The San Diego Chargers’ secondary has been tested early and often through the first five games of the season. Though their 2-3 record suggests otherwise, the banged-up unit led by Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett has fared extremely well against the NFL’s top receiving talent.
The Chargers began the season at home against the Detroit Lions and their All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson finished third in the NFL in receiving in 2013 and fell out of the top ten in 2014 despite recording over 1,077 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. San Diego allowed Johnson one catch on the first drive of the game and one catch on the last drive of the game. At the end of the day:
Calvin Johnson: 2 catches for 39 yards.
The very next week, the Chargers traveled to Cincinnati to face the Bengals and their All-Pro wide receiver A.J. Green. Green is currently fourth in the NFL in receiving yards with 495, adding three touchdowns. He did have a touchdown reception on a perfectly thrown ball in the back of the end zone. Aside from that score, Green only touched the ball three other times. At the end of the day:
A.J. Green: 4 catches for 45 yards and one touchdown.
In Week 5 before a prime-time audience on Monday Night Football, San Diego welcomed Antonio Brown and the Pittsburgh Steelers. The All-Pro Brown finished 2014 as the number one receiver in the NFL with over 1,600 yards, and is third in the league this season with 523 receiving yards after five games. In the prime-time tilt, Brown was held to three receptions for a paltry 45 yards. At the end of the day:
Antonio Brown: 3 catches for 45 yards.
This is a great sign for a team that is once again beset by injuries in the secondary and the offensive line. Both Flowers and Verrett have missed critical game action. When they’re on the field, they have proven to be exceptional at shadowing the best wide receivers the game has to offer.
At the present time, San Diego owns the ninth-ranked passing defense in the league at 218 yards passing allowed per contest. Through three weeks, Green had been allowed the most catches with four and Bengals wideout Marvin Jones had the most receiving yards with 48. In the Week 4 overtime thriller against Cleveland, the Chargers allowed six passes for 79 yards to the Browns best wide receiver, Travis Benjamin.
In the soul-crushing Monday Night Chargers loss, Steelers’ wideout Marcus Wheaton caught only one pass. Wheaton shook off Flowers with a double move that resulted in a 72-yard touchdown. No Steelers’ wide receiver caught any more than three balls. At the end of the day:
Most yards allowed to a wide receiver: 79
Most catches allowed to a wide receiver: 6
Most receiving yards allowed regardless of position: 85 (RB Duke Johnson, Cleveland)
No player has had a 100-yard receiving day against San Diego.
Only one quarterback, Cleveland’s Josh McCown, has thrown for over 300 yards against the Bolts.
The Chargers three losses can be attributed to many things. Injuries, turnovers, clock management and play calling can be named among the various reasons. A weak secondary is not one of those reasons. Dropped interceptions can definitely be added to the list. In the Pittsburgh game alone, three interceptions were dropped, two of which had a clear path to the end zone. Dropped picks were among a list of other missed opportunities that cost San Diego a win against Cincinnati as well.
This bodes well for a team that has more elite receivers on the horizon. San Diego will travel to Green Bay (Randall Cobb) in Week 6 and still has two games against Denver (Demaryius Thomas) remaining.
There is also a trio of rising stars the Chargers secondary will face with Jacksonville (Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns) and two games against Oakland (Amari Cooper). If the Bolts can continue to keep bottling the opposition’s best weapons, the Chargers will win more games and be in prime position to challenge for the AFC West title.
Keep in mind, the remainder of the schedule after the game against the Packers is very favorable for the Chargers.
It is not over yet, BoltFam.
What do you think Bolt Nation? Encouraged or discouraged?
Leave your thoughts in the remarks below.
The Greg One
The San Diego Chargers look to improve a defense that ranked 10th in total defense (4th vs. pass, 26th vs. run). Of the Chargers’ five draft picks, four were made on defense. Today we’ll take a look at the cornerback position and how the Bolts will look to improve on a pass defense that received little support in the form of a pass rush from the front-seven. Here’s a look at who the Chargers have in camp at the present time:
Brandon Flowers: The 29-year-old made an instant impact after he signed last offseason after being released by Kansas City in a cost-cutting move. He made the most of his one-year ‘prove it’ contract, and re-signed with the Chargers on a four-year, $36 million deal.
