There is plenty of blame to go around after the Monday Night “pull-my-heart-out-of-my-chest” loss to the AFC rival Pittsburgh Steelers. Why did this game, that the Chargers were in control of, end the way it did? Everyone likes to sound off with their opinions, because as fans we feel connected to the team. Scrolling through social media all week, I, too, had a gamut of emotions to sort through. Now I think I’m resigned to moving on, but I was sure angry as hell for a bit!
I saw the defense miss out on three GOLDEN opportunities to intercept Steelers quarterback Michael Vick and take at least two of them in for scores. Nope, three different Bolts with sieves for hands were there. Guys, you gotta get those mitts up and haul those in! Sure, having such takeaways is great, and perhaps more meaningful if a DB capitalizes with a touchdown; if they don’t it at least becomes a chance for Rivers and the offense, or Lambo, to put points on the board. Still shaking my head.
Groans surely were erupting when Rivers was picked off. As usual, he was blamed – “shouldn’t have thrown it!” – perhaps that was true though it looked to me like Floyd either didn’t finish running his route or ran the wrong one. But it is moot now.
Then came the fourth quarter meltdown. I’m sure we were all shouting at our televisions when corner Brandon Flowers was schooled on that 72-yard touchdown pass to Markus Wheaton which created a 17-17 tie. It didn’t end there, though. Flowers got beat twice more and Vick was able to scramble his way to a first down. It took Pittsburgh four tries and defenders holding his legs, but running back Le’Veon Bell battled and scored the game-winner.
You’re probably asking why I am rehashing when this is supposed to be about Pagano and the defense. Just a bit of stats and recent history, first.
My apologies for making you all go through it again the day before the next game.
When John Pagano took the reins as defensive coordinator in 2012, San Diego’s defense ranked 16th. They moved up to 11th in 2013 before dropping to the 13th slot last year. Including numbers for the secondary through the first five games of this season, this unit has accomplished the following: 310 total tackles (227 solo); 8 sacks; 23 QB hits; 4 interceptions; 2 forced fumbles; three recoveries and 19 passes defensed. Not one touchdown. They could very well match last year’s total for sacks (26), interceptions (7) and QB hits (47) as about one-third for each is already in the books.
The team lost linebackers coach Joe Barry to the Washington Redskins, hiring Mike Nolan as his replacement. Nolan is well-known as a defensive coordinator and the former head coach of the 49ers. He has extensive experience implementing the 3-4 defense that Pagano prefers. In 2009, he served as DC in Denver while McCoy was the offensive coordinator. Obviously the thinking here was that Nolan could get the youthful LB corps to live up to it’s full potential. To a degree they have. Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu are disrupting the opposing QBs and have 3.5 sacks between them. Te’o has racked up 41 tackles with Butler behind him at 23. Here is something to be positive about: the three rookie linebackers – Kyle Emanuel, Denzel Perryman and Nick Dzubnar – collectively have 22 recorded tackles; Emanuel also has a sack and an interception.
The biggest problems that need to be overcome: penalties and coverage. The defense has amassed 17 penalties for 128 yards during crucial parts of the game. Clean it up!
Next: tackling is horrendous! Wrap up your man rather than attempt to knock him off his path with your shoulder.
Playcalling: Get some safety help across the middle, stop playing prevent defense and go for the damn jugular. The defense must find a way to finish plays at the quarterback, as opposed to just barely missing out on sacks. If someone isn’t performing, stick ’em on the bench and fill the spot with that guy champing on the bit to prove his worth.
Personnel: Has general manager Tom Telesco given Pagano and company the necessary pieces to allow their scheme to flourish? The lack of pressure being applied to opposing quarterbacks has been an issue for quite some time. The Chargers haven’t had a defender finish a season with double-digit sacks since Antwan Barnes totaled 11 in 2011.
This week the team heads to Green Bay as 9.5 point underdogs. I know players on both sides of the ball for San Diego will have their hands full trying to eke out a win over Aaron Rodgers and his weapons, along with a tenacious Packers’ defense. Just remember that the Chargers were in this same predicament last year against Seattle. Will this be an upset? Realistically, it probably isn’t.
All I know is that it is frustrating and disheartening to watch the Chargers keep the ball away from an opponent for a good part of the game only to assist them with that one play or penalty that swings momentum their way. I don’t know what adjustments Pagano, Nolan and Milus (secondary) need to make. But I do know they need to make them, and the players must execute to the best of their abilities, making plays when the situation presents itself. It may not yet be “desperate times call for desperate measures,” but that time just might be waiting in the wings.
Come on, Chargers, beat the Pack!
Thanks for reading.