San Diego Charger Diagnosis: Jamal Williams

The San Diego Chargers go into their mid-season break with a stunning 6-3 record. Entering the game against the New Orleans Saints a cautious feeling permeated the Charger faithful. Many pundits have been too quick to label San Diego as the surprise overachievers this year. San Diego's success is merely more than just a team playing over its head.

The team made drastic changes in the off season to better fit their personnel, and the results are evident in the record. The switch to the 3-4 played a vital role, and because of Jamal Williams the Chargers have one of the best run defenses in football.

The 3-4 defense, by design, is better suited to stop the run than the pass. The 2004 statistics reflect this thesis as the Chargers are number two in rushing defense (behind the Steelers by only one-tenth of a point) but still rank amongst the bottom in passing. But who really cares because if a team going into any game knows they will be one dimensional they are put at a serious disadvantage. The 3-4 has been a big success due to the play of Williams arguably more than anyone else. Williams is the key to stopping the run, which consequently is the key to the overall success of the defense.

"He is ideally suited for the 3-4 defense," coach Marty Schottenheimer said of his nose guard. "It takes two people to block him. He is in there, in the middle of it all the time and Jamal has all the pieces that you look for in a 3-4 nose tackle."

Many were predicting Williams would struggle in making the transition from a defensive tackle to a nose guard. Most pundits claimed that his small frame would eventually be overmatched. Anyone who visited one Charger practice knew he was much bigger than the reported 305 lbs, so this argument instantly became a wash. Intriguingly, however, these claims were repeated all through training camp by many of the big news services despite the obvious discrepancies. Williams has had a history of leg trouble, and if anything, that was his biggest hurdle coming into the season.

What makes Williams so effective is not just his massive size (a more accurately reported 348lbs) but his unbelievable explosive first step. He plays with a low center of gravity allowing him to drive the opposing lineman back. This always gives him the needed leverage against his blocker, thus commanding a double team. Normally the nose guard's job is to plug the middle freeing the inside linebackers to patrol the gaps. Williams not only does this but also provides a rare inside pass rush.

"Plus behind that quiet exterior, there is a fire that burns and it burns hot," added his coach.

As noted, every team the Chargers have played has run a double team against Williams. This double team is vital for the defensive front in the 3-4 to maximize efficiency. Because of this, the opposing lines can only afford to block the other tackles/ends and linebackers one-on-one. When one does the math this could potentially leave a blitzing linebacker with a straight shot to the quarterback. Either way the inside linebackers can play the ball, and if the running back gets the nod then make the tackle with little opposition.

Even against the double teams this year Williams has been strong enough to make the pocket collapse in a matter of seconds. Therefore, if the quarterback is not quick getting the pass off, he is forced to role out or rush his throw, hence the reason the Chargers have seen many three-to-five step drops this year. And it is only a matter of time before Igor Olshansky gets comfortable enough in his pass rushing technique to start commanding either a double team himself or cause the pocket to collapse that much quicker.

The New Orleans game mirrored the other eight the Chargers have played thus far. The biggest uncertainty, though, laid in Dulymus "Deuce" McAllister, who is arguably the best running back San Diego has faced this year and not to mention New Orleans was coming off a well needed bye week. McAllister has an uncanny ability to bounce to the outside and has the speed to break a long run on any given play. But like last week, the Chargers stepped up in convincing fashion and all the talk was moot by midway through the third quarter. San Diego dominated the New Orleans ground game by holding them to seventy-eight yards rushing. Since the Chargers got off to an early lead, New Orleans was forced to pass the ball early.

The New Orleans game might have been the most dominant performance by the defense to date. Williams does not get his name called on many plays and is not credited with a lot of tackles. But this defense would not be effective as it is without the performance of Williams. He is truly the unsung hero. His position does not facilitate gaudy numbers, but without him commanding double teams and consistently collapsing the pocket the entire dynamic of the defense breaks down. Williams will soon begin to get notice as one of the top run stuffer's in football and a premier defensive lineman in the NFL.

Diagnosis for two weeks: The Chargers have earned a well deserved few days off. Within this time frame more articles and approbation will head their way. The Oakland game in two weeks could very well be a "trap" game. The team should enjoy their time off, but get back to work in a few days. No doubt Oakland is looking upon this game as a vindication. It is Williams' job to keep the team in the game if they are not up convincingly in the second half. Not only must he be a leader on the field but he must be one on the sidelines as well.

Diagnosis for the season: The Chargers are roughly four victories from a playoff berth. The Chargers have a very tough second half schedule and there is no room to pencil in a couple of easy victories. If the Chargers hope to find four wins or more in this grouping they have to remain obstinate against the run. Williams will surely be tested against some of the best lines and running backs in the NFL. The success of this team is owed a lot to Williams, but likewise, if the Chargers want to shock the NFL and make the playoffs it will be up to Williams to continue to carry most of the load as the younger player's progress.

Byran Martin can be reached at

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