that is what turned a really good, point-stopping defense into one that took a “bend don’t break” mantra that did not always pan out. You can only go so far when you struggle as much as the Chargers did in one area of the defense.
Joseph and Murray are important as they are the bodies that are going to be plugging those interior running lanes. Joseph is right there in the trenches and his play against opposing centers and guards is going to set the tone early; then you have the hard-hitting, hard-nosed Murray behind him that will utilize his athleticism to plug the running lanes from reaching the second level.
If things go as planned and that is how this dynamic pans out then the Chargers will have an elite defense. It will be a defense that forces teams to throw on third and seven-plus and against this secondary, teams are not going to have much success in doing so.
But without this success in stopping the run, the Chargers’ defense is one that is easier to gameplan around and one that can be slowly picked apart. It won’t let up any big games, but it will be put in a position where the offense has to win some games as well.
There is nothing wrong with that being the worst-case scenario, which shows just how talented this defensive unit is. However, we should be excited about the big potential that this LA Chargers defense has, not that it has a high floor.