The Legion of Boom, Sacksonville, the No Fly Zone, Purple People Eaters. Great defenses often earn, if not create, their own monikers. To receive such a nickname, though, a unit must first ooze attitude and a swagger. Most importantly, they must dominate on the field and smother the opposition offense.
Attitude was often what made the Seattle Seahawks defensive group great, at times extraordinary. To play on the edge is something which all historic defenses possess: Richard Sherman and his ‘Legion of Boom’, the Broncos and the ‘No Fly Zone’, even the recently coined ‘Sacksonville’, led by another charismatic and outspoken defensive back, Jalen Ramsey, have all played with an edge, attitude and intensity that separates them from other defensive units.
There is one defensive unit, though, that many could be sleeping on heading into 2018. The Los Angeles Chargers.
Los Angeles ranked 15th in total defense last season, a large part of that came down to their deficiencies against the run, in which they ranked 31st in 2017.
The tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram led Anthony Lynn’s defensive unit to 43 sacks, tied fifth in the NFL last term. Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers led the league with 56 sacks.
Bosa registered 12.5 sacks in 2017 while Ingram logged 10.5 opposite the third-year pro. While the 43 QB takedowns the Chargers managed was enough to rank them fifth, it would have been enough to surpass the great Seattle defense of 2012 and of 2015.
Los Angeles drafted Derwin James 17th overall to add to an already opportunistic secondary. Ranking third overall in pass defense and tied sixth for interceptions with 18 takeaways the California based franchise, on paper at least, has got better on the back end and will have even more chances to give Philip Rivers extra possessions.
Bosa spoke glowingly of the Chargers’ first round choice, and their defense as a whole, in June: “Obviously the spotlight is on Derwin,” The 2016 Defensive Rookie of the Year said.
“He’s a really rangy, long athlete and the way he covers ground is really impressive to me. We’re going to have a good defense with the guys that we’ve got for sure.”
Stars litter Gus Bradley’s defense. Along with Bosa and Ingram up front, Los Angeles boast a two-time All-Pro in Casey Hayward patrolling the secondary and has forced himself into the conversation of “best cornerback in the NFL.” Largely seen as a slot corner while in Green Bay, Hayward has shown he can be on an island.
As reward for his play the Chargers rewarded Hayward with a three-year contract extension worth $36 million. Hayward had four picks in 2017 to go along with his seven from 2016.
The former Packer has not relented since inking his new deal, earning a standout review from his defensive coordinator about his leadership during OTA’s
“He’s been very good. One of the things we talk about is becoming an even strong unit,” Said the former Jacksonville Jaguars Head Coach.
“You see guys helping younger players and helping each other. I think he [Hayward] is one of those guys that really shows that day in and day out. He’ll grab a Michael Davis, he’ll grab a Desmond King and he’s constantly talking with them, and that doesn’t happen all the time.”
Tre Boston contributed with five interceptions of his own and the Chargers got a promising rookie campaign out of fifth-round pick Desmond King, who’s only takeaway of the season was a 90-yard pick-six of Dak Prescott. King also notched four sacks showing his capabilities when blitzing.
General Manager Tom Telesco sent a clear message, selecting four defensive players in the first four rounds of the draft. Edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu was added in the second round to bolster an already terrifying pass rush. Defensive tackle Justin Jones was added as well as Kyzir White in the fourth round.
Many great defense are built as much on their mid-round picks as they are on their top selections, with the Seahawks as evidence for this. In 2010 they selected Kam Chancellor in the fifth round, one year later Pete Carroll snagged Richard Sherman in the same round. They, along with former first round pick Earl Thomas, became the bedrock of a great defense.
Speaking in June, James claimed that his new defense had all the hallmarks of a great unit.
“We carry a lot of swag on this team,” Said the former Florida State star, “We know we’ve got each other’s back.”
Los Angeles went into the draft looking for depth on the defensive side of the ball, should their later round selections pay off Lynn could have one of the most loaded defenses in the league.
The last time the Chargers ranked in the top five of total defense was back in 2010. Although it was not enough to get them into the playoffs. They finished 9-7, one game behind Kansas City.
Since that season five of the last seven teams to finish in the top five of total defense has gone on to play in the Super Bowl, with the Philadelphia Eagles (LII), Broncos (50) and Seattle (XLVIII) all going on to hoist the Lombardi.
Rivers has always orchestrated an offense which is capable of scoring at will, their high-powered attack created a symphony on the field.
Now, the Los Angeles signal caller has a menacing percussion section on defense, capable of making a bang, elevating the Chargers from also-rans to Super Bowl contenders.
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