According to Pro Football Focus, Flowers was the number one cornerback in the NFL for the first eight weeks of the season before he missed games with numerous injuries including concussion, groin and ankle maladies. He managed to perform in 14 of the Chargers 16 games despite being banged up, recording 52 tackles (48 solo), three interceptions and 10 passes defensed. Now entering his eighth season, Flowers looks forward to continuing his ‘big brother’ role to the Bolts’ young group of cornerbacks.
Jason Verrett: The 2014 first-round draft pick was having an excellent season opposite Flowers until his year was cut short by a torn labrum in week six. The resilient rookie tried to return in week eight against Peyton Manning and the Broncos, but only succeeded in aggravating the injury. The Chargers placed him on IR after week 10.
Flowers and Verrett ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the Pro Football Focus cornerback ratings while they played together. Losing both, at times, forced others to step up and fill some “large shoes.” Verrett compiled 19 tackles (18 solo), one dramatic, game-saving, late fourth quarter interception versus Oakland and four passes defensed in six games. A healthy Verrett is going to greatly improve the secondary and he is most likely to man the right corner position opposite Flowers.
Patrick Robinson: A 2010 first-round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints, Patrick Robinson signed a one-year contract with San Diego in March. In five seasons, he’s logged 180 tackles (150 solo), one sack, nine interceptions with one forced fumble and 46 passes defensed. Robinson bounced back strong in 2014 after rupturing his patellar tendon in week 2 and missing the rest of the 2013 season.
Last season, Robinson defensed 11 passes with two interceptions and 39 tackles. Robinson also found his way into New Orleans head coach Sean Paytons’ doghouse as he was benched repeatedly. Hopefully, his tenure in San Diego can mirror the second chance Brandon Flowers received. He will be the leading candidate for the number three cornerback in the rotation at this point. It is worth noting that after struggling on the outside, he picked up his play once given the opportunity to play the nickel-spot in the New Orleans’ defense. Robinson may end up be a sleeper signing for the Charger defense.
Steve Williams: Looking to get his career on track, Williams finally found the field in 2014 after missing all of the 2013 season with a pectoral injury. He played in 13 games, recording 10 tackles with two passes defensed. Drafted by the Chargers alongside his college teammate Keenan Allen, the Cal Bear got onto the Chargers radar after exhibiting freakish athleticism at the combine with 4.25 speed in the 40, 10’8″ broad jump and 40.5 inch vertical jump. The Chargers still hold out hope that their 2013 fifth-round choice can fully apply his skills and stay on the field. He should see an opportunity to compete with Robinson for the nickel role, and continue to see snaps on special teams. His speed makes him an asset on both defense and special teams.
Chris Davis: Entering his second year out of Auburn, Davis played in 12 games for the Chargers, contributing mostly on special teams. The team found value in Davis in the kickoff return game, where he averaged 25.1 yards on 19 returns. After assuming those duties in the November 2nd Dolphins’ game, Davis may have found his role as the team’s return specialist. Known for what will arguably stand as the greatest return in college football history in the 2013 Iron Bowl, Davis looks to repeat his success in San Diego while also playing more on defense. Davis has shown flashes of playmaking capability, and he can be an important piece to a championship team if he can sustain his health and continue to improve in 2015.
Craig Mager: When the team’s 2015 third-round draft pick name was announced on day two of the draft, it came with a collective chorus of “Craig Who” on social media and team message boards. But fans, and the league, will soon know his name. The Chargers are very high on the Texas State cornerback. At the combine, Mager ran a 4.44 in the 40, broad-jumped 10’10” and had a 38-inch vertical jump. Mager developed a reputation as an aggressive tackler in the secondary while in college, as he was named to the second team All-Sun Belt Conference for 2014. If he can adjust to the immense jump in talent from a mid-major conference in college football to the elite level of the NFL, Mager will pay dividends sooner rather than later.
Richard Crawford: A new face that will be ready for action, Oceanside native Richard Crawford is a third-year pro. Originally a seventh-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins in the 2012 NFL Draft, Crawford had a successful season culminating with an interception of Tony Romo in week 17; one that clinched the Redskins a playoff spot. His momentum came to an abrupt halt, as he suffered ACL and LCL injuries in the 2013 preseason that caused him to miss the entire season.
