Chargers defense faces big test against Chubb and Hunt

Stopping the run has been difficult for the Chargers over the last few years. In Brandon Staley’s first season in charge, they had the third-worst defense against the run, which hurt them at the end of the season.

That is why Staley and general manager Tom Telesco search in free agency to revamp their defensive line. They added Austin Johnson, Sebastian Joseph-Day, and Morgan Fox, along with Christian Covington and Jerry Tillery.

The Chargers went from allowing 138.9 yards per game rushing last season to giving up 109.8 this season. That is about a 27-yard difference. Could it be better? Yes, but improvements are necessary.

They are coming off giving up 131 yards to Houston Texans running back Dameon Pierce, but 75 of those came off one play. They also gave up a 50-yard run to James Robinson and a 52-yard run to Clyde Edwards-Helaire the previous two weeks.

“In all of those runs, they’ve been to the perimeter,” Staley said. “We have to have better perimeter run support. That’s where it starts.”

Staley called them different situations, but all three happened in the third or fourth quarter. Plus, they face Cleveland Browns running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt this weekend. Chubb feasts on going to the perimeter.

Chubb is a tear right now, having rushed for 100-yards in three out of the first four games this season while scoring four touchdowns.

“I just think it challenges us in a way that we just have to be really technique sound and have to make sure that follow our keys, and honestly, you can’t really tee off on anything,” Joseph-Day said.

Hunt is a swiss army knife for the Browns offense. He is an explosive weapon in both the pass and run game, totaling 273 yards plus two touchdowns.

As a duo, Chubb is averaging 5.7 yards per carry, while Hunt is 6.6 yards per reception.

“Being sturdy upfront,” Johnson said. “Making plays upfront and knocking them back is going to play a big factor in it.”

Last year, these teams met at SoFi Stadium 364 days ago in what was a good ol’ fashion shootout. The dynamic running back duo combined for over 250 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. It took a heroic effort from quarterback Justin Herbert to win the game 47-42.

Chargers defensive coordinator Renaldo Hill wants to establish a perimeter and ensure they are getting all hats to bring down the Browns backs.

“A lot of times, you see those big runs, you see that everybody is stacked at one level, and when he breaks that level, he’s off to the races,” Hill explained. “We have to make sure that we do a good job from the front end to the linebackers stacked back behind him, and then make sure that we keep a triangle on the ball on the back end.”

Another playmaker who got loose last time these two teams faced off was tight end David Njoku with seven catches for 149 yards and one touchdown. He didn’t see much coverage from safety Derwin James because of the injuries the Chargers secondary had at the time. He was needed elsewhere.

This Sunday, Njoku will see number three in front of him.

“I definitely get excited,” James said about facing Njoku. “Every week, a new challenge presents itself rather whoever I’m playing against, so just to be able to go against a guy that can block, run, and catch. You know I look forward to that every week.”

The Chargers defense will need to limit the explosive plays that Chubb and Hunt are used to exploiting. It is a challenging task because of whom they are playing, but besides those three explosive plays, the run defense has looked much improved.

“It’s not like we’re playing bad run defense the whole game like you said you have those one run that break out, and it’s usually in the third quarter, so we just got to be better,” James said.

Nuts N’ Bolts

  • Chargers Thursday Injury Report. Did not practice: WR Keenan Allen (hamstring). Limited: K Dustin Hopkins (right quad), WR Joshua Palmer (ankle), and TE Gerald Everett (hamstring). Full: QB Justin Herbert (ribs), FB Zander Horvath (quad), DL Austin Johnson (shoulder), TE Tre’ McKitty (quad), TE Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) LB Kyle Van Noy (back).
  • Chargers made the following roster moves: signed kicker Taylor Bertolet to the practice squad and released cornerback Michael Jacquet from the practice squad.
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