Animal Unleashed: How Chargers' defensive line improvements impact Joey Bosa

A ferocious competitor on the field, Bosa (97) is one of the key pieces to a revamped Chargers defense in 2022.
A ferocious competitor on the field, Bosa (97) is one of the key pieces to a revamped Chargers defense in 2022. / Ronald Martinez/GettyImages

One of the most important pieces to the Chargers defense, Joey Bosa will be welcoming a couple of new faces to the defensive side of the locker room this off-season. Ex-New York Giant Austin Johnson and Super Bowl LVI champion Sebastian Joseph-Day headline this new-look defensive line group and will provide some much-need support for the Bolts up the middle.

While Bosa will miss the services of mammoth nose tackle Linval Joseph, who he called “probably the strongest human I’ve across,” many analysts are praising the additions to the Chargers' defensive line. Though Joseph was a favorite in the locker room, he is getting up there in age for a defensive lineman (he will turn 34 in October), so some new blood was needed upfront. 

The goal behind this new-look group, along with the addition of former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Khalil Mack, is to free up edge rushers like Bosa so they can wreak havoc on opposing backfields.

A huge weak spot last season, the Bolts finished with the third-worst run defense in the NFL and had a hard time generating consistent pressure (12th-fewest sacks accrued in the league in 2021). On paper though, all signs point to this being a big year for the four-time Pro Bowler Bosa, who by the way, is a big Attack on Titan fan.

The Chargers' new defensive line is following the 2020 Rams blueprint

As pointed out in a prior spotlight earlier this week, the 2022 Chargers defense will be closely following the game plan head coach Brandon Staley laid down when he was the defensive coordinator for the 2020 Rams. The No. 1 unit in the league that season, the Rams were bolstered by an amazing defensive line that featured Joseph-Day in a supporting role (as nose tackle) to the spectacular Aaron Donald.

Both units utilized a base 3-4 set, but the Chargers have the luxury of having two fantastic edge players to harass opposing offenses. Though Bosa played in 16 games last season, locking down 10.5 sacks along the way, he was without his usual running buddy, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram, on the opposite side. Having Mack take some of the attention away from him will be a big plus for the Ohio State product this upcoming season. 

With the new defensive line currently penciled in as Jerry Tillery (left defensive end), Johnson (nose tackle) and Breiden Fehoko (right defensive end) along with Joseph-Day and the re-signed Christian Covington, the Chargers have a strong group. After some other off-season pickups to fill out the depth of the unit, this group should be an improvement over the maligned 2021 edition.

Bosa and Mack will be the main beneficiaries if this squad can mesh together well and soak up opposing offensive linemen. It also bears pointing out that Tillery, Johnson and Covington all had their best pro years to date last season with Pro Football Focus giving high marks to Johnson

This group might be most talented unit Joey Bosa has been a part of 

Though Bosa was a defensive lineman coming out of Ohio State (he was twice recognized as the Big Ten Smith-Brown Defensive Lineman of the Year), he has made the transition to outside linebacker so he can freely attack off the edge. Since 2016, Bosa has been part of a couple of different front seven variations, with varying levels of success.

In his rookie season in 2016, the Bolts finished with the 16th overall defense in the league but had the 10th best rushing defense. In 2017, the group regressed mightily when it came to run defense and ended up with the second-worst mark in the NFL. However, things changed the next two seasons when Los Angeles finished with top 10 defensive marks in 2018 (ninth overall in team defense, ninth overall in rushing defense) and 2019 (sixth overall in team defense, top five passing defense). 

With this current group, the high water mark would of course be the 2018 squad that helped the Chargers to a 12-4 record and featured multiple Pro Bowlers on the defensive side of the ball. Los Angeles does seem to be improved on paper with Mack serving as an upgrade over Ingram and the core of the defensive line also looking better than the 4-3 lineup featured in 2018 (Brandon Mebane and Darius Philon).

MORE: Ranking all 14 Chargers opponents in 2014

Bosa is also settling into his role at outside linebacker and will be looking for his fifth double-digit sack season which, barring any health concerns, should be just what the doctor ordered.