Bend but don’t break.
It’s the phrase that was most frequently used to describe the Chargers’ stingy defense in 2017. Teams could move the ball — the defense was square in the middle of the league in yardage allowed — but points? Those were hard to come by.
The Chargers allowed the third-fewest points thanks to that flexibility, and Saturday night at StubHub Center, now in Year 2 of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley’s system, the starters were contorting like a Cirque du Soleil troupe.
All that bending and none of the breaking helped the Chargers get their first win of the preseason 24-14. In the first half facing Russell Wilson and the Seahawks’ best offense, the Chargers held Seattle to two field goals on six drives, including three that went deep into the defense’s territory.
The biggest play — Melvin Ingram crashing into running back Chris Carson at the goal line — erased Seattle’s best chance at a touchdown against the Chargers’ first-string defense that was still without defensive end Joey Bosa and cornerback Trevor Williams, both out with injuries.
Safety Jahleel Addae broke up a pass in the end zone to force one of the field goals, and Jatavis Brown sacked Wilson to force the other, turning what could’ve been 14 into a paltry six.
And it took Philip Rivers less than six minutes to make the most out of the Chargers’ defensive effort.
Getting his first action of the preseason, Rivers and the Chargers’ starting offense pushed 70 yards down the field for a touchdown on the team’s opening drive, with Melvin Gordon scoring on a two-yard run.
On the first play of his preseason, Rivers used his feet (not his strength) before using his arm, and his touch and playmaking (his strength) to elude a pass rush and find Tyrell Williams 21 yards down the field on a broken play.
He did it again on the second drive, finding an open receiver after using his normally leaded feet to sneak out of the pocket.
In two drives, Rivers completed six of seven passes for 62 yards, a sharp debut to his 15th season.
The Chargers added another score in the first half when undrafted rookie receiver JJ Jones broke loose on a 72-yard punt return. And early in the second half, Geno Smith continued to add to his case to be Rivers’ backup, setting Mike Williams up for his first touchdown as a Charger on a lofted 21-yard pass to last year’s first-round pick.
Smith piggybacked off a 218-yard passing game in the preseason opener by completing six of eight passes in limited work, including a beautiful jump ball that Williams was able to corral.
But the game gets easy for the offense when it’s sure the defense won’t snap.
On the opening Seahawks possessions, Wilson punished the Chargers defense with play-action passes. And had it not been for an illegal block, Carson would’ve easily scored the game’s first points on a 23-yard run.
Wilson’s arm got Seattle in position to score again on the starting defense’s biggest gaffe of the night. Facing third and long, Wilson fired the ball deep into double coverage, and instead of simply batting it down, Addae tried to grab an interception. The ball appeared to slip between his arms — and right into receiver David Moore’s hands.
But it wasn’t for a touchdown and the Chargers hadn’t reached a breaking point, and with the Seahawks a few feet away from a touchdown, the defense made a big play.