The reason the Patriots succeeded where the Raiders failed is simple: experience. Sure it helps that the Patriots have more talent on defense than the Raiders do, but it is their discipline that really sets them apart. That comes from playing in the same defensive scheme long enough to be comfortable in it.
The Chargers are now going into their second year in Wade Phillip’s defense, and although they may not be as comfortable in their scheme as the two-time defending champions are in theirs, they are at the point where they can handle some increased responsibility and flexibility.
One alteration to last year’s scheme that could prove effective would be to show more of that 4-3 look. Even if it is done only five-to-ten snaps per contest, it could still throw opponents off their game, and could also showcase the pass-rushing skills of several of the Chargers’ players.
A prime example of that would be DeQuincy Scott, who has flashed the ability to be a solid interior pass rushers when playing out of the 4-3 defense. In 2003, the last year before the Chargers switched to the 3-4 alignment, Scott paced the team with an impressive 6.5 sacks.
Listed at only 260 lbs., Scott lacks the bulk necessary to tie up blockers, which is the primary responsibility of defensive linemen in the new defense. However, his quickness and anticipation make him a pass-rushing commodity if utilized correctly. Seeing as the Chargers finished last season with a measly 29 sacks, they may be interested in better maximizing the talent they have on hand. It is one reason they have toyed with moving him to linebacker since the implementation of the 3-4.
The 4-3 also seems to better fit the skill set of Ben Leber, the incumbent starter at the SAM linebacker position. Leber, currently out of action for about two weeks after having surgery Tuesday, averaged four sacks per season in the old defense, but managed only two last year. In the 3-4 defense, the outside linebackers are identified as pass rushers, taking away the element of surprise from Leber’s frequent blitzes.
Also, Leber is undersized for his new responsibilities. In Wade Phillip’s scheme the outside linebackers are asked to play like defensive ends at times, which is why Steve Foley and Shawne Merriman both carry approximately 265 lbs. on their frames. While Leber is versatile enough to do well in any scheme, the 4-3 look does take better advantage of what he has to offer. There is a feeling he could be moved inside in the 3-4, a much better place for his skills.
This is not to suggest that the team should revert back to the old defense permanently. The 3-4 alignment was a major reason why the team finished third in the league against the run last season, and helped the team finish tied for third in the league with 23 interceptions.
But seeing as the team now is comfortable enough in the scheme to present opposing offenses with a new look or two, it might be wise to have that new look be the old one. Players such as Scott, Leber, Adrian Dingle and Dave Ball could all rush the passer more effectively from that formation.
Maybe this idea doesn’t make sense to some people, given how effective the Chargers were playing in the 3-4 by the end of last season. But if the Chargers stay strictly in that alignment, then the pass-rushing skills of Scott and Dingle will be essentially neutralized. Seeing as they are the only two Chargers’ linemen to ever post six or more sacks in a season, limiting their productivity is even more nonsensical as far as I’m concerned.
Players get paid to play, and coaches get paid to put these players in position to make plays. If Coach Schottenheimer wants to improve on last year’s tepid pass rush (a given, to say the least), he should allow the team to go back to the 4-3 look for a few snaps every game.
The arrival of Merriman certainly lessons the need, given his athletic ability, but, who knows, maybe such a move could catapult the Chargers’ defense to Patriot-like levels of excellence. And no need to worry, because there is no way a defense starring Donnie Edwards, Jamal Williams, Steve Foley and Terrence Kiel could ever be as bad as the Raiders.