The defining characteristic of the Los Angeles Chargers 2020 season (besides Justin Herbert’s incredible rookie season) has been second-half collapses. This has been due in part to questionable play-calling, but also because of poor defensive play – which has been on some of the players and the defensive play-calling. The injuries haven’t helped – Derwin James and Drue Tranquill were out for the year, Melvin Ingram’s been banged up a lot, and Joey Bosa missed a little time with a concussion too. But there was also Chris Harris, who got injured in Week 3 and only just returned in Week 12. There was a notable difference in the play of the defense in that game. And when one also looks to back when he was healthy before, this may point to part of what was missing all along.
Chris Harris and His Impact on the Los Angeles Chargers Defense
The First Few Games vs the Next Several
It may be forgotten by some at this point, but the Chargers defense actually played fairly well the first three games of the season. They held their opponents to 13, 23, and 21 points respectively. The most notable one was shutting down the Kansas City Chiefs offense for three quarters in Week 2.
After Harris’s injury in Week 3, things went downhill from there. Every opponent through Week 11 scored at least 28 points, and they were particularly getting burnt in the second quarter. In particular, Casey Hayward – who has long been the best cornerback on the team – has been getting burnt by receivers a *lot* more than usual this year, to the point where it may be time to start wondering if his best days are behind him. Again, the other injuries weren’t helping either, but neither was Gus Bradley’s passive play-calling; and neither was Hayward getting beat a lot.
The Buffalo Bills Game
Ironically, in the Week 12 game against the Buffalo Bills where Chris Harris returned, Hayward was also injured now instead. But more importantly, the pass defense played much better. The run defense still got rather gashed, allowing 172 yards on the ground. However, after an initial shaky start, the pass defense locked down a bit harder. Stefon Diggs was held to only 39 yards, and Cole Beasley was unable to do much of anything.
In the fourth quarter, the defense forced three Bills turnovers on three consecutive drives – including an interception by Michael Davis, who had a nice day in that game. But they were forcing a collapse of their own instead of the other way around. Unfortunately, the offense failed to capitalize. But instead of rolling over and playing dead with a double-digit deficit, the defense almost got them back in the game.
This performance by the Chargers defense was particularly welcome, given that the Chargers defense has been in the bottom half of the league in takeaways. Three takeaways are their most of the year. Given that it was against a good offense, it shows what this defense is actually capable of.
Last Word on Chris Harris and the Chargers
While Harris being back is surely not the only factor (Joey Bosa getting so much pressure in the Bills game helped too), it’s hard to ignore that the team has done better on defense in every game he’s played in. Whether that will continue remains to be seen. But it’s possible that having Harris out there may end up being the spark that the defense needs. And while the season is already lost, it might give the team a better chance to finish strong. They don’t have a need to tank at this point, after all.
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