San Diego Chargers Preseason 2011: Final Defensive Grades
The San Diego Chargers' defense looked shaky at best in the preseason, but then again, the starters spent most of their time on the sidelines. The vast majority of play-time was given to the reserves and rookies so that they might showcase their talents and secure a roster position. Knowing that, it’s not hard to excuse the uninspiring performances displayed by the Bolts' defense in the four preseason games.
What follows are the final preseason grades for the Chargers' defensive units. Grades are based on first-team play whenever possible.
This is the second in a two-part series. To see the first part, click here:
The Pass Rush
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San Diego managed eight sacks and 12 hits on opposing quarterbacks in four preseason games. Most of those were against their opponents' reserve squads.
Statistically, that’s not too bad, but from an on-field perspective, the Bolts allowed far too much time and put way too little pressure on the quarterback on just about every play.
That said, there were hardly any snaps taken in the preseason with the entire starting defensive line on the field.
Only two players recorded multiple sacks for the Bolts. Vaugn Martin had three and Chargers first-round draft pick Corey Liuget had two—both are listed as second-string players.
There is no way to fully judge the Chargers pass rush as it was never really put on display during the preseason. What was seen from the reserves, in all fairness, was pretty ugly.
Final Preseason Grade for the Starters: Incomplete
Final Preseason Grade for the Reserves: D
The Rushing Defense
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The Chargers run defense had to be the worst performing unit on the entire team. In four games, the Bolts gave up 133, 109, 167 and 160 yards on the ground.
To say that all four teams easily ran over the Chargers would be putting it mildly.
The Chargers put up very little resistance to the run as illustrated by the 4.4 average yards-per-carry they relinquished. To make matters even worse, many of the biggest gains against them came early on in games when the Bolts were still featuring several starters in the lineup.
The only excuse in defense of this atrocious display was, once again, the fact that there was not one single snap taken during the entire preseason where every starter was on the field. Because I just can’t give my beloved Bolts an “F," they get the grade you see below.
Final Preseason Grade: D-
The Pass Defense
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In recent years, the Bolts' ability to defend the pass has been the stalwart of the defense, more so than their ability to defend the run. That trend looks to continue again this year.
As with many aspects of the defense, it’s hard to judge exactly how well the unit played with so many players being rotated in and out on every down. The best way to know would be to look at how well the opposition's starting quarterback fared.
Ignoring all the on-field statistics and just using the quarterback rating as a guide, there is enough of a trend to make a decision.
The performances by Seattle’s Tarvaris Jackson (64.6), Dallas’ Tony Romo (70.8), Arizona’s Kevin Kolb (107.3) and San Francisco’s Alex Smith (85.4) all indicate that the Chargers' starting pass defense was top notch. Only Kolb's performance could have been categorized as effective against the San Diego pass defense.
The Chargers also snagged three interceptions in the preseason, including one pick by starting safety Eric Weddle. If there is one solid area of play on the Chargers' defense, it's the ability of the secondary to defend the deep pass. If it weren't for Larry Fitzgerald's 80-yard touchdown catch for the Cardinals, this unit might have received an "A."
Final Preseason Grade: B
The Special Teams
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Last year, this unit would have received an “F” for sure, but this is a new season and there are new players and a new special teams coach in charge. It was promised that this unit would improve and if the preseason was any indication, they have.
Overall, the special teams performed admirably. They had no blocked punts nor any blocked field goals, but more importantly, they were not blocked themselves. There didn’t seem to be much pressure on any of the Chargers punters or place kickers, but then again, that kind of pressure is usually reserved for regular-season football.
The Bolts gave up three semi-long kick returns—a 41-yarder to Seattle, a 43-yarder to Arizona and a 51-yarder to San Francisco. While that isn’t great, it certainly isn’t anywhere near as bad as what we saw last year.
San Diego was able to record some decent field position themselves, and Bryan Walters even managed to return a kickoff 103 yards for a score.
Punt coverage was even better as there was no single return worth noting either for or against the Chargers.
Considering what happened last year on special teams, this unit ought to get an "A," but grades aren’t based on a prior year’s futility. Still, this has to be the most improved unit over last year's team.
Final Preseason Grade: C+
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What are the criteria for grading the coaches in the preseason?
Is it win-loss records?
Nope, the scores don’t really matter.
Is it measured by other statistics like tackles, completions or yards gained?
No, that isn’t it, either.
What really matters in the preseason is that the team is cohesive, healthy and prepared to hit the ground running come opening day.
Certainly, the Chargers' coaches have done what they can to insure every player will be healthy for the opener against the Vikings. Players nursing injuries have rightly been kept out of games and starters have played minimally, avoiding any unnecessary toll where possible.
I can’t find fault with that kind of thinking.
Whether this team is prepared for the regular season or not can’t be answered until the games are played for real. The players may look focused and ready, but we just won’t know for certain.
All that’s left is team cohesion.
Have the players formed chemistry with each other; are they willing to fight for each other, the team and the fans?
In this area, perhaps the coaches have not done all they could.
In years past, the starters got more reps in the preseason than this year—especially the defensive starters. Perhaps this is due to the shorter preparation time after the lockout. Perhaps it's Norv Turner’s counter-measure to avoid his team’s penchant for slow starts, or perhaps it's just an oversight on his part.
I am willing to give the man the benefit of the doubt until either he or I am proven wrong by the success or failure of the team in the upcoming season.
Final Preseason Grade: B