Crawford was eventually cut by the Redskins, and then added to the Chargers’ practice squad in week nine of last season. In his one season in Washington, Crawford recorded 18 tackles (13 solo), two passes defensed, one fumble recovery, one interception and also contributed on special teams. His 64-yard punt return against Baltimore secured the field position needed to kick a game-winning field goal. As a result, the ‘Skins got the overtime win over their in-state rival. Crawford will provide healthy competition for cornerback and punt return duties.
Greg Ducre: Still looking to make an impact, Ducre is a second-year pro out of Washington. Last season, Ducre signed with the Chargers as an undrafted free agent. He was signed off the practice squad by the Washington Redskins. In a two-month span, he played one regular season game and was then released by Washington the next day. The Chargers then re-signed Ducre to the active roster where he has remained ever since.
Ducre adds a much-needed speed element to the Chargers secondary. At Washington’s pro day, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.32 and 4.34 seconds. He recorded a 35-inch vertical jump and 10’6″ broad jump. In the one game he played for Washington against San Francisco, he recorded an interception of Colin Kaepernick. His athleticism speaks for itself. But can he do it if called upon to do so in San Diego? Ducre faces an uphill battle to find his way onto the roster.
Manuel Asprilla: The undrafted free agent out of Boston College did not miss a game after getting to play three games into his freshman season at BC. A tackling machine, gathering 201 tackles (142 solo) and 15 tackles for loss. Asprilla had four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 23 passes defensed over his collegiate career. It will be a long shot for Asprilla to make the 53-man roster, but the Chargers have a long history of finding undrafted free agent gems. Practice squad is always a possibility.
This crop of cornerbacks has a boom-or-bust feel to them. If Flowers and Verrett can stay healthy all season, they can again be an upper top-10 tandem that could give the Chargers a legitimate top-10 defense. With a year of experience in the system, it stands to reason, that both will be even better than last season. San Diego missed the playoffs by one game last season. That tandem could have made up that one game.
Robinson was a great signing and will contribute right away. The rest of the field are all athletic freaks with speed to burn and off-the-charts leaping ability. When you consider the fact the Bolts don’t have a single member of the secondary that stands six-feet-tall or better, physically gifted athletes are a necessity when you look around the league at the tall, fast wideouts in the league now.
This is a group that will be charged with facing the best receiver in the league, Calvin Johnson, in week one. In week two, they will have to cover A. J. Green. They stand 6’5″ and 6’4″ and run 4.35 & 4.5 respectively. Add in a double shot of Demaryius Thomas, plus Jordy Nelson (both 6’3″), and it’s easy to see the Chargers’ secondary will be tested all season. Paired with Eric Weddle and the group of safeties he leads, the Bolts will boast a formidable secondary; if they can stay healthy and improve on their woeful takeaway totals (seven interceptions, one safety, 11 fumble recoveries).
This is a group that is full of promise, but can they deliver? What do you think Bolt Nation?
The Greg One
More often than not, the will of a person to achieve success comes from their inner desire to be the best. By nature people want to win, to be the first to do…anything. Eddie Royal and Malcom Floyd showed everyone their will and crushed all the doubters with their performances last season. Keenan Allen, many of whom labeled him to be the Chargers number one receiver, did not have the type of season most thought he would have. Is he able to be the frontman of the Bolts receiving core or are the Chargers in dire need to bring in a receiver who would be the clear-cut number one guy? Perhaps the more realistic explanation for Allen’s shortcomings, was primarily due to his inability to get separation in the milliseconds that Philip Rivers had in the pocket. With Eddie Royal’s future not yet known, fans have been voicing for San Diego to bring in a super star receiver.
In theory, adding a young and/or established top wide out to play along with our current receivers, might provide a boost to an offense that sputtered in the second half of last season. However, do the Bolts really need to spend a big chunk of change on a free agent wide out – or a top draft pick – that potentially could not live up to expectations, i.e. Robert Meachem, or perchance spend time on the injured reserve?
