Ryan McNeil to safety? (Getty Images)
What a wasted year on defense, The players felt like this was they year they End up in the top 5, The coordinator thought for sure this Defense would hound QB’s and frustrate WR’s all year. That did not happen; if anything it hounded the players and frustrated the Fans.
The year started out promising, but at that time they were running a more attacking aggressive style Defense, one that they were taking more chances with blitzes and traps. They were bringing safeties up, and blitzing CB’s, so what went wrong? The defense was ranked in the Top 5, and then met up with New England, Last years Super Bowl Champions and the first showing of the Cover 2, San Diego won that game but gave up 352 yards Passing to Tom Brady, but that was ok, it was Brady, he led this team to the Super Bowl. He can pass like that on anybody, Not True.
Week 5, Brian Griese 316 yards, Week 6, Trent Green was held to 236 yards but he still had 3 TD’s, Week 7, Rich Gannon threw for 361 yards, can you see the trend, This Cover 2 that was suppose to have a terrific Pass rush that was suppose to alleviate TDs. This Cover 2 that the top ranked defense in the NFL, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, use to perfection was not working for the Chargers, Why? Well let’s see.
What does Tampa Bay have that the Chargers do not, what is it that is the ingredient that stirred the pot so to speak, for them to be so good? Well first off they have Warren Sapp and Chartric Darby as the defensive tackles. The huge “beast” of men that take up to blockers on each play, that break through the rush even with men hanging on them. A great up the middle rush is essential for the Cover 2 to work, San Diego did not have that, Jamal Williams took up the two Blockers and was great against the run, but no matter how hard he played Jason Fisk just was not the other big body that this defense needed to make the DT part of the Cover 2 work.
Tampa Bay has one of the leagues premier DE’s in Simeon Rice, Rice had 15.5 sacks. His other sides mate Greg Spires finished off the season with 4. The Chargers Marcellus Wiley who played hurt all year and is the Chargers best Rusher finished with 6. His end mate Raylee Johnson finished with 6.5 Rice had more then Wiley and Johnson put together! That does not work for the Cover 2, you need the ends to put a substantial amount of pressure on the QB and Wiley and Johnson did not get it done, On Wiley’s behalf he played the year with two groin pulls and an abdomen strain, but how much did that hurt the team in the end?
Tampa has three Quick and strong linebackers in Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles, and Alshermond Singleton. Brooks is up for Defensive player of the year. He finished off the regular season with 119 tackles, 5 interceptions, 1 sack and 1 fumble recovered. Chargers had Donnie Edwards, Ben Leber, and Junior Seau. Edwards a speedy middle Linebacker had comparable #’s to Brooks with 129 tackles 5 interceptions, 0 sacks and 1 fumble recovered. He also returned two of those turnovers into touchdowns. Leber, a Rookie, had 5 sacks, Seau had an off year playing with bone spurs in his ankle the whole season that might of hurt the team in the long run, The speed at linebacker is essential for the Cover 2, the Chargers had that but were unable to adjust to the scheme.
The Most essential part of the Cover 2 is your secondary; The Bucs secondary consists of Cornerbacks Brian Kelly and Ronde Barber and safeties John Lynch and Dexter Jackson and Nickel back Dwight Smith, a speedy group that made plays on the ball and were sure handed tacklers Kelly led the NFC in interceptions with 8 and was tied with the Oakland Raiders Rod Woodson for the NFL lead. The Chargers “had” Ryan McNeil and Alex Molden as their DBs and Rodney Harrison and Rogers Beckett (for most of the season and then Lyle took over) were the safeties, with Rookie Quentin Jammer as the nickel back. Molden led the backfield with 3 interceptions. The Chargers Defensive back field was also dead last against the Pass and gave up more yards then the Grand Canyon has depth. Lack of a pass rush has a lot to do with the Yardage they gave up, but they were also not equipped to handle the Cover 2 scheme. On Harrison’s behalf he played most of the year injured.
By Comparison the only Essential part of the Cover 2 that the Chargers had that worked is they had Jamal Williams (till he was injured by a cheap shot delivered by Steve Herndon against Denver), Leber, Edwards, and Jammer. None of the other players either could handle the schemes or they were injured. That is why the Cover 2 did not work. That is why your defense dropped from 11th to 32nd in the league.
Now what to do to fix it is the next question? First thing the Chargers need to do is Draft another wide body DT that is not only a run stopper but also a good pass rusher. I personally like Ray Lee Johnson on the End but since his knee injury he has not been the same. He came back with 9 sacks last year but in the Cover 2 you need speed and Ray Lee just does not have that speed. Maybe getting another DT will help him out, but do you take the chance to find out? Get rid of Fisk or move him to back up status. Get Wiley healthy and in a good conditioning program. It seems every year he pulls a groin, but we know a partially healthy Wiley had 13 sacks last year, so I would like to see what a fully Healthy Wiley can do.
Another Move that would work for the cover 2 is move McNeil to Free safety. McNeil has the speed and the hands to play that position very well in the cover 2 and the Mentality that a cover 2 free safety needs, the only thing he needs to work on is his tackling. I would draft another big “Cover Corner” and move Molden to Nickel back and put Jammer in as the starter. Move Junior back into the middle, put Edwards back on the outside and leave Leber where he is. I would also rotate Junior with Zeke Moreno to keep him fresh, bringing Junior in on the Passing downs.
There you have it, that should put you on equal footing with the Buccaneers and if that does not work and the Defense stays as the 32nd ranked Defense then you scrap it and defensive coordinator Dale Lindsey and find something else that works. One thing is for sure; San Diego had one of the top 10 Defenses 3 years in a row and was number 11 defense last year. That is a mighty steep drop to #32, you start with your players and you work your way up. As the saying goes, you are only as good as those that taught you.
I am convinced now that the cover 2 can work here; I believe we can be as good as Tampa Bay. As a friend in the San Diego Forum said, “The AFC West mostly runs the West coast offense, the Cover 2 works against the West coast offense”. I think with a few adjustments we have the personnel, the problem is, is there enough time to correct it. Fans and Management alike are tired of losing. There is an adage my dad use to say to me, “if it is not broke then don’t fix it”. Well it is broke and it is time to call the repairman. You have 8 months to get it fixed, if not, it will be another January we sit through and that would not be good for anybody.
Boltaholic can be reached at: Boltaholic