A Counter-Argument To The Pass Rush 'Problem'

Everyone has a theory about why the Chargers aren't leading the league in sacks right now. Have the coaching changes had a negative effect on the defense's ability to put pressure on people? Is Shawne Merriman getting less opportunities to rush the passer? Is the defensive line getting pushed around?

Where is that tenacity, that aggressiveness? Flying around was what this defense, and in particular the outside linebackers, did well last year. What happened?

Well there's a couple of things happening:

1. Don't look now, but Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman are better.

How dare you say that?!, you might ask.

Well through their first four games of 2007, Merriman and Phillips' numbers are extremely similar to what they had in 2006.

Merriman (first four games of 2006):
12 tackles, 4.5 sacks.

Merriman (first four games of 2007):
20 tackles, 3 sacks.

Phillips (first four games of 2006):
20 tackles, 4 sacks

Phillips (first four games of 2007):
16 tackles, 3.5 sacks

So between the two of them, they have virtually identical numbers from last year. I mentioned they were better players, and part of that is becoming a more complete player. No longer are they one dimensional pass rushers. These guys are playing the run, dropping into coverage, and blitzing a little less.

Merriman and Phillips carried the identity that they were purely pass rushers. Ron Rivera has helped make them better Linebackers.

2. Losing Donnie Edwards had an impact on the entire defense.

Its easy to blitz your outside guys every down when you have one of the greatest coverage linebackers of all time on the field for you. But when you lose a guy like a Donnie Edwards, all of the sudden you find yourself having to drop more linebackers back to make up for that drop in coverage ability.

That's what's happening right now. The Chargers lost about 20 years of combined experience when Randell Godfrey and Donnie Edwards departed.

With what seems like a new set of starters at inside linebacker every week, its difficult to be totally confident that those guys are going to be on the same page with the defense. The Chargers have been getting burned badly by over-the-middle stuff and thats where Donnie Edwards used to cherry pick.

The Chargers don't have that right now, and are trying to make up for it by dropping more linebackers in coverage than they'd ideally like to.

3. Teams know how to attack the Chargers Defense.

We've witnessed how offenses have been successful against the Chargers' D; spread them out.

Spreading the defense out can cause breakdowns in communication and coverage assignments. It also allows the QB to get rid of the ball quicker and avoid the pass rush.

We have seen the Patriots, Packers, and Chiefs all do this effectively, and as a result those teams have put up big passing numbers against the Chargers that ultimately won them games.

So if you are looking for answers as to why the team is ranked 14th out of 32 teams in sacks, think about the above three answers.

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October 6, 2007

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