It’s hardly been a secret that the biggest reason for the Chargers 0-2 start is the unexpectedly poor play of the defense – particularly the pass defense, which has been getting ripped to shreds. Questions have included how and why. Granted, J.C. Jackson was a question mark going into the season, but a defense with a roster as strong as theirs normally shouldn’t be getting picked this easily – certainly not by non-elite quarterbacks. It’s fair to say there’s probably more than one issue at play here, but there is a key stat at play here: the Chargers defense’s propensity to give up explosive plays.
The Chargers Defense and Their Problem With Explosive Plays
Explosive Plays Allowed on defense from week 1. Chargers, my god.
Why as a society we use different yards to try and make run plays seem explosive when compared to passes I have no clue, but we'll roll with it for now pic.twitter.com/vJ1W87EwgW
— Arjun Menon (@arjunmenon100) September 14, 2023
The above photo isn’t the only metric we’ll work with here, but it’s possibly the most condemning because of the comparison to other teams on display. The metric is flawed due to using different numbers to define “explosive” for run vs pass, but giving up 17 pass plays of 15+ yards in two weeks is bad – especially when that’s twice as many as second place (eight). They’ve been better at not allowing explosive run plays, but frankly, this sheer number of explosive plays given up by the pass defense is absurd.
If you change the metric to pass plays over 20+ yards, the Chargers gave up 11 of those through two weeks. In other words, nearly any time an opposing team goes deep, the Chargers secondary is completely folding. It’s definitely not a recipe for winning football games when you’re giving up this many big plays – and by so much more than other teams. And when you’ve got the likes of Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams coming up on the schedule, that does not bode well.
What’s Going On?
The question is: why would the Chargers defense be giving up so many explosive pass plays, especially with guys like Derwin James, Asante Samuel Jr, and Michael Davis in the secondary? Well, again, there is more than one thing at play here. But one issue looks to be defensive play-calling – which falls squarely on coach Brandon Staley. One such case is a particular pass coverage formation they’ve played – Cover 6 – on 12 pass plays this season. And they’ve allowed explosive plays seven out of those 12 times. Clearly, this formation is not working, and they just need to stop.
Besides questionable schematics at times, there have also been some inconsistencies in personnel. Benching J.C. Jackson for poor play is one thing – that’s a well-known issue going back to last year. But that’s not the only issue. Michael Davis has been in and out of the lineup as well, and they keep going back and forth at slot corner. USA Today elaborated on this issue more, but the team’s lack of consistency in both schematics and personnel surely can’t be helping with chemistry. Outside of Jackson’s benching, the only personnel adjustments made last year were injury-related. Now they can’t seem to settle on one lineup, even mid-game.
Although the issue has peaked this season, another stat worth noting is that since Staley took over in 2021, the Chargers have allowed more completions of 30+ yards than any other team since then (55). It’s been thrown around a lot lately, but this is supposed to be a defensive-minded coach. At some point, especially with a roster this strong, you think you’d have seen some improvement in such areas. At any rate, it certainly shouldn’t be getting worse.
The bottom line is, this rate of explosive plays cannot continue. Whatever reasons – including the ones above – are causing this, something has to change. The Chargers are already the worst-ranked pass defense in the league. If the proper adjustments aren’t made to prevent the explosive plays that are causing that ranking, it’s going to be tough sledding for the Chargers defense for a while.
Main Photo: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports