Can New Blood revive Brandon Staley’s defense in Los Angeles?

The moment that ended the Chargers’ 2021 playoff hopes changed the course of the offseason. Remember Brandon Staley’s Timeout? The one before third and -4 in overtime of a tie game with the Raiders in Week 18? The Chargers wanted to make sure their best run defenders were on the field in what would almost certainly be a Raiders run play. But it didn’t matter. Running back to Vegas, Josh Jacobs covered 10 yards; The Raiders were sent off for the playoffs while the Chargers were sent into an absolute frenzy to fix one of the NFL’s worst run defenses.

It was no surprise that the Chargers could not stop runs at the most crucial moment of their season. Los Angeles tied for 28th yards per carry allowed (4.0), and allowed over 100 runs in 12 of 17 games during the regular season, including a 174-yard running riot from the Raiders in Week 18. Only two teams allowed more rushing yards per game (138.9).

The gravity of the team’s struggle against runs paid the price for defense across the board. While the pass defense was closer to the middle of the pack (ranked 12th per dropback in the EPA), the Chargers defense ranked 31st in the allowed success rate on early-down runs, according to rbsdm.com, which routinely outranked the defense. Puts the disadvantageous in third place. situations, and opposing offenses were able to convert 50 percent of the time. Only Houston, Washington and Atlanta allowed the first drop in 2021 at a higher rate.

Star power was not the issue. Defensive end Joy Bossa and safety Darwin James, two of the NFL’s best players in their respective positions, each made the Pro Bowl, but the Chargers struggled to stop just about everyone, 24 in plays per EPA by the end of the season. ranked th. The problem was the lack of certified NFL talent surrounding Bossa and James, so Staley in his second season, and longtime general manager Tom Telesco, prioritized adding not only better players, but also players who would defend Staley. Which depends heavily on the two high security and complex pass coverage plans. This means, however, that there is often one less defender in the dedicated box to stop the run. Staley isn’t going to give up his core defensive principles to load the box, so the answer must be a more talented inside player.

“All those people we acquired through trade or free agency, those people have turned out to be NFL players,” Staley said last Friday. “As it relates to what I expect from them, I expect that we play team defence. Last year it was the weakness of our football team. And I don’t expect that to happen [this year], That’s why all those people are here.”

It all started with the biggest addition: Khalil Mack. The Chargers traded a 2022 second-round pick (48 total) and a 2023 sixth-round pick to the Chicago Bears to gain a three-time All-Pro, six-time Pro Bowl defensive end shortly before free agency began in March . Of course, Mack believed he was fit not only because of his ability to run to a passerby, but Staley believed he could also provide a run as a defender. He ranked in the top five of NFL Edge defenders with over 200 snaps he played in the Pro Football Focus run defense grade in his first seven seasons in the league. He will replace Uchena Navosu, who has ranked 41st in PFF Run Defense Grade (56.1) Last year.

“We’re looking for playwrights, and we’re also looking for a style of play,” Staley told reporters at the time. “And [Mack] Brings both of those things. He brings the ability to play. He also brings a style of play that we really believe in. And I didn’t think we had enough [in 2021], not even close.”

The Chargers are counting on a rebound season from Mack, age 31, as he returns from a leg injury that ended his season in Chicago last year. When Chicago decided to trade him, he didn’t get a chance to choose his destination, but landing with the Chargers could give both the team and player what they want — an on-field upgrade to the Chargers, and Mack. For, a realistic chance of making a Super Bowl for the first time in his career.

“Ultimately, we want to go to a Super Bowl and we want to win it,” Mack said Wednesday. “And that’s the only thing on my mind at this point in my career.”

Mack gets publicity as a big name, but could be just as important to Sebastian Joseph-de Staley’s plan to fix his team’s biggest liability. He signed a three-year, $24 million contract with the Chargers in March to rejoin Staley. PFF run stop (35) and run-stop percentage (14.2 percent) In his lone year in defense of Staley. and according to warren sharp, the Rams’ early-down run defense, with Joseph-Day ranked first in per yards (3.0) allowed on the field and 27th (4.7) when he was sidelined. Before tearing his pectoral muscles last October, Joseph-Day led all NFL defensive tackles PFF run stop (18) and run-stop percentage (15.8 percent),

Staley’s 2021 Chargers had no one like Joseph-Day to anchor the 3-4 front. Veteran Linval Joseph was 6-foot-4 and 329 pounds, but he couldn’t interrupt the line of scrimmage enough to make a positive impact defensively, and he finished 59th in the PFF’s run defense grade (49.8). Finished the season on the spot. ,

Now reunited with Staley, Joseph-Day will be paired with fellow free agent, Austin Johnson, a 314-pound defensive tackle, coming off a career year with the Giants in which he took a career-high 664 defensive snaps. Played and ranked in top 10. Total run stop (37) and run-stop percentage (10.4 percent), per pff, And, perhaps even more important, Johnson has played in every regular season game over the past five years.

“For those two guys, when I saw we signed them, I was like, ‘Man, these are awesome,'” Chargers center Corey Linsley, who is lining up in front of Chargers’ new tackle, told the team. told the media after camp’s first padded practice on Monday “Sebastian is going to tackle a phenomenal nose. He’s definitely one of the best I’ve ever been up against. For us to get him and Austin, those two There are big pickups.”

Joseph-Day and Johnson ran with the first team defense during the first week of training camp and Mack and Bossa are expected to start along the defensive line. Joseph-Day will replace Joseph on the nose, and Johnson will take pictures from Jerry Tillery and Christian Covington on the defensive tackle. Tillery and Covington, like Joseph, were among the PFF’s lowest-rated defensive tackles in the NFL last season.

Three new starts along the defensive line are the most significant changes, but not the only new additions for Los Angeles. The team also entered 2022 with questions on the off-ball linebacker, and part of the answer should be another offseason addition with the exact experience, versatility and physicality pursued in Mack, Joseph-Day and Johnson.

Enter Kyle Van Noy, who signed a one-year deal with the Chargers in May. He’s already taking on first-team reps at mid linebacker, filling in for Kenneth Murray, the former first-round pick, who is recovering from ankle surgery. The floor for Van Nooy’s role is providing valuable depth in several positions on the defense and the experience of a veteran who has won two Super Bowl rings with the Patriots, but kept him the starting job at middle linebacker while continuing through camp. Not ruled out and in season.

“We’re in the beginning with Kyle” [Van Noy],” Staley said on Friday. “And I think he is capable of so much. We will use this training camp to find out the best role for him. Lucky for us, he can play many places. I really enjoyed working with this guy. This man is really, really special. ,

Van Nooy, Murray and 2019 fourth-round pick Drew Tranquil will all compete for two starting off-ball linebacker positions in Staley’s defence. Murray has struggled mightily during the first two years of his NFL career while remaining healthy, and he won’t have the opportunity to prove otherwise until he’s practicing again, which will take the next three to five weeks. Can’t even happen. Van Nooy and Tranquil should be the favorites to start Week 1.

The investment spree on defense is an all-in chip push to ensure no run back runs with their playoff bid in 2022. Bosa is the only return starter in the Chargers’ front seven to have played more than 50 percent of the team’s defensive snaps in 2021—a complete improvement that is already drawing attention from the Chargers’ offense at camp.

Running back Austin Eckeler said on Friday that he’s looking at bigger bodies in the box and how the extras are making it a little harder to run football. And Keenan Allen sees a completely different entity altogether.

“The defense is already looking like a 360 team,” Allen said on Thursday. “They kicked our asses today, which is a good thing. Hopefully we continue to build on this.”

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