Scouting the Chargers: Defense

How will Peyton Manning attack the first-ranked Chargers pass defense? Brad Keller takes a look.

Defensive Line:

The Chargers missed the massive presence of Jamal Williams at nose tackle during the 2009 season and struggled to stop the run up the middle last year.  Current nose tackle Antonio Garay has filled that void and has also chipped in four sacks thus far this season.  San Diego has faced the ninth most rushing attempts in the league up the middle, but are allowing only 3.31 yards per attempt in that area, which is fourth in the NFL.

The Colts are averaging 3.32 yards per attempt up the middle this year.  They will be most successful avoiding the middle and instead trying to run behind Charlie Johnson — where they are averaging 6.97 yards per attempt and the Chargers are giving up 4.59 yards per attempt — as well as around right end and off right tackle to Ryan Diem's side of the field.

The Chargers lead the league with 32 sacks, but they primarily generate pressure with their four linebackers as opposed to their three down linemen.  Left outside linebacker Shaun Phillips is deployed as the fourth pass rusher most frequently and he has nine of those 32 sacks.  He got to Kyle Orton twice on Monday night, but one of those sacks was a blown assignment and the other was on a naked bootleg.  Phillips is a talented pass rusher, but he generally is made effective by the confusion created by the different looks and blitz packages that San Diego employs on defense.

Peyton Manning has spent the past few seasons figuring out the 3-4 defense and has had a lot of exposure to it.  He is now comfortable and confident in dealing with the 3-4 and should be able to diagnose where the pressure is coming from and if there will be any extra attackers.  The Chargers don't blitz very frequently and tend to blitz strategically as the situation dictates.

If Jeff Saturday is able to work with Manning on diagnosing the blitzing schemes and everyone is on the same page, Diem should be able to handle Phillips without help and Johnson should be able to take on Luis Castillo on the left side.

Linebackers:

Phillips is the primary fourth rusher, but all four linebackers for the Chargers are solid two-way players.  Inside linebackers Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper flow to the football while Garay occupies blockers up the middle and also backpedal well in coverage.  They are slightly limited in terms of man coverage, but chances are that they will only be responsible for the underneath and intermediate zones, while safety Eric Weddle will most likely be covering Jacob Tamme.

Burnett has five sacks on the season and Cooper has one as well, so either man may be the fourth rusher on any down and San Diego also likes to blitz both men and run stunts with them in order to crash the middle and bring pressure in the quarterback's face.

Right outside linebacker Antwan Applewhite has not been able to fill the departed Shawne Merriman's shoes thus far this season, but he is trying.  He is much more comfortable with his hand off the ground in run support and pass coverage, so he will not be a player that Manning needs to worry about that much when he is trying to assess the defense at the line.

All of these linebackers are smart, physical players and Blair White and Tamme will need to keep their heads on a swivel if they decide to venture into the short and intermediate zones over the middle.  With Phillips rushing on most downs, Manning should be able to target his side, hitting Pierre Garcon on slants and quick hitches.

Secondary:

Reggie Wayne will draw Quentin Jammer on Sunday night and the two players are familiar with each other, having matched up several times over the years.  Jammer is a physical cornerback who will try to get his hands on Wayne at the snap.  He tends to play close to the line and jam the receiver, so it will be very difficult for Wayne to catch many balls underneath unless he can gain separation.

He can be beat deep, though, if Wayne is able to slip past him and get down the field.  If Wayne is able to get off the line, he will be able to connect with Manning on some go and fly routes, as well as the occasional deep out. 

The Chargers safeties like to play deep and keep everything in front of them.  Weddle is an exceptional center fielder and getting completions deep down the field — especially in the deep middle — is a rarity.  Manning should focus on strong safety Steve Gregory, who is not as skilled in coverage as Weddle, to all areas of the field, but particularly in the short and intermediate areas in man coverage.

Garçon gained back some of Manning's trust in the New England game, but he is probably still on a short leash.  The fact that Garcon will line up across from first year starter Antoine Cason — who replaced Antonio Cromartie — does not help his chances of having a big game.  Cason also likes to play close to the line and is very aggressive, so he can be beat deep on double moves.  He was able to handle Jabar Gaffney on Monday night and should be able to clamp down on Garcon.

But, in order for Indianapolis to keep pace with the high flying San Diego offense on Sunday night, Garcon will need to step up and make some big plays.  If he can get behind Cason, get separation at the line, and possibly gain some chunks of yardage after the catch, then he will regain some more of Manning's trust and the Colts will be able score enough on offense to not fall hopelessly far behind as Denver did on Monday.

Like the Colts, the Chargers are a team that operates best with a lead.  The Broncos were able to keep them off balance on defense early on Monday night by running a no huddle offense and keeping the tempo brisk on the first two drives of the first quarter.  Indianapolis runs the up tempo offense better than most teams in the league, so they will need to start fast, score early, and maintain that momentum on offense.  San Diego's record stands at a disappointing 5-5, but they have turned their season around recently with three straight victories.  They struggled early on in the season, giving up return touchdowns and hidden points, but they appear to have righted the ship.

This is a solid team that has suffered through some bad breaks and unfortunate bounces.  They will give the Colts everything they can handle on Sunday night, so Indianapolis needs to be ready for a fight.


