The Numbers Don’t Lie – Truth Behind 2013 San Diego Defense

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The San Diego Chargers defense had a roller coaster of a season.

Statistics can be straight to the point and tell you how a team played. Some may be misleading causing a diluted reality. Studying statistics is something I have done since college and something that will really help paint a picture. By dissecting stats from the 2013 Chargers Defense we can see just how well they played.

 

John Pagano and his defense seemed to get a slow start. Injuries to linebackers Donald Butler and Manti T’eo, among others, could be to blame. Having a free agent bust in CB Derek Cox could also have something to do with it. The San Diego defense did heighten its play towards the end of the season. Maybe it was the help of some of these injured players returning, most notably Melvin Ingram. Even with their level of play rising, Pagano’s defense still showed its holes at times.

Donald Butler Becoming a Leader on Defense over 2013 Season
Donald Butler Becoming a Leader on Defense over 2013 Season

The last 5 regular season games, the Charger’s defense only gave up an average of 17.6 points/game (17.4 pts/game including 2 playoff games). The Charger’s defense actually finished the season giving up only 21.8 points per game which was the 11th best in the NFL. With an elite Chargers defense, one would expect that stat to translate into more wins. The Chargers actually lost a few games where they could not manage 20 points (Chargers lost to Titans 20-17, Dolphins 20-16). So the defense did their part then right? Might I remind you the Chargers led 17-13 to the Titans with 30 seconds left in the game? A 6th or 7th CB on the depth chart (Crezdon Butler) got burnt for a 34 yard TD pass to a rookie WR with 16 seconds left in the game.

What does this really tell us?

Think about the Chargers offensive game plan for a majority of the season.  Ken Whisenhunt brought back a consistent running game as the Chargers wanted to play ball-control all season. The San Diego offense led the NFL in 2013 with the most 10+ Play drives. Not coincidentally, the Chargers also led the entire NFL in Time of Possession Per Game (33:35).

This leads to my next stat – 959. That is the total number of plays the Chargers had on defense. This is 2nd best in the NFL.  The time of possession stats mentioned above make this believable and understandable.

Despite having the 2nd least defensive snaps in the entire league, the Chargers give up 366.5 yards per game which is ranked 23rd (10th worst) in the league. When taking into account how long the Chargers defense was on the field, San Diego totals 6.1 yards per play. 6.1 in SECOND Worst in the entire NFL. 

That stat is what tells the true tail of the 2013 San Diego Chargers. 

Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt must have known their weakness laid in the defense. They must have known they would have to play the ball control game to keep the ball out of the opponents hands, and keep the defense on the sideline. San Diego got back to the run game in a balanced attack where they rooted their identity in long drives.

Eric Weddle Makes Circus Catch for INT
Eric Weddle Makes Circus Catch for INT

These stats are key indicators in the efficiency of a defense/offense. Balancing those stats that are aided by the opposite side of the ball and plugging in the true numbers shows you how well this defense played.

One of the huge factors in the fate of the Chargers 2013 Defense was their 3rd down efficiency. They got in 3rd down situations numerous of times throughout the season, including this past weekend at the end of the Denver Broncos NFL Playoff game. The way the Chargers lost that game in the end was the epitome of the season. Coming back from all the mistakes they had made throughout the game, all the Chargers needed was a defensive stop to give Philip Rivers back the ball one last time to tie it up. San Diego could not get off the field. They blew a 3rd-and-17 as well as a 3rd-and-6 and inevitably a 3rd-and-1. For the year, the defense’s 3rd down percentage was 39%, tied for 12th-worst in the league.

Considering last year’s San Diego defense was the NFL’s worst 3rd down defense since the 1990s, they have seen improvement. This stat is even more telling considering that the San Diego Offense led the entire NFL in 3rd down percentage (49% which is outrageous).

Although San Diego’s offense really could do a better job of scoring points (12th in the league), their defense seems to be the weak link.

Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Jahleel Addae Has Been Giving Plenty of Playing Time Late in Season with Hard-Hitting Nature
Undrafted Rookie Free Agent Jahleel Addae Has Been Giving Plenty of Playing Time Late in Season with Hard-Hitting Nature

Early on it seemed as if John Pagano’s defense was struggling. As the season progressed, it became apparent this struggling defense had a great deal of young starters — and not the best talent in the veterans. Towards the end of the season he did an excellent job scheming and setting up blitzes with his personnel. The Chargers really need to focus on defense in the offseason and get Pagano some more talent upfront and especially a lock down cornerback. The Chargers were ranked 29th in the league in passing yards per game. A better pash rush will help this, but they simply need more talent on the backend.

San Diego needs to cause turnovers. The San Diego defense failed to effectively force turnovers this season only causing 17, which was 3rd worst in the entire NFL (ranked 30th). The defense has to help the offense out more and come up with big plays. It seemed all season the Chargers just could not make a play on defense when they needed it. Shareece Wright dropping an easy interception, this past weekend against Peyton Manning, sums up the year. The Chargers Defensive backs 7 ints (team total 11) ranked worst in the league.

Melvin Ingram Brought Some Energy to the Defense When He Returned from Injury
Melvin Ingram Brought Some Energy to the Defense When He Returned from Injury

Furthermore, San Diego’s turnover margin was -4. The Chargers were 1 of 2 playoff teams with a negative-turnover margin (Green Bay -1, Denver Broncos 0). You cannot expect to win the Super Bowl with a -4 Turnover Margin.

More Big Plays: There is a lot to like with young defensive ends Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes. The reality is, they are defensive ends in a 3-4 defense. Their main goal is to open holes for the linebackers to make plays while rushing the quarterback. A Defensive End in this role will not produce many sacks because 3-4 defenses rely on the OLBs to provide the pass rushing.

Corey Liuget Pressuring QB Andrew Luck
Corey Liuget Pressuring QB Andrew Luck

These two young stars combined for only 10.5 sacks this season. With better players on the outside, you would like to see this number rise to 14-15 while your two outside linebackers are combining for about 20+. Corey Liuget led the team with 5.5 sacks. A 3-4 Defense should never have its Defensive End lead the team in sacks.

Kendal Reyes Hit on Peyton Manning
Kendal Reyes Hit on Peyton Manning

For the season, the Chargers only obtained 35 sacks. Chargers were tied for 23rd in this category. Thomas Keiser led all linebackers with 4.5. Keiser was on the practice squad at the start of the season and only got playing time due to numerous injuries on the defense. He had never really had any consistent production in his career at the NFL level, and two of his 4.5 sacks came in one contest.

This is unacceptable by a group of LBs. Jarrett Johnson only had 3 sacks, but he is also the anchor that sets the edge in the running game, not a guy who attacks the quarterback very often. The Melvin Ingram injury and Dwight Freeney injury obviously played a role in the poor production of our OLBs. A full offseason next year for both of these players will be huge. The big question is if Freeney can stay healthy and continue to produce at the high level of his old Hall of Fame self.

Conclusion:

San Diego has a lot of room for improvement on defense. Their stats were primarily aided to the superb ball control of the offense. John Pagano’s late season schemes and blitzes also helped these numbers. With a couple additions up front, and a star player in the defensive backfield, this team could easily improve.

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