Chargers are number one!

Last year the front line of the Chargers defense was window dressing. The glitz was supposed to be there but there was no sizzle to back it up. San Diego's defense suffered as the run defense was tied for 26th best in the league.

Things change. The glamour was replaced by players that want to contribute to a hearty defense. Chunky soup is already lining up to talk to the Chargers but they would be hard pressed to find an individual to do the commercials. Instead, they must talk to the entire team.

A focus this offseason was on the implementation of the 3-4 and it included getting players that can contribute to its play, particularly against the run.

Many had thought that Jamal Williams could not handle it, but he has been the catalyst to a much improved run defense. Last year, the squad allowed 138.6 yards per game on the ground. The Chargers would have to allow 195.75 yards per game from here on out to match the pace of the porous run defense of a year ago. The Chargers stand atop the league in run defense this year, holding opponents to 81.5 yards per contest.

Even more shocking, they are one of two teams to not allow a rushing play of twenty yards or more. A year ago, eleven such plays transpired.

"They had an 18-yard run at the end and that fried us," Schottenheimer said after the Raiders game.

Electric is more like it. They have fried most of the teams attempting to run on them.

The Chargers were on pace to allow negative one rushing yards the entire game until Tyrone Wheatley busted his gain with the Chargers up 42-7. They added five more yards when Amos Zereoue went off right tackle with under thirty seconds to go in the game. Zereoue fumbled the ball when Donnie Edwards hit him and the Chargers recovered.

"They averaged about 2 yards per rush," Schottenheimer added. "We played smart, disciplined and sound defense."

It is a big reason the Chargers have risen up in the AFC West standings and are tied with Denver at the top of the division.

"We continued to come, and put pressure on them," said linebacker Steve Foley. "We don't hesitate and sit there and try to read it. As long as we react and not spent too much time reading, we play very good against he run. We did some reading last week, and it hurt us."

Last week, the Panthers rushed for 116 yards. This week, the 22 rushing yards was the fewest since the Panthers rushed for 11 yards on Dec. 17, 2000.

"We did a good job stopping the run," linebacker Donnie Edwards said. "I don't know if it was a combination of us bringing players or their inability to pick up the right guy."

The subtle mention by Edwards alludes to the attacking run defense that Wade Phillips has employed. Instead of sitting back and playing a read and react as the team did a year ago, there are run blitzes being brought and disguised.

The contributions change from week to week as no one player takes the crown. Edwards has taken a back seat to Randall Godfrey who has been stout against the run.

"The quality about him, skill wise, that is most impressive to me is his ability to leverage blockers," Schottenheimer said of Godfrey. "I mean, he has a terrific ability to create leverage and that punch that you need to be able to get people off of you."

Terrence Kiel has pummeled ball carriers trying to hit the hole. Igor Olshansky is beginning to realize his potential – shedding blocks and making plays.

The only common denominator is Williams on the interior. He continues to battle double teams and win. His play has opened up the inside and the outside for others to make plays.

"It all starts with number 76," Schottenheimer acknowledged.

The trickle down effect has created a mudslide of opportunities for the rest of the defense. And they are taking advantage.

Jason Fisk, also can't go unnoticed. The Chargers have rotated the line a lot more this year to keep everyone fresh. Fisk has manned the middle and proven to be quite effective.

Atop the division and atop the league in rushing defense were two of the goals the team set out to accomplish this year. The results at the midpoint of the year are encouraging.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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