It wasn't pretty. Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates didn't play in last Friday's preseason game at Minnesota and three-fifths of the offensive line missed the game with injuries.
The offense sputtered and the San Diego Chargers won 12-10 on the back of four long field goals. The defense played well and it's a good thing because the game could have gotten really ugly had the defense not limited the Minnesota Vikings.
The defense is the key to San Diego's season and it played well against the Vikings. That's the important takeaway.
With so much of the starting offense missing the game, it seems senseless to break down anything that happened on that side of the ball. The defense has been a concern in recent years and considering it played so well, it only seemed natural to focus on that side of the ball.
Three players stuck out to me: Corey Liuget, Larry English and Melvin Ingram.
Ingram was explosive, but very undisciplined. He tackled the punt returner without the ball, got a penalty for grabbing Christian Ponder's facemask on a sack and was lucky he wasn't flagged for hitting Ponder in the head on what ended up being a long completion to Percy Harvin down the right sideline.
Liuget and English impressed with very solid play—particularly Liuget, who was routinely making plays in the offensive backfield. It's impressive considering Liuget plays 3-4 defensive end, who are not normally seen two and three yards in the offensive backfield stuffing running backs.
I think the play of Liuget, English and the rest of the defense was the biggest positive from the game for San Diego and it is one they can feel good about headed into the regular season. The offensive line is in trouble, but it might get its starters back for Week 1.
Corey Liuget: Play No. 1
Liuget is lined up in his typical spot at defensive end in San Diego's 3-4—its base defense.
Liuget engaged the offensive lineman with his hands and not his shoulder pads. The run then came right up the middle.
With his eyes on the running back, Liuget pushed off the offensive lineman and took a lateral step toward the running lane. That's a powerful play and it was possible because of Liuget's strong hands.
Toby Gerhart has nowhere to go and Liuget makes the tackle for virtually no gain.
That was an extremely impressive play from Liuget to stop the run. If he isn't in the running lane so quickly, Gerhart had potential cutback lanes. Liuget's teammates arrived a split second later to help gang-tackle Gerhart to the ground.
Corey Liuget: Play No. 2
This is the very next play. Not as strong of a run front on this play, as the defense is playing softer in case of a pass.
Liuget sidesteps Vikings left guard Charlie Johnson and flows directly to the running back that is trying to hit a gap on the right side of the line.
Coming all the way from the left side, Liuget is right where the running back wants to run.
There's no place for the running back to go because a split second after he got the ball, he's staring in the face of a big defensive end. It's a solo tackle for a loss for Liuget.
Corey Liuget: Play No. 3
Eric Weddle forced a fumble on this play, but you could make a case that Liuget made the play. Liuget first made contact with the running back deep in the backfield and allowed Weddle to hit him at full speed just after he got popped by Liuget.
Here is Liuget three yards into the backfield and exactly where the offense wants to run the ball.
Liuget gets one shoulder into the running back, but can't wrap him up because he's still fighting off the offensive lineman.
A split second later, Weddle arrived to deliver the big hit and the ball pops out. The Chargers recovered and gave the ball back to their offense. The Chargers would commit three penalties and move the ball 18 yards before converting a field goal attempt.
English has had trouble staying healthy and hasn't been real productive even when he has been healthy, but he knows this is his last shot and he's played well this preseason. This play is one of English's two sacks against the Vikings
From their base defense the Chargers will bring five rushers.
Given a little time, Ponder should be able to find a receiver open underneath. English gets under rookie left tackle Matt Kalil's pads with his hands.
English used his leverage and strength to give himself separation from Kalil.
Using the separation English gained, he dipped under and dove at the thighs of Ponder, who wanted to escape the pocket to the right. It was a beautiful one-on-one win for English.
The game was full of good defense and bad offense, but the Chargers have to be excited about the development of their young defensive unit. If Ingram can learn to play with more control and the secondary holds up, the Chargers defense should be plenty good enough to complement the offense.
The question will be how good the offense will be if Rivers doesn't get adequate protection.
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