Reflections on The 2022 Chargers Linebacker and Edge Rusher Performances

The Chargers spent a kings ransom to improve their defense. The second part of a series delving into why they have underperformed and who has actually worked out.

Chargers Edge Rusher Khalil Mack Photo Credit: Ty Nowell | Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers Edge Rusher Khalil Mack Photo Credit: Ty Nowell | Los Angeles Chargers

The Los Angeles Chargers managed to shut down Miami’s explosive offense and cruise to a 7-6 record on Sunday night. And wow, they did it without some of their defensive heavy hitters like Sebastian Joseph-Day, Bryce Callahan, Derwin James, and, of course, Joey Bosa.

I have to say that my faith in the Chargers has been tested this year amidst so many devastating injuries, but the reason I love this team is that they’re always going to put on a show and give you absolutely everything they have. Kudos to their defense, who showed up and showed out for this team. In continuing my review of season-wide performance on the defense, let’s take a look at the linebacker’s and edge rusher’s performances last night and overall.

*As a note, Jeremiah Attaochu has been omitted. He only played 13 snaps across two different games this season and 15 special teams snaps.

Chargers Linebackers and Edge Rushers

Kenneth Murray’s Performance Game Performance Against the Dolphins

There was a bizarre play during the first half where Jeff Wilson was on a running play and Alohi Gilman, who was in for Derwin James, popped the ball out and it fell on the ground. In the pile of players looking to recover it, Terron Armstead appeared to bat the ball behind him. Tyreek Hill then picked it up, running it a long way for a touchdown. Middle linebacker Kenneth Murray was the last one seen running after Hill, but Hill was just too fast for him.

Besides that blunder, which was really on the Chargers defense and not just on him, Murray played a good game. He almost had an interception during the first quarter but just couldn’t get his hands on the ball. He had seven combined tackles. Sunday’s game marked his highest grades of the season for overall defense (88.6) run defense (87.0), tackling (80.7), and receiver coverage (76.4).

Reflections on Murray’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Murray has had some bright spots this year. For instance, the first interception of his career during the Seahawks game, and in areas like tackling, coverage, and pass rushing. Overall defense has improved from last year, especially receiver coverage which is up to 68.2 from 38.1 last year. Murray has struggled with run defense, with an average PFF grade of 28.3 for all games this season.

He couldn’t grab onto DeAndre Hopkins who ran in for a 33-yard touchdown during the first quarter of the Cardinals game. And he had similar trouble with Kenneth Walker during the Seahawks game. He’s definitely at the bottom in terms of defense when it comes to the Chargers. He had an overall defense grade of 34 last year and this year he’s played quite a few more snaps and only has 44.4.

I’m hoping yesterday’s Miami game is the start of an upward trajectory for someone who was looking good toward the end of Chargers training camp.

Troy Reeder’s Game Performance Against the Dolphins

Inside linebacker Troy Reeder only played about 20 special teams snaps against Miami on Sunday night and zero on the defensive line, which makes sense as he’s split time a lot with Murray in the past. His special teams grade was 61.6, which wasn’t the highest of his grades. Most of them tend to be in the 60s. He did not have any particular special teams plays of note during the matchup.

Reflections on Reeder’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Reeder has been involved in special teams this year and has taken a few snaps at various inside and outside linebacker positions. His best game was against the Chiefs in Week 11. In that game, he played the most snaps when he was in for an injured Murray. During the third quarter, he had a great pass breakup on Noah Gray. And during the fourth quarter, had a tackle on Isiah Pacheco and in the next play forced a fumble from Jerick McKinnon which Gilman picked up.

Reeder only played 21 total snaps during that game but in that short time, he made big things happen. Considering the Chargers only signed Reeder to a single-year $1,075,000 contract to use mostly on special teams, he’s been an asset, and maybe it’s time they involve him more in this defensive scheme. It would be interesting to see what he can do if given more time in the game, so I hope he’s done enough for an extension from the Chargers.

Drue Tranquill’s Game Against the Dolphins

It’s always good to bet on Drue Tranquil. His grades weren’t his top for the season, but they were high with an overall defense score of 81.6, a tackling grade of 80.9, a pass rush grade of 70.4, and a receiver coverage grade of 79.5. He had five combined tackles along with one hit and one hurry on the passer. He had two pass breakups, which are his first of the season, one against Hill and another against Trent Sherfield. He was also good when covering Hill. When matched up with him, Hill only got one first down.

Tranquill always makes things exciting because you’re never quite sure what feat he’ll perform when you see him from one moment to the next.

