During a recent press conference, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day remarked that run defense wasn’t just about the defensive line, it was about everyone. He said it’s a mindset, and that middle linebacker Eric Kendricks, who was added this offseason, will help people with the communication to get to their spots faster so they can defend against the run. The Chargers run defense struggled throughout 2022, and with the 2023 season inching closer, have the Chargers done enough to improve their run defense?
Chargers Run Defense in 2022
It’s no secret that the Chargers got run all over for the majority of last season. According to PFF, their Week 3 game against Jacksonville marked their highest team run defense grade of the season at 72.3, but that was also the game where running back James Robinson had a 50-yard run, so even that grade couldn’t be considered a triumph.
In fact, only a handful of games saw the Chargers grade above 60. The 50s and 40s were most common with a few in the 30s even!
Between the injuries to defensive lineman Austin Johnson, Christian Covington, and Otito Ogbonnia, along with edge rusher Joey Bosa, much of their run defense difficulties can be linked to constant changes up front. Though a handful of their running containment issues can also be attributed to explosive plays.
There were a lot of busts in coverage throughout the season. Cornerback J.C. Jackson struggled in general after joining the Chargers, but was particularly bad in terms of coverage. He failed to cover wide receiver Amari Cooper in Week 5 against the Browns, allowing Cooper three first downs and one receiving touchdown.
Jackson wasn’t the only weak link. Joseph-Day, who played the most snaps of his career at 758, ended the season with the lowest run-defense grade of his career at 48.2, while cornerback Asante Samuel had issues in coverage on the outside throughout the season.
Joseph-Day is absolutely right in his assessment that run defense is a team problem. When multiple opposing running backs have season-highs in matchups against the Chargers, it’s clear that many pieces of the defense have broken down.
Where the Chargers Are Now?
New defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley talked in a recent press conference about getting multiple guys to the point of attack to stop explosive runs. This is where Kendricks comes in, whose run defense grade has only slipped below the 60s once in his career. Defensive lineman Morgan Fox’s run defense grade rose from 44.8 in 2021 to 50.9 in 2022, and he’ll be a crucial part of the solution. Bosa and Khalil Mack will help to stop some of these rushes before they even get going.
Johnson and Ogbonnia will hopefully be coming back fully healthy, so the Chargers will regain some missing parts. The Chargers have also added more depth at the defensive line by adding rookie Scott Matlock and by retaining some linemen like Christopher Hinton, and David Moa, and adding other free agents.
Jackson should be making a return, fingers crossed, by the time the season starts, and now that he’s been part of the team for a year there will be fewer adjustments for him to make. So some of those explosive plays that he let through should be a thing of the past.
Cornerback Michael Davis is coming off a phenomenal season, so he and Samuel will take up the slack if Jackson isn’t fully healthy. Ja’Sir Taylor, Kemon Hall, Michael Jacquet, and undrafted free agent, Tiawan Mullen, are also waiting in the wings.
With backups on backups and a lot of returning talent, the Chargers are setting themselves up to be ready for anything. As Brandon Staley again takes up his metaphorical megaphone as the defensive signal caller, coupled with the fresh talents of Ansley, the run defense is in line to not be such a glaring weak spot this year.