It’s no secret that the San Diego Chargers needed help on defense after last season. General manager Tom Telesco wisely focused on bringing in players to improve one of the league’s worst defensive units with the hope that his offense wouldn’t have to continue to carry the entire team.
Those improvements along with healthy pass-rushers Melvin Ingram and Dwight Freeney were supposed to make a big difference. After the Seattle Seahawks ran over the Chargers defense in the second preseason game, it’s clear that the unit is still very much a work in progress.
While notable that cornerback Jason Verrett, the team’s first-round draft pick, and Freeney have yet to play a snap during the preseason, the team’s other additions don’t seem to be turning around one of the most maligned defenses in the NFL. Cornerback Brandon Flowers and the team’s 2014 second-round pick—outside linebacker Jeremiah Attaochu—have yet to make the impact the Chargers desperately need.
A big part of the problem for the Chargers is depth. There have been so many moving parts that the Chargers still haven’t had their starting defense together in a live situation. Many of the reserves were starters last season, so San Diego already knows what these players can and can’t do.
Verrett is still wearing a red jersey in practice that indicates no contact according to Eric D. Williams of ESPN. Verrett will likely take that jersey off next week, but he has missed the opportunity to gain valuable experience with the starters. Defensive end Corey Liuget missed time with an ankle injury and only played a few snaps against the Seattle Seahawks in the second preseason game.
Then there are the legitimate reasons to be concerned about Freeney. If Freeney isn’t anything resembling his former self, the Chargers need Ingram and Attaochu to step up. On Friday night, Ingram and Attaochu proved ineffective against quarterback Russell Wilson. Linebacker Tourek Williams had the only sack of the game for the Chargers, which came on the second play from scrimmage.
Given the lack of pass rush, even what was supposed to be an improved secondary with the addition of Flowers had a hard time forcing incomplete passes. The Chargers also lost another key member of the secondary when safety Jahleel Addae hurt his hamstring in the game and never returned. Wilson completed 11 of his 13 passes against the Chargers for 121 yards and led the Seahawks to 24 points before finally yielding to reserves.
Perhaps more concerning than the passing yards allowed was how the Seahawks carved up San Diego on the ground. With Liuget only playing a few snaps and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore exiting early with an ankle injury, the Seahawks ran over and around San Diego’s defense even without running back Marshawn Lynch.
Seattle running backs Robert Turbin rushed 12 times for 81 yards and a touchdown and Christine Michael added 45 on eight carries. In total, the Seattle’s two running backs averaged 6.3 yards per carry and rushed for 126 yards. Wilson added four carries for 31 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
The health and effectiveness of San Diego’s revamped defense is very much in question at this point of the preseason. The Chargers may have been able to make some improvements, but if they can’t get everyone on the field together, there still might be holes that good offenses can exploit.
It’s vital for the defense to be better because it’s an awful lot to ask of quarterback Philip Rivers and the offense to be as “uniquely efficient” as they were in 2013. It will be largely up to the defense to free up the offense to run an up-tempo, no-huddle attack. So far this preseason, the defense in San Diego looks all too familiar.