The Chargers have a Pro Bowl starter in defensive end Joey Bosa and a Pro Bowl first alternate in defensive end Melvin Ingram.
They provide the team with one of the top pass-rushing duos in the NFL.
Yet, this is a defense that enters its Week 16 date opposite Oakland tied for 27th in the NFL in sacks with 27.
After Bosa (10.5 sacks) and Ingram (5.5) only two Chargers as many as two sacks — defensive back Desmond King (2.5) and edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu (two).
“It appears like we’re getting very close to the quarterback,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said. “We just need to play tighter coverage. We talk about rush and cover working together.”
It hasn’t helped that play-making safety Derwin James has been limited to three games because of a foot injury. A year ago, James had 3.5 sacks, along with three interceptions and 13 passes knocked away.
Bradley’s crew has been steady in 2019 yet unspectacular. The Chargers are fourth best league-wide against the pass, fifth in total yards allowed and 13th in points surrendered per game.
But they have struggled to produce momentum-shifting plays. They have only 13 takeaways. One team in the league has fewer, and that’s 1-13 Cincinnati.
“Obviously, we’d love to see more,” Bradley said. “We haven’t had many sack-cause-fumbles and things like that.”
The Chargers’ defense is also only one of seven that hasn’t scored a touchdown. The Chargers are tied with the Bengals at minus-16 turnover differential, worst in the NFL.
Bradley said another issue continues to be quarterbacks combating the presence of Bosa and Ingram by releasing the ball quicker. In a 39-10 loss Sunday to Minnesota, he said the Vikings called only 10 drop-backs.
“We’re doing a good job in limiting explosive plays,” Bradley said. “What’s happening is quarterbacks are dumping it down to check-downs and things like that. So when our rush gets close, they’re dumping it down.”
Against the Raiders on Sunday, the Chargers figure to see more of the same. In a 26-24 Week 10 loss at Oakland, Derek Carr was 21 for 31 for 218 yards, a per-attempt average of seven yards. They sacked him three times.
With two games left, the Chargers don’t have time to rewrite the narrative of their 2019 defense. But they still have a chance to impact what remains on the schedule, if they can lock down more in the secondary.
“We can get more sack-cause-fumble opportunities when we play tighter coverage,” Bradley said. “So that’s been a little bit more of an emphasis this week.”
In the loss to the Vikings, the Chargers limited Minnesota to one touchdown and two field goals on four sudden-change opportunities after the offense turned the ball over on the Chargers’ side of midfield.
Even there, Bradley said the goal in those situations isn’t merely to stop the opposition on third down or force field-goal attempts.
“Every time we go on the field, our objective is to get the ball,” he said. “We did that on one of the sudden changes. But that’s got to be our mentality if we ever face those situations again.”
1,000 yards worth
In a season hampered by an offense that has struggled to score touchdowns and been consistent only at turning the ball over, the Chargers oddly are on the verge of achieving historic production.
With two games to go, Mike Williams is 88 yards short of 1,000 yards receiving and Austin Ekeler is 108 yards short. If both make it, they would join Keenan Allen in giving the Chargers three 1,000-yard receivers in a single season.
That has happened only five times in the NFL, starting with the 1980 Chargers trio of John Jefferson, Kellen Winslow and Charlie Joiner.
Washington did it in 1989, Atlanta in 1995, Indianapolis in 2004 and Arizona in 2008. The head coach of the ’08 Cardinals was Ken Whisenhunt, who began this season as the Chargers offensive coordinator.
Dan Fouts was the quarterback of the ’80 Chargers. He finished the season with 4,715 yards passing, 30 touchdowns and 24 interceptions. That team went 11-5, won the AFC West and lost to Oakland in the conference title game.
The Pro Bowl selection Tuesday was the second of Bosa’s four-year career. He also made it in 2017, a season in which he finished with 12.5 sacks and 70 tackles.
“You know week in and week out exactly what you’re getting from him,” Bradley said. “As a coach, you say, ‘All right, that’s no longer a concern.’ Then you can focus on other things. You can have a tendency to kind of under \appreciate what you have there if you don’t stop and think about it.”