Something that jumped out at me as I watched the Chargers defense against the Green Bay Packers were the movements of Melvin Ingram. He was an imposing figure on the field while wearing Stephen Cooper's number 54 jersey.
He's ready to make that number all his own.
Two plays stood out in my mind. The first of which was something that guys like Antoine Cason missed last season.
In the first quarter, Ingram blew past a befuddled lineman and smashed Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers as he was trying to deliver a strike. The resulting pass floundered into the hands of Cason, who is extremely dangerous with the football.
Without that kind of pressure, Rodgers won't make a mistake. In fact, it wasn't a mistake. Ingram dictated that outcome.
Ingram went sack-less for the game, but plays like that are better than a sack. They demoralize the offense and rob them of the opportunity get right back up and make it right. They have to sit on the sideline and stew.
The 2007 defense made plays like that all year, led by the under-appreciated Shawne Merriman. Their insane 48 takeaways nearly catapulted the Chargers to the Super Bowl.
The threat of Merriman and friends doing them physical harm paralyzed quarterbacks that year. When a pass rush is that much of a threat, it floods the mind of most quarterbacks, it divides up their thoughts.
If Ingram can make a Shawne Merriman-like impact, what kind of change will the defense see?
"Is it worth it to take this beating? Where is he at? Is he going to get me? Do I trust this seventh round draft pick to stop Shaun Phillips one-on-one?"
When a player's mind is split, he's less likely to make great plays and more likely to throw passes up for grabs.
Like him or not, if quarterbacks start throwing passes up for grabs, Cason is going to pick off a ton of them. After Greg Manusky ran the defense into the ground last season, that seems like a pretty big "if."
No player donning lightning bolts, including last year's sack leader Antwan Barnes, occupied the minds of opposing quarterbacks for more than the span of a few quarters (if that). The steady play and cool 92.5 passer rating against the Bolts was a testament to that.
That was then, this is now.
It was clear that in less than half a quarter, the Green Bay coaching staff didn't want to subject their prized signal caller to any more of Ingram's relentless pursuit. Believe me, the Oakland Raiders coaching staff and Carson Palmer will know about it if Ingram keeps dominating the opposition.
Guess what? The other players will also take notice and step their game up. Even if only by one notch. Do you remember how beastly Shaun Phillips was when he was referred to as "The Other Guy" by Jeff Fisher?
Lets see how guys like Barnes react the first time someone says, "oh, and that other guy... Byrnes?"
There was another play Ingram made that was spectacular, but I doubt many people took notice. On a screen play, the Green Bay receiver side-stepped an over-aggressive defender (who shall remain nameless) and appeared well on his way to an easy first down. Instead, Ingram took flight from several yards away and buried the play for a minimal gain.
It was phenomenal, the guy never saw it coming. That's how game changing fumbles are caused.
The last Charger I saw make a play like that was Merriman's flying squirrel tackle of Peyton Manning on fourth down. Manning thought he was free and clear, but it was not to be. The Indianapolis Colts should have kicked the field goal, they didn't and the game was all down hill for them after that.
It was an impact play for Merriman, while Ingram's plays were fairly insignificant. However, it showed that he's physically capable of making the same plays when the opportunity presents itself.
Merriman repeatedly made that play while not another Chargers defender has been able to make it one time. Here are two other huge examples of Merriman making the exact same play.
- He dismantled Priest Holmes on a routine run that effectively derailed Holmes' career and the Kansas City Chiefs' moral as the Bolts ran up a 21-3 halftime lead.
- He totally surprised the Tennessee Titan's Chris Henry with an out of nowhere flying tackle that resulted in a huge fumble in a playoff game that could have gone in the Titans' favor otherwise.
The bottom line is Ingram has the physical tools to routinely make gigantic, impact plays that have been missing from the Chargers arsenal; the type of plays that transcend defense and energize the entire team.
On the other hand, didn't Darryl Gamble look this good last year in one preseason game?