Chargers’ run defense problematic in loss to Cowboys

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Leading into the Chargers’ Week 2 matchup against the Cowboys, I talked about how critical stopping the run was going to be.

Despite their rushing attack being nonexistent in the season opener, the Cowboys knew that run defense was a weak spot for Los Angeles. They resorted to it early and often, and had plenty of success with it.

Dallas finished with 198 yards rushing on 31 carries (6.4 yards per carry). Tony Pollard totaled 109 yards on just 13 carries, while Ezekiel Elliott had 71 yards on 16 carries.

With Zack Martin back in the starting lineup at right guard, the 30-year old had his way against Linval Joseph, Jerry Tillery, Christian Covington, Eric Banks and Joe Gaziano.

Holes were consistently opened and tackles were missed far too often by the second and third lines of defense, with Kenneth Murray and Michael Davis being the primary culprits.

“We were just a little bit off in the first level, which caused our second level to be a little bit off,” head coach Brandon Staley said.

“We have to play more physical at the point of attack so the ball doesn’t get to the second level as often as it did. And then when the ball does get to the second level, we have to be where we need to be and we need to tackle. We need to tackle physically.”

It did not help that Justin Jones, an active contributor in the trenches, was out with a calf injury. But there were other factors into the run defense woes that went beyond Jones’ absence.

Staley often shows light boxes, which is when there are fewer than six defenders in the box due to his frequent use of nickel and dime packages. Therefore, it invites the run, specifically between the tackles, since there are natural gaps that form as a result of the alignment.

As far as the product on the field, the front allowed blockers to gain initial leverage, had no point-of-attack strength or counters once tied up, no answers against double teams and were easily turned from run lanes as a result, and too many missed tackles, of course.

It’s easy to point to the penalties as to what held the Chargers back on offense, but how the defense played the run was entirely in their control, which could’ve helped with the outcome. Unfortunately, they simply lacked execution.

Los Angeles needs to make adjustments now, whether that be in the playbook or elevating someone like Forrest Merrill or Breiden Fehoko, or else it will continue to be a major concern for the rest of the season.