Reflections on Tranquill’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Looking at PFF, I see declines in terms of tackling and receiver coverage for Tranquill, but I also see a slight rise in run defense from 45.4 last year to 47.6 this year. In pass rushing, from 68.8 to 71.9 this year. And it’s these slight increases that tell more of the story. Yes, it hasn’t always been perfect. 21 missed tackles are miles ahead of the four he missed last season, but he’s also played 205 extra snaps this year than last and with that, there are bound to be missteps along the way.

He’s had his share of sacks this year, including sacking Marcus Mariota during the second quarter of the Falcons game in Week 9 and two on Russell Wilson during the fourth quarter in Week 6, including one where Wilson tried to scramble to his right out of the pocket.

He’s had 108 combined tackles for the year, the highest amount on the team. Tranquill is a force, and he’s another player that should get a contract extension next year.

Nick Niemann’s Game Performance Against the Dolphins

Nick Niemann is the special teams hero of last night. During the fourth quarter, he recovered a punt when Josh Palmer muffed it. It’s because of Niemann that the Dolphins gain possession. That would have given them one more shot to score a touchdown to tie the game. I guarantee having that punt recovery is what helped him get his second-highest special teams grade of the season at 71.3 and saved the win for the Chargers. He definitely deserves props for that recovery and that’s what’s great about having veterans like him on that unit.

Reflections on Niemann’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Niemann mostly has been on the special teams side of the ball this year, which was the Chargers plan all along. His special teams grade has been fairly consistent, with an overall grade of 69.5. And he was a major asset during the Raiders game when he helped to execute a fake punt to get the ball to Joshua Kelley.

He hasn’t really been able to shine much this year and in the few games he did play last year on defense, he showed a little bit of what he could do with his first career interception during the Giants game in Week 14 and no missed tackles. But perhaps he’ll have more opportunities to distinguish himself on a special teams unit that is leaps and bounds above where it was last year.

Kyle Van Noy’s Game Performance Against The Dolphins

Kyle Van Noy had a solid performance last night. Though his grades are pretty average according to PFF, he did have his first sack of the season. He did a great spin move during the second quarter to get after Tua Tagovailoa. He also had a great takedown on Wilson a few plays before that. He only had two combined tackles during Sunday’s game but it was nice to see that sack, as it was reminiscent of Van Noy pre-Chargers.

Reflections on Van Noy’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Van Noy was an interesting addition to the Chargers team this offseason. He’s done a little bit of everything in the linebacker position during the course of his career that’s spanned Detroit, Miami, and New England. For the Chargers this year, he’s had to pivot to outside linebacker. They’ve had to overcome quite a few injuries in that position between Joey Bosa being out.

He’s had his moments this year, such as recovering the fumble during the Chargers/Raiders game last week. And during the third quarter of the Chargers/Chiefs game in Week 11, he had great pressure on Patrick Mahomes which forced him to throw the ball away. But he’s also had his challenges, like blocking to the inside instead of the outside during Week 3 against the Jags, and James Robinson got right around him and everyone else for a long touchdown run.

One of the narratives during Chargers training camp was that Van Noy wouldn’t be able to adapt to a different system and he has been mixed in terms of performance. Though his tackling grade has gone up from 56.4 last year to 68.7 this year, he’s really in the middle of the pack, eleventh overall on the Chargers defense, in terms of combined tackles at 32. He is currently sixth in the team overall for STOPs with 15, but considering last year he had 27, he’s a bit off from that target.

And yes, it certainly is great to add veteran experience to the team and maybe he needs more time, but he’s currently on a one-year, $2,250,000 contract and I’m unsure if he’s done enough to earn an extension.

Amen Ogbongbemiga’s Game Performance Against the Dolphins

Amen Ogbongbemiga only played 23 snaps of special teams during the Miami game. His overall grade for special teams was 62.3, which is similar to many of the grades he’s had this year.

Reflections on Ogbongbemiga’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Ogbongbemiga has been relegated to the special teams, like Niemann. His special team’s grade has definitely improved from 52.2 last year to 72.5 this year. He also appears to bring more value to the unit as when he did play within his typical inside linebacker position last year, he didn’t play well and had four STOPs and 26 combined tackles within a handful of games. Overall, he’s better suited for special teams given his experience with the team.

Khalil Mack’s Performance Game Performance Against the Dolphins

Khalil Mack had some excellent pressure on Tagovailoa during this game. During the second quarter, he gor right in Tagovailoa’s face, causing him to throw the ball away. And he helped to tackle Tagovailoa during the fourth quarter as he made it to the first down line. He had the most hurries on the passer of the Chargers at five, which is tied with the Cardinals game for his most this season. His stats actually were not as impressive as they have been in some of his past games but he still had a solid outing overall.

Reflections on Mack’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

The Chargers have definitely gotten the Mack that they thought they were going to get at the outside linebacker position. Though it’s been a shame that we haven’t gotten to see the fearsome twosome of him and Bosa, tag-teaming their way through offensive lines, what we’ve seen is Mack being equally satisfying.

