The Chargers win, again! I was worried about this matchup, especially because the Chargers tend to be iffy when it comes to run defense, and Derrick Henry is a beast. But I’ve been pleasantly surprised with how much the defense has stepped up in the last couple of weeks and rookies like Ja’Sir Taylor are really starting to find their place.
Concluding my defensive series, let’s take a look at the defensive line performances during this Titans game and throughout the season so far.
**As a note, Tyeler Davison will not be included. He’s only played 24 defensive snaps and six special teams snaps across five different games. Christopher Hinton will not be included as he only played three defensive snaps during the Miami game. Otito Ogbonnia will also not be included as I wrote about his season during my rookie check-in piece during the bye week.
The Chargers Defensive Line
Sebastian Joseph-Day’s Game Performance Against the Titans
The defense has been on point for the Chargers in the last two games, and you can always count on Sebastian Joseph-Day to produce a solid performance. He was eighth for the team in terms of tackling with a Pro Football Focus (PFF) grade of 72.9 and had five combined tackles (solo and assisted tackles). He also tied with Drue Tranquill for the highest STOP total of the team at five.
Joseph-Day was one of many players crucial to stopping Henry from running all over the place. He wasn’t involved much in the pass rush game, but that is to be expected when all you’re mostly trying to do is stop a giant from getting over the line of scrimmage. Joseph-Day can always be counted on for that extra security on the defensive line.
Reflections on Joseph-Day’s Season-Wide Performance So Far
Joseph-Day has been an integral and constant presence on the defensive line. He’s had to hold up much of this unit, and his stats have taken a dive in some areas. Both his run defense and overall defensive grades have declined from last year, while his wide receiver coverage grade is up to 70.4 from 54.2 last year, and his tackling grade is up to 47.2 from 44.9. Despite the declines, he’s had the third most STOPs of the entire team at 27, the sixth most combined tackles of the team at 49, and the fourth most hurries (defined as when a defender hurries the passer) of the team at 10.
Joseph-Day has managed to make things happen this year while simultaneously plugging the holes in a vessel that has at times taken on a bit too much water. He had a great fumble recovery during the first drive of the Cardinals game, which Derwin James forced out of James Connor’s hands.
He also showed so much aggression during the Chiefs game in Week 11 by literally yanking Patrick Mahomes down by his arm as he was scrambling, forcing Mahomes to drop the ball and then quickly recover it. And during the fourth quarter against the Seahawks, as they were trying to work their way out of their end zone, Joseph-Day stopped Kenneth Walker in his tracks before he even made it forward.
He’s currently on a three-year contract with the Chargers and I’m hoping with fewer changes next year, that his grades will look a bit more solid.
Breiden Fehoko‘s Game Performance Against the Titans
Breiden Fehoko had a good day against the Titans. His run defense grade and overall defense grades were the highest they’ve been all season at 77.5 and 75.6, respectively. He had one STOP and five combined tackles. His run defense grade definitely had to do with the fact that he had a few assisted tackles and a solo tackle on Henry in particular. Run defense and pass rush have been the main areas that Fehoko has struggled with this year, so it’s great to see some improvement, especially late in the season and against someone like Henry.
Reflections on Fehoko’s Season-Wide Performance So Far
Fehoko has played a few games for the Chargers this year after having stepped in for some other players. His grades for tackling and run defense have declined from last year despite only playing 69 more snaps. His grades have improved though in a few areas such as pass rush and wide receiver coverage. He’s been a good plug-and-play guy for the team. He’s had eight STOPs so far this year, which ranks 12th for the team, along with 18 combined tackles.
The press conference that he held when he made the team, which talked about his commitment to the Chargers and the fact that he was so grateful to come to work each day, definitely makes it hard not to root for him. I do hope he ends up staying with the Chargers as he is a reliable backup.
Morgan Fox‘s Game Performance Against the Titans
Morgan Fox had a quieter game against the Titans. He didn’t have any STOPs, and his run defense grade was the lowest of the team at 39.1. He also didn’t have any tackles. Besides having some pressure on the quarterback with one hurry, he didn’t make much of an impact, which is unusual for Fox. I’m hoping this is just a blip on an otherwise good season.
Reflections on Fox’s Season-Wide Performance So Far
Fox has had a solid season for the Chargers. He’s had 15 STOPs and he’s twelfth for the team with 27 tackles. His pass rush grade has been the real story. It’s gone up a bit from 62.9 in 2021 to 69.7 this year. He currently ranks sixth for the entire defense for pass rush and has had the second most hurries of the team with 24.
He’s already had four sacks this year, one of which was during last week’s game against Miami, which contributed to a three-and-out during the third quarter. And on another during the Chiefs game in Week 11, he pressured Mahomes to the point that he was far back from the line of scrimmage and had to throw the ball away. His best pass rush game was against the Texans, marking his highest grade of the season at 84.1%. He’s also been decent when it comes to run defense. He had assisted and solo tackles on Josh Jacobs during the Week 13 game, contributing to his best-run defense grade of the season at 74.4%.
Fox started training camp a little quieter than most, but he’s definitely made his presence known this season, and hopefully has done enough to earn a contract extension next year.
Joe Gaziano’s Game Performance Against the Titans
Defensive end Joe Gaziano had his first sack of the season during the fourth quarter of this matchup, contributing to his highest pass-rush grade of the season at 72.4. This was his significant contribution to the game though, as he had a quieter performance overall. He wasn’t as involved this game and only played 20 total snaps for the defense and only four on special teams. Considering he got a sack during that limited time, I’d say that’s pretty impressive.
Reflections on Gaziano’s Season-Wide Performance So Far
Gaziano has not played much for the Chargers with just 114 total defensive snaps and 30 special teams snaps across five games. Most of his PFF grades, besides his pass rush grade, have declined from last year. He’s only had eight combined tackles this year, along with one hit, two hurries, and five STOPs. Despite getting his first sack of the season this past game, he’s been outshined by some of the more explosive additions to this defensive line.
It’s not clear if he’ll be able to carve out much of a role when others get healthy, and the Chargers regroup and add new additions in the offseason. His expiring contract may lead to him finding a home elsewhere.
Reflections on Christian Covington’s Season-Wide Performance
Defensive tackle Christian Covington may be out for the rest of the season with a torn pectoral, which will put a stop to a less-than-productive season. He only played 123 total snaps this year, much less than in previous seasons, and almost all of his PFF grades have declined from last year, with the exception of pass rush, which went from 46.9 to 56.6. He had 12 combined tackles this year along with three missed ones, three hurries, and three STOPs. He didn’t have a significant contribution to the Chargers this season and with the limited snaps we did see, I’m unsure if they’re enough to earn a renewed contract next year.
Reflections on Austin Johnson’s Season-Wide Performance
It was sad to lose defensive tackle Austin Johnson for the season when he fractured his knee during the Falcons game. He had been finding his groove since joining the team from the Giants this year. His run defense grade ended the season at 52.4, which is only a smidge down from his 2021 season which was 53.9. And run defense in particular is an area where he’s been missed the most.
Though his tackling grade took a hit this year, the rest of his PFF grades stayed fairly consistent with what he had with the Giants and that’s a feat. He ended the season with 15 STOPs, one sack, one batted pass, four hurries, two hits, and 22 combined tackles. Johnson has another year on his contract, and hopefully with a full, healthy season under his belt, he’ll be able to continue being that strong, steady presence for the Chargers on this defensive line.