Around the NFL there are unequivocal wide receivers who are their teams #1. Here are a few of them in no particular ranking order:
Calvin Johnson – Detroit Lions
Julio Jones – Atlanta Falcons
Dez Bryant – Dallas Cowboys
A.J. Green – Cincinnati Bengals
Brandon Marshall – Chicago Bears
Antonio Brown – Pittsburgh Steelers
Looking at this list, it would be phenomenal if one of those players bore the lightning bolt insignia. What magic could happen when any one of these players was on the receiving end of a Rivers pass!! Now awaken from the dream of pairing Rivers to any of those, and wipe away the drool thinking about them on any fantasy football team. Let’s look at reality and what those players’ teams have done.
Over the past three seasons, Detroit has a combined record of 22-26 with one playoff appearance; losing to the Cowboys in the Wild Card round last year. Atlanta had gone 23-25 in that span with one playoff appearance; making it to the Conference Championship in 2012. The Bears showcase a record of 25-25 with no playoff games.
Conversely, those with winning records in the past three seasons are the Cowboys, Steelers and Bengals. Dallas sported a 28-20 record and went to the playoffs once; last season losing to the Packers in the Divisional Playoff game. Pittsburgh’s mark is 28-21 with a lone playoff entrance – last season in which they lost to Baltimore in the Wild Card round. Cincinnati, on the other hand, exhibited a 31-16 record and played in the playoffs in all three seasons; losing in the Wild Card round each time. If you noticed, not one of those teams played for the NFL title.
“When a team outgrows individual performance and learns team confidence, excellence becomes a reality.” – Joe Paterno
Here is a list of the Super Bowl participants over the last three seasons: Seattle Seahawks, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens. Outside of Demaryius Thomas of Denver, do you see any teams that have that clear-cut, top 10 wide receiver on those rosters?
Specifically looking at the New England Patriots, and recent Super Bowl Champion team, they don’t have a top-tier receiver. Julian Edelman and Brandon LaFell are good receivers, but would you take any of them over Allen, Floyd or Royal? What the Patriots have vested in is a solid front line unit that is there to not only create lanes for their running backs, but to protect Tom Brady and give him the time to pick apart defenses. In my opinion, it does not matter who is out there catching passes from Brady, because he is given enough time to watch the receivers run their routes and hit them in stride. Of course in addition to that, they have a solid defensive unit; put those two things together and you win championships.
“A bridge is not built from one piece of wood” – Chinese Proverb
Perhaps instead of vesting in a large salaried receiver to pair up with Allen, Floyd, and others, the money would be better spent on fixing the structure of the bridge; not just slap an expensive band-aid on it. More specifically, enhancing the o-line will allow Philip to breathe and be comfortable in the pocket. Once he is in that space and is able to step up and follow through on his throws, he will make all of our receivers into top-tier players. In turn, the offense will once again flourish all because we started acknowledging the infrastructure’s demise and built that bridge to a championship caliber level.
(Thanks to www.zimbio.com for the pictures)
As the Chargers prepare for a chilly playoff matchup with the Bengals this Sunday, it behooves us all to take a gander back at what transpired between these teams a month ago in San Diego. Though the weather will be immensely different than the first meeting, the players and coaches remain the same. To what extent the offensive game plans for each team change due to the sloppy weather forecast remains to be seen, but these are the PLAYOFFS…both teams will look to their “money” players regardless.
The biggest stat that jumps out at me from the first meeting is the way each team achieved their first downs. The Bolts made a total of 19 first downs: 13 through the air, 5 on the ground and 1 due to a penalty. Conversely, the Bengals achieved their 19 first downs primarily on the ground. Cincinnati racked up 13 first downs by rushing the ball while attaining 6 by way of the pass. The Chargers cannot allow the Bengals to dictate tempo by allowing BenJarvis Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard to consistently move the chains this Sunday. To win defensively, we must stuff the run and put Andy Dalton into known passing situations. By doing so, the Bolts can send additional pass rushers. Our cornerbacks will have a tough time keeping up with Bengal wideouts A.J. Green and Andrew Hawkins, so not allowing Dalton time to sit comfortably in the pocket is paramount to achieving more 3-and-outs.
Nearly all of the other pertinent stats from the first meeting were identical. If our offense can maintain balance, keep feeding Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead the ball and control the clock with quick high-percentage passes, the Chargers have an excellent chance of moving on to the next round of the playoffs. These two teams match up very evenly and should provide for a very exciting, down to the wire finish. What a way to start off 2014!
In the words of Philip Rivers himself…”Keep believing!”