Chargers’ defense needs to get (third) down to business against Jaguars
The Chargers surrendered a touchdown on third-and-eight and then a touchdown on third-and-goal from the five-yard line.
They just about had Denver’s offense off the field on a third-and-four Sunday as Drew Lock passed to wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton, but defensive backs Adrian Phillips and Brandon Facyson arrived fractions of a step tardy and the Broncos duo converted by one yard.
“It was bang-bang,” Gus Bradley said Thursday. “We just didn’t react quite fast enough.”
The Chargers’ defensive coordinator has seen third-down failures far too often this season, the three examples taken from just the first quarter Sunday. And that was against a rookie quarterback making his first NFL appearance and an offense that ranks 30th in third-down efficiency.
The Chargers have a turnover ratio befitting a team in the midst of a disappointing 4-8 season that began with playoff expectations.
Now entering their Week 14 matchup in Jacksonville, the Chargers are tied for 26th in the league, allowing a third-down conversion rate of 44.4%. That’s the franchise’s worst mark since 2011, when the Chargers were last at 49.2%.
Bradley said better tackling and tighter pass coverage would shrink that figure. He also advocated being more stingy on second down.
“Our issue is we’re getting into these third-and-twos, third-and-threes, third-and-fours a lot,” Bradley explained. “Once we get up to third-and-seven, third-and-eight and the guys have a chance to rush and get there, we’re pretty effective.”
According to Pro Football Reference, the Chargers have the third-most missed tackles in the NFL with 97, behind only Arizona and Tampa Bay.
Bradley’s unit — by a significant margin — blitzes less than any defense in the league. Yet, the Chargers are 10th-best in quarterback pressures.
After permitting Denver to go six for 10 on third down in the first half, they limited the Broncos to one for five over the final two quarters. That was part of an overwhelming defensive effort in which the Chargers held Denver to four first downs, 25 yards rushing and 11 yards passing after halftime.
Still, those early third-down misfires proved too costly as the Chargers fell anyway 23-20.
In Jacksonville, the Chargers will face an opponent that has converted 34.5% of its third downs, putting the Jaguars in the bottom third of the NFL. But Jacksonville is back to starting rookie quarterback Gardner Minshew, who is noted for his ability to extend plays with his feet, for his creativity and for his energy — three proven weapons on third down.
Minshew was 4-4 as the starter when Nick Foles was injured. Minshew replaced an ineffective Foles in Week 13 and will start Sunday.
“There are just some unconventional things that show up that, as a defense, you can’t really plan for,” Bradley said of Minshew.
Added Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn: “For a rookie, he has a lot of composure. He’s done some really good things. … It just seems like that team gets inspired by him when he comes in the game.”
Melvin Gordon’s contract situation with the Chargers is murky heading into the final stretch of the regular season, but the running back hopes to stay in L.A.
Looking back now, Bradley admitted it was rough start to the season for rookie defensive tackle Jerry Tillery. The Chargers’ first-round selection was limited during the offseason program and training camp because he was coming off shoulder surgery.
“Early in the season, I think he was learning the game a little bit,” Bradley said. “Some of the things maybe he got away with in college he had to adjust.”
Of particular note, Bradley said Tillery “was driven off the ball” repeatedly when facing double-teams.
Defensive line coach Giff Smith continued to work Tillery into the team’s rotation up front as often as possible, telling Bradley that playing was the only way Tillery would learn and improve.
“If you looked at the Denver game the first time we played them to this time,” Bradley said, “he’s playing much, much better.”
Tillery, taken with the 28th overall pick out of Notre Dame, has 12 tackles and 1.5 sacks. He has been credited with eight pressures and two quarterback hits.
“I think for him it was unfortunate that we didn’t have him in OTAs and training camp,” Bradley said. “I think that would be big. This offseason will be very big for Jerry Tillery.”
Lynn said the key to Tillery’s progress will be learning to play with better leverage.
At 6-foot-6, 295 pounds, Tillery has the length and athletic ability to be effective but must figure how to excel while staying lower.
“He’s a big man,” Lynn said. “He’s tall. I think his development is right on track. I’m definitely not disappointed.”
Philip Rivers’ passer rating of 68 and completion percentage of 56.3 on third down are his worst marks since 2007. … The only Charger limited by injury in practice Thursday was wide receiver Mike Williams, who is dealing with knee soreness that has lingered most of this season.
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