Chargers' Pass Rush Woes: Is Ron Rivera Out Of His Element?

Mike KranzlerContributor IOctober 5, 2009

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 4:  Alfonso Boone #70 of the San Diego Chargers sacks quarterback Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half at Heinz Field on October 4, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

San Diego Chargers defenders had better be in outstanding shape, because they are going to spend a lot of time on the field this season.

With a defense that cannot defend the run or the pass right now, Philip Rivers and the Chargers’ quick-strike offense is barely even getting a chance to get onto the field.

But the problems stem from an ineffective pass rush, which puts the offense in impossible situations week-in and week-out.

Shawne Merriman is still not healthy, which makes it very difficult for him to do what he does best. He is almost entirely reliant on his bull-rush, but at less than full strength, he does not have the necessary lower-body power strength to wreak havoc in opposing backfields. Even in one-on-one situations, he does not seem to exhibit the explosive power that made him such a dominant player in his first three seasons in the league.

Ben Roethlisberger is notoriously difficult to sack due to his size and mobility, but with an under-performing Steelers offensive line, the Chargers should have been able to put more pressure on him throughout the game.

Granted, the three sacks tied a season-high for the Chargers, but with their talent, opposing quarterbacks should not have so much time in the pocket to find the open receiver on nearly every play.

While some of the problems can be attributed to the catastrophic loss of Jamal Williams in the middle of the defensive line, it seems that the biggest issue that has not been addressed is in defensive coordinator Ron Rivera’s schemes.

A wildly successful coordinator with the Chicago Bears, he was seen as a hot head-coaching candidate before the Chargers settled on Norv Turner. They still brought in Rivera as an assistant coach (before they promoted him to defensive coordinator last season), but it cannot be overstated how his experience is in running the 4-3, not the 3-4.

He is a fish-out-of-water when it comes to the 3-4, which makes this an inappropriate pairing because the Chargers' roster is built to run that scheme.

And many times, the defensive scheme can be more important than the defensive talent putting it into action. Look no further than the Denver Broncos, who have far inferior personnel to the Chargers on defense, but are coached by Mike Nolan, who has led their 3-4 defense to historically dominant performances in the first four weeks of the season.

The Chargers have more than enough talent on offense to stay close in almost any game, and their special teams have done an outstanding job at winning the field position battle week-in and week-out.

But without consistent pressure on the quarterback, none of those other factors seem to matter, as the Chargers seem to be digging themselves into deeper and deeper holes every week.

The fact that they even made this game close after falling behind 28-0 is a testament to their offensive firepower, but right now they are far too one-dimensional.

A bye week followed by a three-game slate against the rest of the AFC West could cure most of this team’s problems, but at the same time, this defense is not set up to succeed for the rest of the season.

With mounting injuries, poor tackling, and a nonexistent pass rush, the Chargers may struggle to rebound from their slow start like they have done in seasons past.

This defense is built around getting to the quarterback; when the pass rush is not clicking, the entire defense seems to fall apart.

And unless something changes soon, the same might be said for the Chargers’ season.


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