Despite winning a playoff game in 2013, the Chargers defense ranked down in the bottom third of the league. Most of the scrutiny hit the secondary, but having to cover receivers for ten seconds or more, four downs at a time will make any secondary look bad. The entire defense needs to improve.
The numbers as a whole definitely show gaps in the Bolts’ D, but taking a closer look, they had it when it mattered the most, against the reigning AFC Champion Denver Broncos.
The road to the top of the AFC West, and likely the AFC, goes through Denver. Only three teams beat the Denver Broncos last year during the regular season, the Colts, the Patriots, and the Chargers. Only two teams held the Denver Broncos to under 400 total yards in any single game. The Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers, twice. Three times if you count the playoff game between the two teams.
In fact, the averages of the rest of the league against Denver when compared to the averages among games against the Chargers show that one team played the AFC champs as well as anyone. Consider the following stats table from 2013:
|Denver Broncos Offensive Production 2013 season||Points (Ave)||Total Yards (Ave)||Passing Yards (Ave)|
|2 regular season games vs San Diego||24||346||295|
|3 games vs San Diego (including post season)||24||352||273|
|vs all of the AFC West||30||409||324|
|2 other regular season losses (New England/Indianapolis)||32||420||248|
|vs rest of league (regular season)||40||459||341|
The unmatched Denver Broncos offense averaged nearly 40 points per game against the rest of the league, while averaging only 24 over three games with San Diego. A 16 point differential.
The two other teams to defeat Denver during the season had an average of 32 points allowed, and 420 total yards allowed. The three games against the Chargers, 24 points allowed, 352 total yards allowed. That would be 70 less yards and an 8 point differential. San Diego’s defense, as unheralded and patchwork as it was, consistently defended Denver as well as any defense they went up against.
Consistency. As long as the San Diego defense can play at a more consistently high level over the entirety of the season, it looks as though they know the big opponent very well. Perhaps it’s safe to say better than anyone.
The Chargers lost their top two pass rushers in Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney for most of the season, and the free agent acquisition of starting cornerback Derek Cox was a major bust. Not to mention that Jarret Johnson and Donald Butler missed time and both Corey Liuget and Manti Te’o played the season with injuries. Winning five straight before their season ended, John Pagano and company clearly had something working toward the end of the year. Adding to the areas of need with draft picks and free agency, the defense must be better this time around.
Three of four teams in the AFC West made the playoffs, which made it one if the tougher divisions in the AFC, and in the NFL last season. Going 4-2 in that division and doing what they did to the Broncos over three games, this San Diego defense may actually look worse on paper than it actually is. Given another year together, playoff run experience, new talent, players returning from injury, and several crucial re-signings, this team has put themselves in a great position to battle with the Broncos for the top once again.
If you’re the Denver Broncos, the road back to the AFC West Championship must go through San Diego, twice. Yes, Denver went 2-1 against the Chargers and eliminated them from playoff contention, but it would appear that if the Broncos were to have a thorn in their side it would be the Chargers. With an improved pass rush, potentially improved secondary, and added speed on defense, hopefully these numbers will get even better.
The Broncos’ roster has made some changes, losing Eric Decker while adding Emanuel Sanders, but no team knows this roster and offense as well as John Pagano and the San Diego Chargers. Having played Denver three times in 2013 and bringing back an improved defensive unit, the Broncos may enter the season as the champs, but they are the champs that the Bolts know incredibly well.