Chargers appear to turn the corner on run defense

(News4usonline) – The biggest takeaway from the Chargers’ 41-37 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers in a Sunday Night Football game was not the 472 total yards that quarterback Justin Herbert racked up. It was not the four touchdowns the running bak Austin Ekeler accounted for in LA’s victory.

It wasn’t even wide receiver Mike Williams’ 53-yard touchdown with a shade over two minutes remaining in the game that would ultimately decide the outcome of the contest. All these moments played vital parts in the Chargers recording their sixth win of the season in Week 11.

But the one stat line that may have played a bigger determination in Los Angeles walking away with a win at SoFi Stadium was the one that Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill probably care the most about and that was how many yards did the Steelers get on his defense running the ball.

Well, it is safe to say that that the Chargers’ defense took care of business on that end, holding Pittsburgh to just 55 yards rushing on 18 attempts. Najee Harris, the Steelers’ leading rusher, could only muster 39 yards rushing on 12 carries.

That kind of defense starts upfront with the play of the defensive line, which Chargers coach Brandon Staley conceded.

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October 31, 2021. Los Angeles Chargers defenders Nasir Adderley (24) and Derwin James (33) converge to make the tackle on New England Patriots running back Damien Harris (37). File Photo/Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“We have four undrafted players who were holding the rope for us,” Staley said after the Chargers had defeated the Steelers. “[Defensive Line Coach] Giff Smith is doing a heck of a job coaching them. Just an incredible, gutsy coaching and playing performance by those guys. I’m so proud of them. I told you guys on Friday that I felt like we would play that way. We played well around them in the run front.

“That allowed us to play the way we wanted to play. I feel like those four guys deserve so much praise for the way they competed tonight. I’m just so proud of them. They played with the warrior spirit that we expect. It was a tremendous performance by that group.”

The noteworthy performance didn’t move the needle in terms of the Chargers still being last in the NFL in stopping the run. However, by holding down a solid running attack in the form of Harris and the Steelers, the Chargers improved on their per game average.

In one week, the Chargers went from giving up 155 yards per game to now surrendering 145 yards a contest.

“It felt pretty good having a lot of young guys step up,” Hill said in a Thursday press conference. “Obviously, [Defensive Line Coach] Giff [Smith] and [Run Game Coordinator/Outside Linebackers Coach] Jay [Rodgers] do a good job of continuing to work with those young guys.

“We know that this is the NFL and that things happen, but those guys were ready to roll. It was good to see that. I think that it shows the growth of this team and that we can continue moving forward and developing guys, keep shaping this team the way we want it.”

Besides putting the clamps on Harris and the Steelers rushing attack, the only other game in which the Chargers kept an opponent below 100 yards rushing was in Week 4 when they held the Las Vegas Raiders to 48 yards on the ground.

Other than that, Los Angeles has seen its run defense become vulnerable to some of the best rushing attacks in the NFL. Chargers outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said the defensive unit simply locked in on Harris and Pittsburgh’s ground game.

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October 10, 2021. Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Dru Tranquill (49) wraps up Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt (27) on this play. File Photo/Mark Hammond/News4usonline

“One thing we preached all week was being able to stop the run,” Nwosu said. “We took a huge step these last couple of weeks. To fulfill that goal, we just keep building on what we were preaching and what we kept practicing. We were able to come out there and dominate. Everybody was able to step up. We were down a couple of guys inside. Guys were able to step up. Guys we eager to play and get their opportunity to shine. They made the most of it and I’m really proud of those guys. Everybody has just been working hard.”

If there was an indicator that the Chargers’ defense was heading in the right direction in stopping the run was the team’s home game against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 10. Though they wound up on the losing end of a 27-20 game against the Vikings, the Chargers defense kept Minnesota running back Dalvin Cook from going completely buckwild.

The Chargers to 94 yards rushing and limited Minnesota to only 103 yards on the ground. That would be the catalyst to how the Chargers played the run against the Steelers.

“We just got tired of all the noise, people saying that they can run all over us,” Nwosu remarked. “As a man, that just hurts your pride. At some point, you just have a muscle up and say, ‘F-that, we’re going to go ahead and just start punching dudes in the mouth.’ The bye week really helped everybody get a realization of what was going on here.”

Nwosu continued, “The coaches really harped on what we needed to accomplish. Guys just said that enough was enough. Everyone was stepping up. Everyone said that enough is enough. We just really hammered in on that run game, really coming off the ball and being very physical and aggressive. That’s something that Coach Staley preaches about every day, being aggressive.”

Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Chargers outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (42) running down Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (6). Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline