San Diego Run Defense: Scheme Diverse Failure

The San Diego Chargers have been beset by injuries offensively, but the main culprit for their poor record has been the performance of the San Diego run defense. Mark Schofield breaks down how they have struggles have been scheme-diverse, at every level.

The Chargers enter their matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs with a 2-7 record, having recorded victories over two other struggling teams, the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns. Many of their problems this season are on the defensive side of the ball, with the Chargers allowing 27.7 points per game, ranking 28th in the league. Their run defense has been especially lacking, ranking near the bottom of the NFL in a number of statistical categories. They have surrendered 122.9 yards per game and nine rushing TDs, both good for 26th in the NFL. Finally, teams average 4.9 yards per carry against San Diego, putting the Chargers 31st in the NFL.

When you review the film of their run defense, they struggle against many concepts and schemes.


Teams use power concepts against the Chargers to much success. Here, the Minnesota Vikings face 1st and 5 and they line up with quarterback Teddy Bridgewater under center and 12 offensive personnel on the field. Tight end Kyle Rudolph (#82) and wide receiver Mike Wallace (#11) are in a tight pro alignment on the right. Adrian Peterson is deep in the backfield with reserve TE Rhett Ellison (#85), in an offset i-formation behind the right guard. San Diego has their base 3-4 defense on the field in an under front, and safety Eric Weddle (#32) is down in the box as well:NFLPreview10SDPlay1Still1

The Vikings run Peterson to the right side using a power scheme, with left guard Brandon Fusco (#63) pulling in front of the play:NFLPreview10SDPlay1Still2

The blocking comes together to set up a big 21-yard gain. Left tackle Matt Kalil (#75) and center Joe Berger (#61) execute a double-team on the backside defensive end, allowing Fusco to pull in front of Peterson. Right guard Mike Harris (#79) slides down to block the nose tackle while right tackle T.J. Clemmings (#68) and Rudolph double-team the playside DE. Fusco handles inside linebacker Donald Butler (#56) while Ellison is tasked with the playside OLB:

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The blocking is stout on this play, particularly on the edge. Peterson takes the handoff and initially looks to follow Fusco into the A gap, but the double-team on the DE coupled with the strong block by Ellison on the edge create a perfect lane for the RB. Peterson bounces this run to the edge and scampers past a diving Jimmy Wilson (#27) for the 21-yard gain.

Here is another power concept, this time from the Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Andy Dalton is under center with 22 offensive personnel. The Bengals have i-formation in the backfield with Giovani Bernard (#25) as the deep back and H-Back Ryan Hewitt (#89) in front of him. Cincinnati has a dual wing TE look on the left, with both Tyler Eifert (#85) and Tyler Kroft (#81) in the game as well. The Chargers have their base 3-4 defense in the game using a shaded front, with the nose tackle aligned between the RT and RT using a 3 technique:NFLPreview10SDPlay2Still1

The Bengals run a power lead, with Hewitt leading Bernard to the left edge as right guard Kevin Zeitler (#68) pulls in front of the running backs:NFLPreview10SDPlay2Still2

San Diego looks to have this play stopped, as they collapse on the ball-carrier. But the defense fails to finish:

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Bernard stays upright, dances behind the pile of bodies for a moment, and finds an alley toward the sideline. He races into the secondary for a 9-yard gain. While the Chargers seem to do everything right here, including creating traffic at the point of attack, they fail to capitalize on their quality start to the play.

