Did anyone mention to the Chargers coaching staff and players that this is a pre-season game? I don't remember any Chargers pre-season game where the team dialed it up and treated the game like a regular season game by the way they played.
I was pleasantly surprise by the superb play of Ryan Mathews during his first pre-season game. I don't know if any Chargers fans noticed, but the biggest surprise of the evening wasn't the offense or Legedu Naanee showing he has the ability to start in place of Vincent Jackson, it was Ron Rivera and the Chargers defense.
Ron Rivera has always been heralded as the "bend but don't break" defensive coach and during his short stint with the Chargers the statistics back that up.
He isn't known to be the blitzing type but something interesting happened against the Bears. For the first time in his one and a half seasons as the team's DC he showcased exotic zone blitzes with a mixture of man-to-man defense combined every so often with some "bend but don't break" defense in the redzone.
Six sacks. Six sacks in one game. I don't care if a majority of those plays were against back-ups because the players making those plays were back-ups also for the Chargers. Kevin Burnett had one sack. Antwan Applewhite had two sacks. Dante Hughes had one sack. Donald Strickland had one sack. Cam Thomas had one sack.
What is so enticing about these statistics? Different levels of the defense got sacks. The D-line had one sack. The linebackers had three sacks. The defensive backs had two sacks. That says a lot. What I saw in the Chargers defense against the Bears was nickel-backs blitzing, safeties coming in for the blitz, OLB's coming in for the blitz, and even the ILB's getting in on the action.
The Chargers didn't do what they've done in the past. They weren't passive. But they weren't necessarily aggressive. Rivera was just dialing up blitzes more often, something he has never done, even when he was DC of the Bears.
Even though Rivera came to the Chargers from Lovie Smith's "bend but don't break scheme" in Chicago, he learned to coach under two of the more aggressive DCs in league history.
The first defensive coach Rivera learned from was Buddy Ryan, the creator of the 46 defense. The 46 defense is known as a high pressure defense. When the personnel on the field fits the scheme, the defense is unstoppable like the Bears in the mid 80's.
The second defensive coach Rivera learned from was Jim Johnson. Jim Johnson, in my eyes, was probably the best 4-3 defensive coordinator because he blitzed from every position on the field, whether it was the safeties, CBs, or LBs. It is difficult to run such exotic blitzes from a 4-3 base, especially against spread options. What was in Johnson's favor was the fact that he put emphasis on disguising the blitz.
What we all saw on Saturday was Rivera mimicking Jim Johnson. He disguised the blitz, which in turn confused the Bears offensive line on protection pick-ups. The more interesting aspect of Rivera's playcalling last night was how he took what he learned from Ryan's 46 defense and Johnson's 4-3 defense and applied it to a 3-4 base. It's a lot easier also to disguise a blitz in the 3-4 than the 4-3. Nobody saw those blitzes coming last night.
Why didn't Rivera use this collective coaching experience in the last one and a half seasons? Perhaps he wasn't comfortable with his personnel, so he ran a "bend but don't break" scheme which put emphasis on defensive fundamentals.
Now that he has more weapons, he'll use all sorts of exotic blitzes. The Chargers were able to hold the Bears to 10 points because Rivera has the defensive personnel to run such exotic blitzes in which he disguises the blitzer. However, he also has an experienced enough defense to run a "bend but don't break" scheme when the opposing offense is in the redzone.
It may just be the first pre-season game, but I liked what I saw from Rivera. His play calling excites me as we move closer to the first game of the regular season against the Kansas City Chiefs.
I'm not sure what made Rivera attack the hell out of the Bears. Maybe he was just sending a message to them for letting him go. I bet the Bears offense will ardently watch game tape in order to figure out what the hell happened in that game.
This is starting to look like a different Chargers defense, reminiscent of the days of 2006 when the Chargers attacked everyone. I look forward to the next game. Will Rivera tone it down, or will he keep the heat on in order to make a point that this is a different Chargers defense? They say Rivera runs a "Bend but don't break" scheme. After this season, hopefully we'll look at him in a different light as a defensive minds, one more akin to his aggressive mentors.