Defense Buckles Down

The Chargers perfected their bend-but-don't-break defense in the 30-13 win over the St. Louis Rams. The Ram's first two drives took 22 plays and approximately 11 minutes, yet failed to yield a single point. Consider this an auspicious beginning to the Ted Cottrell era, one the Chargers are determined to carry over to the regular season.

The Chargers know they are going to give up yards on defense. Because the offense is so potent, opponents are compelled to be extra assertive when they have the ball, knowing they will need at least 25 points to outscore Philip Rivers & Co.

This is where years of Marty Schottenheimer preaching "one play at a time" comes in handy. For example, when the Rams picked up 25 yards on a third-and-17 at the end of the first quarter, defenders could have hung their heads and sulked. Instead, they stayed focused and ended the drive six plays later with a Clinton Hart interception.

"They tried to get Drayton Florence on an out-and-up," said Hart of the interception. "We were in a cover-4. (Florence) is looking to have some safety help if I don't get a release by the tight end. I didn't get a release by the tight end, so I was just eyeing the quarterback. (Marc Bulger) led me to the ball."

No player did more to get the defense off the field than Shaun Phillips. He ended the Rams' first drive by stripping the ball from Madison Hedgecock. Two drives later, he tipped a pass by Bulger, negating a drive-extending pass interference penalty on Quentin Jammer.

Phillips also picked up a sack-and-strip on Bulger, although the ball was recovered by Randy McMichael.

"He's so quick at getting off the ball when he gets a chance to come," Norv Turner said of Phillips. "I thought we got very good pressure on Bulger. We knocked the ball out early but didn't come up with it. But if you keep knocking the ball out, you're going to come up with your share."

Another linebacker who went above and beyond in keeping the Rams out of the end zone in the first half was Stephen Cooper. Not only did he lead the team with 12 tackles, but he showed off an impressive vertical jump in breaking up a pass intended for speedster Marques Hagans.

Cooper showed some good wheels as well, chasing down Hagans from behind on a 34-yard reception right before the half.

"I'm not surprised (that I played well). I have great guys in front of me: Jamal (Williams), Igor (Olshansky), Luis (Castillo) and Jacques (Cesaire). I just try to put myself in position to make plays."

Once Matt Wilhelm gets healthy and Eric Weddle gets fully up to speed, this defense has a chance to be even better than last season, when only six teams allowed fewer points than the boys in Bolts.


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