On the Defensive

Much maligned for most of the season, the San Diego Chargers defense came to play on Sunday and kept the Detroit Lions to just seven points. It started with the play of the linebackers and transcended to the secondary. Even with injuries to the line and secondary, the Bolts were active in their pursuit and it culminated with their best effort of the year.

Nineteen games – that is the last time the Chargers held an opponent under 20 points. Twenty eight – the last time the Chargers held an opponent under ten. Not everything was perfect, but the defense did the most important thing – keep the opponent off the scoreboard.

They allowed a season-low 68 yards rushing. Gap control and not missing tackles was the theme.

"I thought our defense played very, very well for us, particularly against the run," Marty Schottenheimer said.

They allowed just 14 first downs, one week after allowing 33, and limited the Lions to 267 total yards, third-fewest by a San Diego opponent.

On Sunday, they employed a cover-2 defense and kept the depleted Lions receiving corps in front of them. Where it paid off was in reaction time. Instead of running to catch up with a pass thrown, they anticipated the ball in the air and came up to deflect passes. The result, fourteen passes defensed.

"We probably played 60 percent cover-2," Schottenheimer added. "I don't think (Joey) Harrington had any problem reading the coverage we were in. We kind of took a page from the Lions and played a bunch of cover-2. We have really done better in cover-2 throughout the season than in any other coverage."

Limiting the Lions lead running back Shawn Bryson to just 2.8 yards per carry enabled the defense to keep third down at third and long. On twelve of the seventeen third downs for the Lions, they had five or more yards to go.

"When you're in third-and-long and the defense knows you're in third-and-long and everybody else knows you're in third-and-long, there's no reason to cover anything underneath," Joey Harrington said. "They can sit back and play for the deeper throw and when you're playing for it, it's just not there and then you check it down and you hope someone hits a seam and makes a play and gets a first down."

The Chargers tackled well and didn't allow many big plays. One 25 yard reception by Reggie Swinton led to a Lions touchdown. Beyond that nothing haunted them. A 25 yard pass to Bill Schroeder at the end of the half turned out to be meaningless as time ran out with Detroit on the stuck on the Chargers five yard line as time ran out on the drive and the half.

They allowed one 21 yard reception on fourth and 16 to former Charger Mikhael Ricks, but came up with a big stop a few plays later from their own 33 that effectively ended the game.

It was bend but don't break and the defense did its job.

"I was concerned in the second half that they would be able to get back in it," said Schottenheimer. "We managed to hang on there in the fourth quarter, defensively made the stop and then two other ones after. I thought overall we played much better than we have been.

"They only crossed the fifth yard line three times in twelve possessions."

The Chargers will look to build upon the progress of the defense. It starts this coming week against Green Bay.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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