Zone Concepts

The Chargers have also struggled against zone running plays in 2015. Here, the Pittsburgh Steelers face 1st and 10 on their own 47-yard line, and put 22 offensive personnel on the field and QB Michael Vick (#2) under center. Le’Veon Bell (#26) and Roosevelt Nix (#45) line up in an offset i-formation with the fullback staggered behind the LG and LT. Heath Miller (#83) sets up in a wing alignment just outside the left tackle. The Chargers have their base 3-4 defense in for this play with Weddle down in the box outside the OLB and to the outside shoulder of Miller:NFLPreview10SDPlay3Still1

The Steelers run an outside zone play to the left. The line fires out in unison to their left, with Nix leading Bell to the edge:NFLPreview10SDPlay3Still2

The blocking comes together well, allowing the RB to bounce to the outside unscathed:

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Backside, TE Matt Spaeth (#89) and RT Marcus Gilbert (#77) cut off the pursuit angles of DE Kendall Reyes (#91) and linebacker Melvin Ingram (#54). RG David DeCastro (#66) slides to his left and handles nose tackle Ryan Carrethers (#92), which allows center Cody Wallace (#72) to execute two blocks on this play. He first helps the LG on the playside DE, before working to the second level to seal off Butler from the play. LT Kelvin Beachum (#68) executes a perfect reach block here on the OLB initially, before Miller comes to help. This frees up the LT to come off the linebacker and stop ILB Manti T’eo (#50), who is trying to cut inside toward Bell. The FB flows to the outside to block Weddle, giving Bell the alley toward the sideline. Once the RB turns upfield,he is able to shake off a tackle attempt from Wilson, en route to his 25-yard gain.

Here, the Steelers run the same design to the right:

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Solid blocking, plus excellent vision and footwork from Bell, add up another big gain of 32 yards.

This is a design that the Chiefs have used in 2015. On a crucial drive against the Steelers Charcandrick West ripped off a big 36-yard gain using this design:

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In addition to standard outside zone plays, the Chargers have also given up yards when an offense uses a split-zone design. Here, the Bengals face 1st and 10 on the San Diego 32-yard line, and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson puts Dalton under center with 11 offensive personnel on the field. The Bengals have a bunch to the left, with Eifert the lone TE on the right and Bernard a single back in the backfield. San Diego has their base 3-4 defense on the field and shade the NT to the right B gap of the offense:NFLPreview10SDPlay5Still1

The offense runs a very creative split zone play, with the offensive line blocking to the left in unison while wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (#12) cutting across the field to block on the edge. Adding to the design is a fake end around to A.J. Green:NFLPreview10SDPlay5Still2

The design works to perfection:

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The ILBs get caught watching the fake to Green, which allows Bernard to execute the bang read and cut right upfield for an easy nine yard gain.

One Execution Flaw: Failure to Keep Contain

If there is one clear area where the Chargers can improve, it is keeping contain on the backside. We have already covered one instance where the backside edge and force defenders flowed to the middle of the field, allowing a RB to cut backside for a huge gain

Following a punt (and a decent return from Marcus Sherels) the Vikings face a 1st and 10 on the San Diego 43-yard line. They line up with Bridgewater under center and 13 offensive personnel on the field, in a wing slot alignment on the left and a 2 TE wing on the right. The Chargers have their base 3-4 defense in the game, and show Cover 1 in the secondary.

Minnesota hands the ball to Peterson, who aims for the right A gap inside. The Chargers initially have him stopped, but watch what happens on the right edge of the offense:

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It begins with OLB Kyle Emanuel (#51). He initially establishes outside leverage on the block from TE MyCole Pruitt (#83), but when the OLB peeks into the backfield and sees the interior run from Peterson, he tries to disengage from the TE using a swim move to the inside. At that moment, the RB bounces the play to the edge, and Pruitt uses the swim move from Emanuel against him, driving him inside and away from the RB. The safety Wilson is the other defender on the backside, and he drifts inside just enough that he cannot track down Peterson when the RB bounces to the outside:

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From there, Peterson does the rest.

With the bye week, perhaps the Chargers were able to sort out their issues against the run. But if not, West and the rest of the Kansas City offense will be in good position to gain yards, and put up points, relying on the ground attack.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.

Mark Schofield has always loved football. He breaks down film, scouts prospects, and explains the passing game for Inside the Pylon.

All video and images courtesy NFL Game Pass.

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