Chargers are getting more defensive

COSTA MESA, CA-With the NFL, the only certainty is that there is no certainty. All the yapping and smack-talking is held to a one-game audition and week-by-week standard. So, it is conceivable that the Los Angeles Chargers might hit a stumbling block between now and the time they face off against the Pittsburgh Steelers the first week of December. But their schedule indicates that it is probably an unlikely scenario.

The Chargers are 6-2, fresh off of a road victory against the Seattle Seahawks. Next in the line for the next three weeks are the Oakland Raiders (1-7), Denver Broncos (3-6), and Arizona Cardinals (2-7). These three teams have as many wins combined as the Chargers have by themselves. But divisional games are never gimmes, so the Chargers have to prepare for the Raiders and Broncos as if they’re sitting on top of the AFC West division.

In other words, the Chargers can’t get caught taking a nap.

“This group, they have an understanding that we start over every week,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said during his weekly press conference on Monday, Nov. 5. “What we did last week really doesn’t matter. We’re re-focused, we’re going to re-group and come back Wednesday. We’ll go back to work like we haven’t done anything. That’s what I like about this group, their ability to forget, stay present and move forward.”

Rams and Chargers
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) passed for 226 yards and two touchdowns against the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018. Photo by George Laase

Moving forward also requires a dash of learning from the past. The Chargers are on a five-game win streak. The last two victories against the Tennessee Titans and Seahawks showed off the resiliency of the Chargers defense as Los Angeles was forced to hold both opponents out of the endzone with potential game-altering ending plays. First, the Chargers defense blanketed Marcus Maroita and the Titans from completing a two-point conversion in their 20-19 win in London.

The defense was then called on again to shut out Russell Wilson and his ever-evolving Harry Houdini act when they denied Seattle a chance for a potential tie on the last play of the game, securing a 25-17 road win, thanks to Jahleel Addae getting his hands on Wilson’s pass to David Moore at the last split-second.

The Chargers defense seemingly had already locked up the game when Desmond King snatched a Wilson pass and ran into the endzone for a 42-yard pick six to help give Los Angeles a 25-10 lead with less than seven minutes in the contest.

Last-minute heroics, however, should come as no surprise considering the way the Chargers defense has played down the stretch of games this season, particularly during this five-game win streak. Derwin James’ sack and forced interception that clinched the Chargers’ 29-27 win against the San Francisco 49ers, is an example of the unit’s bend-but-don’t play.

Chargers and 49ers
The Los Angeles Chargers defense came up with big plays all game against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018. Photo by Steven Baffo/News4usonline

The Chargers have done well when they’ve played it so close to the vest, thus creating a greater boost of confidence, said Lynn.

“I think they know [how much confidence it provides]. [Defensive Coordinator] Gus Bradley says we protect every inch and then they protect every inch,” Lynn said. “They’ve been in that situation a couple of times and it’s good to see them step up and execute. We put them in those situations in practice. They feel like, when they get into the games, that they’ve been there before. It’s just the focus and the concentration that they have in those drills in practice that carries over to the games. We don’t want too many games coming down to the last play. We would like to close some of these out earlier.”

The defensive unit biggest victory came in keeping Wilson in check, a task that is not easy to do. Wilson passed for 235 yards and produced another 41 yards on the ground, but for the most part, the Chargers bottled up the Seahawks’ playmaker into making him look like a pedestrian bystander.

“That was another point of emphasis,” said defensive end Isaac Rochell. “You know a guy like Russell is extremely mobile and does a good job on moving. So, the rush lanes and integrity while rushing is super important. We just emphasized on that and felt like we did a good job during the game.”

Now that the team is rolling with their winning streak, it is conceivable that the Chargers could walk into their encounter with the Steelers with a 9-2 mark. That’s a look into the nearby future. For now, though, the Chargers are feeling pretty good about themselves, said Rochell.

“I think the momentum is huge,” Rochell said. “I think it’s more of just gaining confidence as you play. I think a more confident team is going to generally win more games and is important for us to win those close games that we’ve been winning. I think that builds even more confidence and builds more momentum. I think the momentum is real and it really matters.”

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