Time for Chargers defense to step up

Posted Nov. 07, 2011 @ 5:15 p.m.
Posted By Eli Kaberon

The Packers had nine offensive drives on against the Chargers in the teams' rainy Week Nine contest. Four times they scored touchdowns. On one, they kicked a field goal. On another, they turned it over on downs. Twice, both in the fourth quarter, they had to punt. And on the ninth and final drive, Aaron Rodgers took a knee to run out the clock and cement the win.

Thirty-one Packers points in nine drives.

While the impressive numbers say a lot about the talent of the defending Super Bowl champs and the play of Rodgers, it also speaks loudly about the Chargers' defense. Ranked No. 1 in the league last season, the level of play has fallen off considerably in 2011. That was apparent three weeks ago, when San Diego blew an 11-point lead to the Jets. It was evident last Monday, when the Chiefs marched down the field on a 14-play drive to beat San Diego in overtime. And it was as clear as ever on Sunday in the 45-38 loss to the Packers that the Chargers "D" needs to step up big time in the second half of the season.

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Injuries are never supposed to be an excuse for a team, but maybe the Chargers' defense has a valid claim. Of the 11 starters that the team trotted out for its Week One game against the Vikings, only five remained in the lineup for Sunday's game against the Packers. DE Luis Castillo, OLB Shaun Phillips and SS Bob Sanders are just some of the players who were not available for the Green Bay game because they are hurt, along with CB Antoine Cason, who was benched for poor play.

Yet the Chargers only needed to look at the opposing sideline on Sunday to realize that injuries can't be an excuse. Last season, the Packers had seven Week One starters on injured reserve by the end of the campaign, yet still won the Super Bowl. Already this season, the Packers have lost more key players (FS Nick Collins) than games (none).

Whoever is playing defense for the Chargers, whether it be a high-priced star or undrafted rookie backup, needs to improve. Too often against the Packers, defenders were out of position or late getting to their spot in covering throws, allowing big plays to happen all game long. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky opted to load up on defensive backs, going with nickel or dime packages on the majority of downs, but that strategy only works when the players on the field are capable of stopping downfield throws. Instead, Rodgers completed more than 80 percent of his passes.

There were some positives from the San Diego "D." It recorded a season-high four sacks and registered a pair of fourth-quarter stops when the offense needed the ball back as it attempted to rally. And to be fair, the Chargers were facing the best offense and the hottest quarterback the NFL.

Still, for a unit that was best in the league last season, the level of play is not high enough. With eight games left and the playoffs still within reach for the Chargers, the defense needs to improve even if injuries continue to wear down the lineup. The opponent won't be as good as the Packers every week, but the Chargers must make sure their leval of play improves as well.

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