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The Chargers missed the massive presence of Jamal Williams at nose tackle during the 2009 season and struggled to stop the run up the middle last year.  Current nose tackle Antonio Garay has filled that void and has also chipped in four sacks thus far this season.  San Diego has faced the ninth most rushing attempts in the league up the middle, but are allowing only 3.31 yards per attempt in that area, which is fourth in the NFL.

The Colts are averaging 3.32 yards per attempt up the middle this year.  They will be most successful avoiding the middle and instead trying to run behind Charlie Johnson — where they are averaging 6.97 yards per attempt and the Chargers are giving up 4.59 yards per attempt — as well as around right end and off right tackle to Ryan Diem's side of the field.

The Chargers lead the league with 32 sacks, but they primarily generate pressure with their four linebackers as opposed to their three down linemen.  Left outside linebacker Shaun Phillips is deployed as the fourth pass rusher most frequently and he has nine of those 32 sacks.  He got to Kyle Orton twice on Monday night, but one of those sacks was a blown assignment and the other was on a naked bootleg.  Phillips is a talented pass rusher, but he generally is made effective by the confusion created by the different looks and blitz packages that San Diego employs on defense.

Peyton Manning has spent the past few seasons figuring out the 3-4 defense and has had a lot of exposure to it.  He is now comfortable and confident in dealing with the 3-4 and should be able to diagnose where the pressure is coming from and if there will be any extra attackers.  The Chargers don't blitz very frequently and tend to blitz strategically as the situation dictates.

If Jeff Saturday is able to work with Manning on diagnosing the blitzing schemes and everyone is on the same page, Diem should be able to handle Phillips without help and Johnson should be able to take on Luis Castillo on the left side.

Phillips is the primary fourth rusher, but all four linebackers for the Chargers are solid two-way players.  Inside linebackers Kevin Burnett and Stephen Cooper flow to the football while Garay occupies blockers up the middle and also backpedal well in coverage.  They are slightly limited in terms of man coverage, but chances are that they will only be responsible for the underneath and intermediate zones, while safety Eric Weddle will most likely be covering Jacob Tamme.

Burnett has five sacks on the season and Cooper has one as well, so either man may be the fourth rusher on any down and San Diego also likes to blitz both men and run stunts with them in order to crash the middle and bring pressure in the quarterback's face.

Right outside linebacker Antwan Applewhite has not been able to fill the departed Shawne Merriman's shoes thus far this season, but he is trying.  He is much more comfortable with his hand off the ground in run support and pass coverage, so he will not be a player that Manning needs to worry about that much when he is trying to assess the defense at the line.

All of these linebackers are smart, physical players and Blair White and Tamme will need to keep their heads on a swivel if they decide to venture into the short and intermediate zones over the middle.  With Phillips rushing on most downs, Manning should be able to target his side, hitting Pierre Garcon on slants and quick hitches.

Reggie Wayne will draw Quentin Jammer on Sunday night and the two players are familiar with each other, having matched up several times over the years.  Jammer is a physical cornerback who will try to get his hands on Wayne at the snap.  He tends to play close to the line and jam the receiver, so it will be very difficult for Wayne to catch many balls underneath unless he can gain separation.

He can be beat deep, though, if Wayne is able to slip past him and get down the field.  If Wayne is able to get off the line, he will be able to connect with Manning on some go and fly routes, as well as the occasional deep out. 

The Chargers safeties like to play deep and keep everything in front of them.  Weddle is an exceptional center fielder and getting completions deep down the field — especially in the deep middle — is a rarity.  Manning should focus on strong safety Steve Gregory, who is not as skilled in coverage as Weddle, to all areas of the field, but particularly in the short and intermediate areas in man coverage.

Garçon gained back some of Manning's trust in the New England game, but he is probably still on a short leash.  The fact that Garcon will line up across from first year starter Antoine Cason — who replaced Antonio Cromartie — does not help his chances of having a big game.  Cason also likes to play close to the line and is very aggressive, so he can be beat deep on double moves.  He was able to handle Jabar Gaffney on Monday night and should be able to clamp down on Garcon.

But, in order for Indianapolis to keep pace with the high flying San Diego offense on Sunday night, Garcon will need to step up and make some big plays.  If he can get behind Cason, get separation at the line, and possibly gain some chunks of yardage after the catch, then he will regain some more of Manning's trust and the Colts will be able score enough on offense to not fall hopelessly far behind as Denver did on Monday.

Like the Colts, the Chargers are a team that operates best with a lead.  The Broncos were able to keep them off balance on defense early on Monday night by running a no huddle offense and keeping the tempo brisk on the first two drives of the first quarter.  Indianapolis runs the up tempo offense better than most teams in the league, so they will need to start fast, score early, and maintain that momentum on offense.  San Diego's record stands at a disappointing 5-5, but they have turned their season around recently with three straight victories.  They struggled early on in the season, giving up return touchdowns and hidden points, but they appear to have righted the ship.

This is a solid team that has suffered through some bad breaks and unfortunate bounces.  They will give the Colts everything they can handle on Sunday night, so Indianapolis needs to be ready for a fight.

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