In the 21st century pass-happy version of the NFL, protecting your own quarterback while finding a way to get your opponent’s signal caller to the turf are of the utmost importance. For the San Diego Chargers, both of these elements have been difficult to come by in recent seasons with the team tailing off to the middle of the pack in sacks on defense while ranking second from the bottom of the league in preventing sacks. There is plenty of optimism for improvement in both of those areas in 2013, but let’s focus specifically on the defensive side of the football for this application.
General Manager Tom Telesco went out and snagged veteran pass rusher Dwight Freeney after outside linebacker Melvin Ingram went down with a torn ACL in minicamp. That addition will certainly prove to beneficial for depth purposes, but I’m not sure Freeney will be finding the fountain of youth and putting up 10 to 12 sacks again this season. That means in order to put more pressure on the quarterback this season, the Bolts will likely have to generate some push from the defensive line.
Even though the 3-4 defensive scheme doesn’t traditionally see many sacks come from the down linemen, the Chargers had a breakout game in December last season against the New York Jets where they saw defensive end Corey Liuget notch two sacks on his own while then rookie Kendall Reyes from the end position opposite him put up a staggering 3.5 sacks. Now granted not every team is going to be playing a rookie quarterback that isn’t familiar with the speed of the NFL game, but the Bolts’ defensive front showed that they are more than capable of applying pressure when called upon.
Given the fact that the defense figures to vary its formations a bit this season with Freeney in the mix, the base 4-3 may be used more often. That will place Liuget and Reyes along with nose tackle Cam Thomas more in position to need to apply pressure on the quarterback. If the Bolts are relying on the front four to get into the backfield rather than exotic looks and chaotic blitz looks, these down linemen will have even more emphasis placed on their play in the coming season.
While Freeney could surprise and be a great fit in San Diego or current bust until proven otherwise Larry English could potentially breakout in 2013, I’m not holding my breath. It seems far more likely that the Chargers will rely on their down linemen to get after opposing quarterbacks in the upcoming season, and that might not be such a bad thing after all.