While there are plenty of areas for a team that went 8-8 a year ago and struggled in one of the league’s weakest divisions to improve, the San Diego Chargers have placed a real emphasis on critical situations in OTAs. Near the end of halves in two-minute situations, the Bolts really were a bit lackluster during the 2011 campaign.
Head Coach Norv Turner spoke candidly about the stark difference between the team’s 2010 success and last year’s crucial moment meltdowns. He said: "We weren't good enough in those areas, especially on defense. When we were one of the best two-minute drill teams in football in 2009, we won four or five games on either side of the ball and finished 13-3. That's an area we're going to stress."
Clearly those scenarios with the clock ticking down and one critical defensive stop or offensive conversion to win or lose a particular game are vital to a team trying to right itself psychologically. Too many times a year ago, indecision and untimely loss of focus cost the team opportunities to win games. This season, placing an early emphasis on maintaining a certain mentality and keeping the intensity level high for sixty minutes will eliminate those miscues from a year ago.
Much of the trouble on defense stemmed from a lack of aggression or simply a lack of execution as far as pressuring the opposing quarterback is concerned. When a defense finishes dead last in the NFL in third down conversion percentage and allows the opponent to score a touchdown 59.18 percent of the time they enter the red zone (27th in the league), the numbers speak for themselves.
Too many times big plays were allowed in the final minute prior to the halftime whistle and most of those mistakes are correctable with just more attention to detail. Getting home on blitzes a bit more often wouldn’t hurt either and the club placed a definite stress on that area of the roster with their personnel additions this offseason.
The team will be much deeper than in recent years at outside linebacker with a rotation of five players capable of cycling in and out when necessary. Shaun Phillips, new addition Jarret Johnson, team leader in sacks last year Antwan Barnes, incoming rookie Melvin Ingram, and the injury-prone Larry English round out the group of pass rushers that the Bolts will boast in 2012. The ability to substitute without losing much in caliber of player will be vital to the Chargers as they attempt to improve on their less than ideal total of just 32 sacks as a team last season.
Poor play on the corners also attributed to some of the club’s struggles a season ago to get off of the field on third down. Quentin Jammer had a down year and Antoine Cason showed that he might not be of starter quality. Very little was done to address that area of the secondary, but the safety position should see some immediate returns as Eric Weddle looked strong a year ago and Brandon Taylor’s addition could be just what this team needed to regain its swagger on defense.
In the end, many believe that the Chargers’ success hinges on Norv Turner’s ability to not screw things up as usual. That may be a bit too harsh of a criticism, but Turner’s timid, predictable play calling along with a similar lack of aggression on defense led to a down year for the Bolts in 2011. If Turner can return this team to a balanced offensive attack feeding the ball to Ryan Mathews when necessary and letting Philip Rivers take chances when warranted, the offense should be just fine. The promotion of John Pagano to the defensive coordinator role should alleviate the lack of aggression from Greg Manusky a season ago which will be half of the battle on the defensive side of the ball.
In the end, the players play and the coaches coach, but it’s their combined efforts that result in wins and losses. If the two entities can be cohesive and work together as one during the 2012 campaign, the Chargers look like a team ready to bounce back from back to back disappointing years. Eliminating those critical mental errors will be vital to facilitating the rebound year that the team is looking to have. Hopefully this newfound emphasis in OTAs will help to make the players more aware during in-game situations and produce better results when the time comes.
Now it’s your turn. Do you feel that critical mistakes at crucial times cost the Bolts some victories in 2011? Can a focus on these situations in preparation make the difference between wins and losses in the coming season? Do you expect more pressure and more sacks from the Chargers’ defense this year? Will Norv Turner be able to stay out of his own way this year or will his decisions again lead to fans questioning his coaching ability? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below!
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