Against Miami, the Chargers defense was handcuffed by turnovers. Field position provided the Dolphins with some easy scoring opportunities. The run support was the best it had been all year.
"Defense played very solid," Marty Schottenheimer said. "Our linebacking core played extremely well. We played well up front and, with a couple of exceptions, our secondary did a good job. Virtually 20% of their offense came in one play and that was the 49 yarder. We had a guy who wasn't where he belonged. I was pleased with the ability of the defense. We have improved week by week there on the defensive side of the ball."
The player who Schottenheimer failed to name was Kwamie Lassiter. Lassiter was supposed to be the over the top support on Chris Chambers, but he was caught five yards deep when the reception was made. A quick move by Chambers left Lassiter diving and coming up with nothing but a face field of turf.
The defense held the rushing game to three yards per carry and the longest gain of the day for Ricky Williams went 18 yards. Take away that one carry and he rushed 22 times for 51 yards, a 2.3 average per carry.
"We hung in there early on," said Schottenheimer. "We made some stops, we made some plays. Anytime you can hold Ricky Williams to three yards a rush, I think you've got to feel reasonably good."
Down 10-3 early on, the secondary was taken by surprise when Brian Griese came out passing on the third Miami drive. Four straight completions were quickly counted off and they picked on any corner that was playing too far off the line. A few minutes later the Dolphins had a 17-3 lead.
"I saw some things in the coverage that pleased me," added Schottenheimer.
Still the defense has a ways to go. Recognition is one of them. The youth can't yet tell if the play will be a run or pass based on alignments. They will lose an extra step on those plays.
The biggest difference has been the assortment of play calls on defense. The Bolts had previously stuck with man coverage or zone coverage and never veered from those. Now they are mixing in multiple looks to keep their opponents honest. Credit the young secondary for learning on the fly, and during losses, and even the much-maligned Dale Lindsey for working in different looks.
"Our decision to play less (bump and run) has helped our defensive football team."
While the defense is better, the pass rush is still lacking. Marcellus Wiley has not been the difference maker he had hoped when he came into the season healthy. His tone after the game spoke volumes of his lack of game-changing plays.
As the secondary continues to progress, it will open up more opportunities to blitz. The team could not afford to send an extra man in early on as they were afraid of getting beat by the one big play. Those have been minimized and it could begin to payoff soon. At 1-6, nothing is soon enough.
Denis Savage can be reached at email@example.com
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