‘Improved’ Chargers’ run defense keeps allowing long gains

The Chargers have given up just 13 first downs on the ground, tops in the NFL.

They gave up two rushing touchdowns surpassed by only five teams overall.

Against Jacksonville, they had six tackles for loss in runs after producing just seven such games in the first four games of the 2021 season

After finishing 30th in the league against run a season ago, the franchise’s off-season defensive investments have clearly paid off early.

But here’s something else that’s quite clear: the improved Chargers have developed an odd hobby of giving up gigantic runs.

In each of their last three games, they’ve allowed a rush of at least 50 yards, something that only happened once all season against last season’s run-challenged group.

“Each run has a different story for sure,” said coach Brandon Staley. “You just trust that the run will fit. In all of those runs, they’ve been on the edge. We need better perimeter run support. That’s where it starts.”

Kansas City’s Clyde Edwards-Helaire had a 52-yard rush in Week 2, Jacksonville’s James Robinson had a 50-yarder in Week 3, and Houston’s Dameon Pierce had a 75-yarder last Sunday.

That’s three running backs with carries of 50 yards or more against the Chargers. Against the other 31 teams in the NFL this season, only four running backs have scored 50 or more points in a single game.

Those facts have gained significance this week as the Chargers prepare to take on Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, who is second in the NFL with 459 rushing yards and won 161, when those teams met last October.

Nick Chubb runs past Asante Samuel Jr.'s tackle attempt for a touchdown.

Browns back Nick Chubb runs 52 yards past Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr.’s attempted tackle for a touchdown last season.

(Associated Press)

“He builds his blocks really well and then he’s just a really tough tackle because that’s the way he’s built,” Staley said. “He has a really strong lower body. It can shrink its surface where it gets even thicker and smaller.”

That one 50-plus-yard rush against the Chargers last season? That was Chubb in Week 5 when he had a 52-yard touchdown rush in the third quarter. He also had carries for 24 and 20 yards that afternoon.

The Browns are second in the NFL this season averaging 187.3 yards on the ground. Chubb has 201 more rushing yards than the Chargers combined.

Cleveland also stars veteran running back Kareem Hunt, who twice rushed for 150+ yards in a game against the Chargers while playing for Kansas City.

“They use big people to run the ball,” Staley said of the Browns, “which isn’t normal in today’s NFL where everything’s getting smaller, three-receiver groupings. They go the opposite way.”

The big runs against the 2022 Chargers cost them more than significant mileage.

Edwards-Helaire’s try came late in the fourth quarter of a one-score game and set up the field goal that gave the Chiefs victory in a 27-24 final.

Robinson’s dash came on the fourth and one in the third quarter of a one-score game that eventually turned into a four-touchdown triumph for the Jaguars. Staley later suggested the game drained his team.

Pierce’s run came in the first snap after the Chargers opened up a 21-0 lead in the second quarter. Though their lead was back to 20 points at halftime, the Chargers had to play deep into the fourth quarter before finally crushing the Texans.

“We played really well,” Staley said of his team’s run defense in Houston. “A run like this can make you feel very different in terms of your performance.”

This statement also sums up the Chargers’ run defense over four weeks. Those three big rushes against her totaled 177 yards.

They gave up 262 yards on their opponents’ other 78 carries. That’s an average of 3.6 yards per carry, which would be shared for the fifth-best league.

Add those three big gains and the Chargers average rises to 5.4 yards, 31st in the NFL.

Etc.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen is unlikely to play in Cleveland after he sat out practice Wednesday with a hamstring injury that has already cost him three games. Allen optimized the injury last week. … Kicker Dustin Hopkins (quads), linebacker Kyle Van Noy (back) and wide receiver Joshua Palmer (ankle) were restricted in practice. … The Chargers added wide receiver Keelan Doss to their practice squad.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-10-05/much-improved-chargers-run-defense-falters-long-gains ‘Improved’ Chargers’ run defense keeps allowing long gains

Emma Bowman

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