How the San Diego Chargers Will Use Dwight Freeney in 2013

Zach KruseSenior Analyst IMay 20, 2013

November 8, 2012; Jacksonville FL, USA; Indianapolis Colts outside linebacker Dwight Freeney (93) rushes during the second half against the Jacksonville Jaguars at EverBank Field. Indianapolis Colts defeated the Jacksonville Jaguars 27-10. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Replacing the promising Melvin Ingram with veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney means the San Diego Chargers will have to be much more diverse in their defensive looks next season. 

The 33-year-old Freeney, who has played the majority of his career as a 4-3 defensive end, was signed Saturday to a two-year deal, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Freeney is now expected to help revitalize San Diego's pass rush after Ingram, the Chargers' first-round pick from a season ago, tore his anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) last week. He will likely miss the entire 2013 season.

Chargers head coach Mike McCoy called Freeney a "perfect fit" for his defense, according to Pro Football Talk, but that will likely depend on San Diego becoming more versatile in its fronts and packages with Freeney on board. 

According to Freeney, San Diego is planning on doing just that next season. 

Freeney told Peter King of Sports Illustrated that the Chargers will "run both," meaning a hybrid defense with both three- and four-man fronts. 

While Freeney was much more productive in the 3-4 defense last season than the surface stats show, continued production will depend on the Chargers being able to mold their pressure packages around Freeney, especially on third downs. 

Back in March, we took a detailed look at Freeney to help determine how much he had left to offer as a veteran free agent. What his 2012 tape showed was a pass-rusher still plenty capable of providing disruption in the passing game, especially when the Colts took him off the field on early downs and then sent him loose from a more natural 4-3 defensive end position on obvious passing downs. 

While the Colts were unmistakably a 3-4 defense in 2012, Freeney ended his season with nearly 80 percent of his snaps coming from a hand-in-the-dirt role. Rarely was he asked to stand up as a linebacker or to drop into coverage (just 25 snaps), as most 3-4 outside linebackers do routinely. 

And contrary to popular belief, the hybrid packages with Freeney were productive for the Colts. 

Over 467 pass-rushing snaps last season, Freeney provided 48 total pressures, or one every 9.7 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

Most saw Freeney's five total sacks—the least he's produced in a season with at least 14 games in his 12-year career—and considered him a misfit in Indianapolis. 

However, he also finished ninth among 3-4 outside linebackers in pass-rushing efficiency, PFF's way of determining how productive a pass-rusher is on a per-snap basis. In fact, PFF had Freeney as a more efficient edge-rusher than LaMarr Woodley, Ahmad Brooks, Shaun Phillips and James Harrison in 2012. 

Also, let's keep in mind that the Chargers agreed to pay Freeney $8.75 million over two years, with another $4.6 million tied directly into Freeney's sack production, according to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk. San Diego didn't pay more money than the Atlanta Falcons gave to Osi Umenyiora for Freeney to be miscast as a stand-up outside linebacker in the traditional 3-4 defense. 

With Ingram out of the picture, and Phillips and Antwan Barnes playing elsewhere in 2013, the Chargers need to manufacture a pass rush any way they can. Now that Freeney is on board, more four-man fronts—with Freeney attacking from the defensive end—will have to be featured in San Diego. It's the only way for the Chargers to both replace Ingram and best use Freeney, the new centerpiece of San Diego's pass rush. 

Defenses simply can't survive in this day and age of the NFL without an effective pass rush. The Chargers' attempts to get after the quarterback were devastated when Ingram was lost, but Freeney's addition gives San Diego another talented piece to mold its pressure package around. 

It will now require more versatility and hybrid fronts, but the Chargers pass rush doesn't have to go backward in 2013 with Freeney replacing Ingram.