Injuries have hit the San Diego Chargers hard this season, but none hurt more than the loss of potential future Hall-of-Famer Dwight Freeney, who will miss the remainder of the season due to a torn quadriceps. Not only did he pose as the only real pass rushing threat the Bolts had, he was doing it at such a high level at the age of 33. According to Pro Football Focus, Freeney was the second-best pass rusher through four games behind only Justin Houston.
Without Freeney, the Chargers have Jarret Johnson (23.5 sacks in 11 seasons), Larry English (9.5 sacks in five seasons), Thomas Keiser (4.5 sacks in two seasons) and Tourek Williams (rookie with zero sacks) who will lead the pass rush on the outside.
Simply put, the Chargers don’t have the personnel at outside linebacker to rush the quarterback effectively at this point. Defensive coordinator John Pagano will need to make do with what he has and get creative with different blitzes and disguised coverages to confuse opposing quarterbacks.
More than anything though, this defense filled with talent just needs to step it up.
Rushing off the edge isn’t the only way to get to the quarterback. An interior pass rush that collapses the pocket and doesn’t allow the quarterback to step up can arguably be more disruptive for a pocket passer. Along the defensive line, Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes and Cam Thomas, who have always had the athletic ability and now a good amount of experience under the belts, haven’t live up to the high expectations placed on them this season and will need to play better. Liuget and Reyes both had sacks last week, so maybe that is a sign for things to come.
The secondary, which has been pretty atrocious this season, will also need to step up. If the Bolts defense needs to blitz more often and bring extra guys to generate any kind of pass rush, the defensive backs will need to hold the receivers in check to allow the pass rush to get home. On paper, Derek Cox, Shareece Wright, Richard Marshall and Johnny Patrick are a solid group of cornerbacks, but none have lived up to their abilities through the first four games. Along with strong safety Marcus Gilchrist, who also hasn’t played great through four games, this talented group will need to step up.
It should be noted that the Chargers actually shut out the Dallas Cowboys in the second half after Freeney left with the injury, showing that the defense can play well without him. Clearly, the Bolts are a better team with Freeney, but have the talent at other positions to succeed without him.