Throughout the scrimmages with the 49ers, the LA Chargers' defense has looked fairly good with multiple interceptions on quarterbacks Jimmy Garoppolo and Trey Lance. Derwin James has his own pick-six that went viral yesterday.
Garoppolo will likely play one or two drives against the Chargers. Then, it'll be the Lance show as Brandon Staley's defense gets their first real opportunity to take on a true dual-threat quarterback. Expect Lance to play a lot considering that the 49ers cut former first-round draft pick Josh Rosen this week.
Under Gus Bradley last year, the Chargers' defense struggled mightily with quarterbacks that could run. The Chargers allowed the ninth-most quarterback rushing yards per game in the league.
Trey Lance's dual-threat ability is a great test for the LA Chargers defense.
Allowing 21.4 QB rush yards per game may not seem like a lot on paper. Digging into each individual performance gives us some more context though. In Joe Burrow's rookie debut, he had eight rushes for 46 yards and a touchdown.
Week 2 was worse against Patrick Mahomes. The Chargers allowed 54 yards on the ground from six quarterback rushes. During the 2019 Mexico game, Mahomes put up five rushes for 59 yards. Instead of using a QB spy, Bradley always seemed to leave holes in the defense that became problematic. Burrow and Mahomes aren't even necessarily that athletic with their legs and were still able to make the defense pay.
In a late-season game against the Raiders, the Chargers actually did a pretty good job at containing Josh Jacobs. He had just 76 yards on 26 carries. On the other hand, quarterback Marcus Mariota had nine carries for 88 yards and a touchdown without even being the starter prior to the game.
Cam Newton had 48 yards and two rushing touchdowns against the Chargers while Denver's Drew Lock scored on a rush. By now, I think you get the point. While the Chargers didn't have a top-tier rushing defense, they seemed to struggle more relative to dual-threat quarterbacks than running backs.
Quite a few of these plays, like the Raiders touchdown above, also came on third down. Simply put, it's just a backbreaker for the defense when they do mostly everything right but aren't well-positioned for the QB run (planned or unplanned).
Lance is as dual-threat as dual-threat gets. In a 16 game 2019 season, Lance put up 1100 yards on 6.5 YPC. The pandemic limited North Dakota State to just a single game in the 2020 campaign. In that one game, the third overall pick in the 2021 draft had a casual 15 rushes for 143 yards and two touchdowns.
The asterisk on all of this of course is well, it's the preseason. A good performance against Lance and second/third stringers doesn't suddenly mean that a previously porous quarterback run defense is fixed. But it's all about building habits for the regular season at this point. The linebacker group came out firing last week against the Rams and it'd be cool to see them follow it up that effort here.
I'd also argue that the Chargers face more mobile/dual-threat quarterbacks in 2021 than they did in 2020, Dak Prescott and Patrick Mahomes can certainly move despite not necessarily being speedsters.
Cam Newton, Jalen Hurts, Tyrod Taylor (or perhaps Deshaun Watson), Lamar Jackson, and Baker Mayfield are some other quarterbacks that probably will start against the Chargers in their teams' respective weeks. Daniel Jones may not be thought of as a running quarterback, but he had the seventh-most quarterback rushing yards in the league last season.
The Chargers have to start tuning up their defense against rushing quarterbacks in the preseason. Lance will play in a majority of the game for the Niners in preseason Week 2. It's also possible that Seattle plays Russell Wilson for a drive or two in the traditional third "dress rehearsal" preseason game.