The Los Angeles Chargers are playing their best defense in the two seasons under head coach Brandon Staley, just in time for the playoffs next month. The improved play may be due to the players-only meetings instigated that started earlier in December.
When noticing that the defense was allowing opposing rushers to average 5.44 yards per carry, veteran linebacker Kyle Van Noy called a players-only meeting on the Thursday before their game with the Las Vegas Raiders. The results were not immediate. The Chargers lost that game, 27-20, with Josh Jacobs running the ball 26 times for 144 yards. Yet the players decided to make the players-only meeting a weekly event three days before game day (usually Thursday after practice, with the players-only meeting taking place on Friday last week due to the Monday night kickoff).
Before that Monday night game in Indianapolis against the Colts, the numbers were indicating that the Chargers’ defense had begun to turn things around. They had allowed only 31 points in their two previous games with those opponents averaging only 251.5 total yards per game. They are still giving up 4.76 yards per carry, a modest improvement, yet their last two opponents have averaged only 109.5 rushing yards per game. The results against the pass have been much better as they have held their last two opponents to 141 passing yards per game.
The defense has been hit hard by injuries, yet they are starting to get healthy again. Safety Derwin James played on Monday for the first time since week 13 (only briefly before being kicked out of the game for an illegal hit). The Chargers got back cornerback Bryce Callahan and defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day as well after all three players took part in practice and had their names removed from the injured list last week. That bodes well for them in the days ahead.
Los Angeles may have then played their best defensive game of the season in a 20-3 victory against the Colts on Monday. The Chargers held Indianapolis to just the one field goal and only ten first downs. Indianapolis managed to gain only 173 total yards of offense. Nick Foles was making his first start of the season for the Colts, and the former Super Bowl-winning quarterback completed 17 of 29 passes but for only 143 yards. Los Angeles picked off three of his passes. The Chargers held Indianapolis to only 69 rushing yards from their 14 carries. While that 4.93 yards per carry average for the Colts is not great from an efficiency standpoint, holding Indianapolis to below 70 rushing yards continues their recent ability to get their defense off the field. The Colts were on offense for just 26:06 minutes in the game.
Los Angeles has now held their last three opponents to just 11.3 points per game and 225.3 yards per game. These opponents averaged only 4.7 yards per play. Their opponents are still averaging 4.8 yards per carry in the running game, yet they are only running the ball 20 times per game and getting 96 yards per game from their rushing attack. Perhaps most importantly, despite having their defense on the field for 29:45 minutes per game this season, the Chargers have lowered that number by almost three minutes per game by being on the field for only 25:53 minutes per game in these most recent three games.
Whether it is because of the schemes of Staley and his defensive coaching staff or the increased accountability of the players on defense, the Chargers' defense is finally starting to meet the expectations from when they hired Staley away from the Rams when he was their defensive coordinator. With a healthy Derwin James running the defense (and Joey Bosa expected to get healthy and back on the field soon) and Justin Herbert lurking on offense, it is this Los Angeles team this season that has the makings of a potential deep run in the playoffs.
Good luck - TDG.