San Diego Chargers: How Revamped Defense Makes Bolts an AFC Contender

Jesse ReedCorrespondent ISeptember 11, 2012

September 10, 2012; Oakland, CA, USA; San Diego Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips (95, left), linebacker Takeo Spikes (51), and linebacker Shaun Phillips (95) celebrate after a play during the fourth quarter against the Oakland Raiders at Coliseum. The Chargers defeated the Raiders 22-14. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE

The San Diego Chargers will be AFC heavyweights this season, thanks to a revamped defense that shut down Darren McFadden and the Oakland Raiders running game on Monday Night Football.

The Chargers edged out a win in Week 1 against the Raiders, and the MVP of the night wasn't Philip Rivers. It was the team's defense that won the game, and going forward, this unit is only going to get better.

After failing to make the playoffs two years running and seeing their league-best defense of 2010 turn into a subpar unit in 2011 under the leadership of Greg Manusky, A.J. Smith brought in John Pagano to right the ship.

And right the ship he has done, from what we've seen so far. 

The Chargers went into Oakland on Monday night and completely dominated last year's seventh-ranked rushing attack (2,110 yards on 466 carries—4.5 yards per carry—for 16 touchdowns in 2011). McFadden was held to 32 yards on 15 carries, and for the night, the Raiders only managed 45 yards on 20 carries—a terrible average of 2.2 yards per carry.

This is the kind of indomitable performance you'd expect from the San Francisco 49ers or Pittsburgh Steelers, but to see the Chargers do it (20th ranked rush defense in 2011) was quite a surprise.

Second-year defensive end Corey Liuget is turning into a nightmare for opposing offensive lines. He busted through the Raiders line so many times on Monday night that Oakland had to start double-teaming him—something we're going to see throughout the 2012 season.

Antonio Garay didn't even play in the team's first game, and once his ankle is fully healed, he and Aubrayo Franklin will spell each other to give the Chargers the best duo of nose tackles in the NFL.

Kendall Reyes looks like a keeper, too, and at this moment, the Chargers are stacked up front.

Jarrett Johnson, Melvin Ingram and Shaun Phillips are a terrifying trio at outside linebacker, and if this defense continues dominating opponents' rushing attacks, the Chargers will be a dangerous pass-rushing team.

Atari Bigby and Eric Weddle make a good team in the middle of the secondary, and the cornerbacks, though not top notch, will keep receivers in front of them more often than not. 

This defense will keep the Chargers in just about every game they play, and if Rivers starts getting better protection and Ryan Matthews can somehow manage to stay healthy this season, the team will contend with the Denver Broncos this year for the AFC West crown and has a good chance to make a deep run into the playoffs. 


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