Chargers: Defensive Simplicity!

Marty Schottenheimer has promised to keep it simple for the San Diego Chargers defense this coming year, especially in the secondary where they have a new very talented group of players. The Chargers have already begun instilling their new defense with the players.

Schottenheimer says, "I'd say we're right on schedule, for all intents and purposes, the stuff we're installing now, it's the third time we've installed it. We installed it back when we did the original Mini Camp. Then we installed it again when we started the off-season coaching sessions. Now we're going through it a third time. I'm very, very pleased with our progress, the young kids in particular. They seem to be getting a pretty good handle on it. I don't think it's quite as easy as some of them think it is, but they've done a good job."

Other teams in the NFL have discovered defensive simplicity, and in fact the last two Super Bowl teams both used simplified defenses to get them there. The Buccaneers, the best defense in 2002, was the simplest and also won the Super Bowl. They didn't use a lot of fancy blitzes they just basically lined up the same almost every play no matter what offense they were facing, they kept it simple and let the players react to the game.

Coach Bill Callahan of the Raiders, after losing four straight last season, simplified the defense so the players could think less and react more quickly. The defensive turnaround resulted in nine wins of their last 10 games before the Super Bowl.

Coach Callahan says, "As you look at the top defenses across the league, you find teams that are one-front or maybe two-front oriented and very simplistic in the coverage element. It's coming down to having the ability to execute your system on defense versus everything you're going to see on offense. With the multiplicity of offenses in formations and movements and shifts, I think you have to be able to have simplistic responses to what you're going to encounter. You can get too complicated and out coach yourself."

Some coaches believe in simplifying the offense as well. The Giants lost four of their first seven games last year, and they only scored seven offensive touchdowns during that stretch. Coach Jim Fassel cut back on the motions and shifts offensively, because the defensive players were moving in response to the Giant's motion, and he decided to call his own plays, and from that game on the Giants averaged over 25 points a game and won seven of their final nine.

Al Saunders, the Chiefs offensive coordinator, says, "You can only do what your players can handle. If the quarterback can't handle it, you can't do it. Trent Green became much better last year because he was able to handle so much more than the previous year. And there are coaches who can't handle the volume, who struggle with being creative week after week. It's easier to say, ‘This is what we do, and we're going to get better at these particular areas,' than come up with new and creative ideas every week."

Coach Jim Fassel of the Giants says, "There are guys who like to go to coaching clinics and confuse all the (opposing) coaches. Well, their quarterbacks are confused, too. I want to take this complex thing we do and give it to the quarterback so he says, ‘I can do that.' We can be sophisticated without being complex."

The Broncos', Raiders', and Chiefs' high flying offenses often flash defenses a look or motion they have not previously shown. So, many defenses, including the Chargers, are responding by simplifying — either they will play a conservative cover 2 so the players don't have to worry about all the shifting and motion, or they can pressure the quarterback and play man-to-man in the secondary.

The future for the Chargers defensive scheme was summed up by Schottenheimer, when he said, "In my perfect scenario, we would have two corners that could go line up and play man-to-man, bump-and-run all over the field; a safety that could go cover the tight end, or another guy who could go cover the third wide receiver; and then it'd be, ‘Let's go play ball, that's what I like to do."

Marty Schottenheimer, when talking about his young defensive secondary says, "We do have an excellent core of cornerbacks, clearly. The development of people, for example Kevin House is doing an excellent job, then you add to that Tay (Cody) and (Tony) Okanlawon, and you have Quentin (Jammer) and we drafted two guys this year…the youth there is about the only concern. As long as we don't make it too complicated for them, I think their athleticism is enough to pull it off."

With many NFL play books that are approaching the size of your local phone directory, defensive simplifying looks like the right way to go for these young Chargers.

By: T. S. Heers

Tim Heers can be reached at

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