Chargers hope to ride their defense to the playoffs
August 20, 2020
There were times last season when the Los Angeles Chargers just needed someone to make a play. They were 2-9 in games decided by seven points or less. It was a combination of a key penalty or an untimely turnover or a lapse on defense that usually made the difference in these games. The early consensus for 2020 is that the defense will be the difference if the Chargers are to make their way back to the playoffs.
In 2019, the Chargers ranked 6th in the NFL in total defensive yards allowed per game. They had a top ten defense last season despite a disappointing 5-11 finish, which was last in the AFC West division. Where the defense failed last season was in creating turnovers. The Chargers were ranked last in takeaways in 2019 with a total of 14. As a comparison, the Pittsburgh Steelers led the NFL with 38 takeaways and the New England Patriots were second with 36 takeaways.
The Steelers went from a total of 15 takeaways in 2018 to their league leading total of 38 in 2019. The San Francisco 49ers went from a league low of 7 takeaways in 2018 to a total of 27 in 2019, which helped propel the team into the Super Bowl last season. For the Chargers, this will be a key area of focus that will need to improve if the team is going to get back to the playoffs in 2020.
As talented as the Chargers defense was last season, they have added even more talent to the defense for the 2020 season. At cornerback, the Chargers added Chris Harris, a free agent pickup from the Denver Broncos. Harris is a four-time pro bowl cornerback, who started on the Broncos Super Bowl Championship team in 2015 and was recently named to the NFL recent All-Decade Team as one of the top players in the NFL at cornerback over the past decade.
Another key free agent addition was Linval Joseph, a 6-foot four-inch, 330-pound defensive tackle from the Minnesota Vikings. Joseph was a two-time pro bowl starter for the Vikings and started at defensive tackle for the 2011 Super Bowl Champion New York Giants. Joseph is considered one of the strongest players in the NFL and one of the best interior defenders in the NFL. Teammate Joey Bosa called Joseph, "probably the strongest human I ever came across."
Joseph will help the linebackers to run free and make tackles and this is where first round draft pick Kenneth Murray comes in. Murray is the likely starter at middle linebacker and the rookie brings a lot of athletic talent. A six-foot two-inch, 242-pound linebacker, Murray ran the forty in 4.5 at the NFL combine and had a 38" vertical jump. NFL teams considered him a plug-and-play rookie and he is already penciled in as a starter in the middle of the Charger defense.
The Chargers will also get some players back from injury. Safety Derwin James missed 11 games last season due to a foot injury. Safety Nassir Adderley, a 2nd round pick in the 2019 NFL draft, barely got on the field last season, missing 12 games with a bad hamstring injury. Adderley could start at free safety if he can stay healthy.
The Chargers defense is loaded with players who have been named to the Pro Bowl game or have been named All-Pro. In the secondary, James, Harris, cornerback Desmond King and cornerback Casey Heyward have all been named to the All-Pro team at defensive back. On the defensive line, Joseph, defensive end Melvin Ingram and defensive end Bosa have all been named to the pro bowl team multiple times.
To this point, the reviews are positive. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley mentioned that Adderley has, "Done what we've asked and then some. He is playing fast on the field." Bradley added that Murray is," progressing well" and "the linebacking group has some depth." With the talent in the secondary, Bradley is mixing things up and mentioned that Harris and James are both, "highly, highly competitive, football is extremely important to both of them, they bring a lot of energy, they are very similar in that way."
It all sounds encouraging for Charger fans. The Chargers have proven that they have a top ten defense. The next step is to become an elite defense that creates turnovers and wins football games. There are questions at quarterback with veteran Tyrod Taylor and rookie Justin Herbert manning the quarterback position, so the defense must step up or the Chargers could end up last in the tough AFC West, again.
The 2018 Chicago Bears showed what an elite defense could accomplish, going 12-4 and making the playoffs on the strength of their defense, which ranked No. 1 in takeaways and No. 3 in total yards allowed on defense. The offense was mediocre, led by quarterback Mitch Trubisky. The Chargers defense could be every bit as good as that Bear defense and their offense should be better. This is the formula the Chargers could follow to the playoffs in 2020.