We can’t forget the completed pass that was ripped out from Drake London’s hands during the game against the Falcons. There was the fumble recovery against the Seahawks as D’Wayne Eskridge lost the ball during a handoff, and who can forget all the amazing quarterback pressures and sacks this season? He batted a pass during the second quarter of the Broncos game, his only one of the season. He sacked Jimmy Garoppolo once in the 49ers game and Mahomes during Week 2. His highest sack total of the season was in Week 1 against the Raiders, where he had three and that was also the game with his most STOPs with five.

Mack is just as intimidating as he was in Chicago and though his stats have declined this year from where he was in 2020, he’s still been a powerhouse. I do think though that he needs a strong presence like Bosa to lean on. Luckily he has until 2024, which will hopefully mean two seasons where both Bosa and he are healthy, to build on their bond and generate some of the performances he did with Chicago. He’s one of those rare players that seems to have gotten better with age, much like Maxx Crosby, so he hasn’t yet reached his ceiling.

Chris Rumph’s Performance Game Performance Against the Dolphins

Chris Rumph’s performance against Miami wasn’t great. He was on the lower side of the overall defensive grades at 52.6 and his tackling grade was the lowest of the bunch at 21.7, which also marked his lowest tackling grade of the season. His pass rush grade was also only 57.0. It was a quiet game for Rumph.

Reflections on Rumph’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

A lot has been asked of Rumph this year, including stepping up as a starter in the absence of Joey Bosa. And he hasn’t always risen to the occasion. During the snaps he has played each game, some categories have gone up for a period of time, such as when he had a grade of 70.5 in tackling during week five against the Browns, and that grade rose to 75.3 in the next week against the Broncos. His run defense grade also rose to 69.8 against the Cardinals, but he hasn’t been able to sustain that output. He’s only had one STOP this whole season, along with nine hurries, four quarterback hits, zero sacks, zero interceptions, and zero pass breakups.

Sometimes stats don’t tell the whole story, but for Rumph it’s something I’ve really been harping on much of the season, as he hasn’t been playing up to his potential and has regressed between this season and last. His tackling grade last season ended at 80.2 while his average grade this year is 24.6. His pass rush grade was also slightly better at 54 last year and this year he’s only at 49.4.

And considering he’s only played 48 more snaps this year than last year, those are quite large drops for not a whole lot more snaps. His receiver coverage grade has also not gone past the 60s this whole year.

Rumph is good for flashes but those moments just haven’t been sustained. He has suffered some injuries, so perhaps next year when he’s completely healthy, we’ll see some of those sparks light into a nice fire that continues burning throughout the season.

Derrek Tuszka’s Performance Game Performance Against the Dolphins

Derrek Tuszka played a few special teams snaps during the Dolphins game last night and had a grade of 62.4. Most of his special teams grades this season have been around the 60s. He didn’t have a chance to play any defensive snaps.

Reflections on Tuszka’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

Tuszka was an interesting addition to the Chargers. He didn’t join them until the early season. Brandon Staley said during his Week 4 press conference that they decided to acquire him because he had played in similar systems and played under Vic Fangio in Denver in 2020. This is Tuszka’s fourth team in three years in the league.

Considering he came onto the Chargers so late and had to adapt quickly, he’s done good enough. He’s played mostly at left outside linebacker and the Chiefs game of Week 11 marked his best-tackling grade of the season at 76.1. He has yet to have any sacks, interceptions, or pass breakups and his pass rush grade has only reached the 60s twice this season.

Over the course of his career, he hasn’t had much opportunity to play. Though I do wish that he had more passer pressure in the snaps he has played for the Chargers, if he gets an off-season with them under his belt, perhaps those numbers will go up next year.

Reflections on Joey Bosa’s Season-Wide Performance So Far

This has been Bosa’s lost season. He’s been on IR for the majority of it. When Bosa’s on, he’s just about the best edge rusher in the league. The Chargers/Raiders game during Week 1 and the Chiefs in Week 2 gave us just a taste of what we were in for with him this year, and we’ve been longing to see him in action ever since.

In the two and a half games he played, he did manage to have two sacks and five STOPs, which is actually more than some at his position have done through this entire season. Add to that six hurries, two hits, and seven combined tackles, Bosa is just such an elite athlete and he’s been really missed these last several weeks. If the Chargers are able to make it to the playoffs, the hope is he’ll make it back to the Chargers roster.

Chargers Edge Rusher Khalil Mack Photo Credit: Ty Nowell | Los Angeles Chargers
Chargers Edge Rusher Khalil Mack Photo Credit: Ty Nowell | Los Angeles Chargers