San Diego Charger’s Defensive Coordinator John Pagano has been running a “hybrid 3-4” defense during his tenure in San Diego, and it isn’t working. The 3-4 defense is predicated on having a big ol’ nose tackle to plug up the middle of the line of scrimmage. Without an effective nose tackle, there just isn’t enough bodies up front to take on blockers and allow the linebackers to fill in and make plays or get pressure on the QB.
The hybrid 3-4 allows you, in a perfect scenario, to disguise blitzes and coverages by your outside linebackers to confuse the opposing QB’s and O-lineman. It’s called a hybrid 3-4 because the personnel is for a 3-4, but in a hybrid you line up one of your outside linebackers on the line of scrimmage, making it look like a 4-3 formation. But without a proper nose tackle, Pagano has been shifting the defensive lineman to the left and right of the line of scrimmage, making the outside blitzers easier to identify for opposing teams allowing them to alter their blocking schemes and pick them up.
Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram and Jerry Attaochu lead the team with 5 and 4.5 sacks respectively. As a team the Chargers rank 23rd in getting to the quarterback with just 22 sacks on the season. Two pass-rushing specialists on the outside should mean a lot higher sack numbers for these two if the defensive scheme was playing out like it should, leading to more one-on-one’s and free rushes.
The Chargers simply haven’t had the proper personnel to effectively run the 3-4, leading to them mostly using sub packages such as the nickel or dime. The problem with always being in these packages that use three and four cornerbacks, is the Chargers have been getting gashed by opposing rushing attacks all year.
The Chargers have given up 124 yards a game on the ground this year and surrendered 12 TD’s. The three down lineman have not been able to occupy blockers and it’s allowed them to get to the second and third levels of the Chargers defense, opening up massive holes for opposing running backs.
So what can the Chargers do to change this?
With the season all but lost with a 3-9 record, it doesn’t make much sense for them to change defensive schemes this late in the season. But let’s just say the Chargers actually wanted to change things up and play better for the remaining four weeks. They could implement simple 4-3 schemes that would better fit the personnel they have on this time right now.
It might look something like that on the right. I’ve got Kavell Connor in at outside linebacker because I think he’d be a great cover linebacker and can set the edge. Jerry Attaochu would be in a 3-point technique coming off the edge at the defensive end position.
Tom Telesco, and his new/old contract extension, will have to focus on the defensive line in the offseason. It’s been a huge need that has been ignored for far too long.
Step 1: Bring in a big nose tackle in free-agency
Step 2: Draft Joey Bosa or Robert Nkemdiche to play defensive end in the 3-4
Now you have a much for respectable defensive front for the 3-4 defense and you have the linebacking core in Te’o, Perryman, Attaochu, and Ingram to build around.
It will be interesting to see also what coaching changes are made at the end of the season that could impact defensive schemes. However, I think if the Chargers want to improve in all phases on defense, acquiring the personnel to run the 3-4 is in the best interest of the team.