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Defense disrupts Bears
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SAN DIEGO – Matt Forte went nowhere. Jay Cutler and Caleb Hanie got licked. Paul Oliver took the football away twice.
The defense wracked up six sacks, three forced fumbles and two turnovers and held Chicago to 2.3 yards per carry and zero first downs rushing.
“That means all the D-linemen are doing their job. That’s what we need,” said Antonio Garay, who played at nose guard. “Right now I think a lot of guys are leaving with smiles on their faces, so that’s definitely a good start for the preseason, but we’ve got to carry it over week to week and to the regular season.”
Donald Strickland roared past a running back on a nickel blitz to sack Cutler, then forced Hanie into a bad throw. Dante Hughes later got a sack on a similar blitz.
“I tried to cause a fumble but I didn’t get the guy,” said Strickland, signed as a free agent after playing for the New York Jets last season. “It just shows the physicality that we’re going to come with this year. We’re going to pressure the quarterback and try to get him to throw into coverage and make some plays.”
Oliver intercepted Hanie in the third quarter and returned it 38 yards into Bears territory, then pounced on a fumble Antwan Applewhite caused when he blindsided the quarterback. Each turnover led to a field goal.
“I played my responsibility. I saw the quarterback staring at me. I was in good position, read the route and jumped it,” Strickland said of the interceptions.
Said Applewhite: “The quarterback just got flustered, ran out of the pocket and I just kept working on the edge and he held the ball. Sometimes quarterbacks don’t realize they need to get the ball off and he still had the ball when I got there.”
Five different Chargers recorded sacks, led by Applewhite with two. The defense that has discussed being physical and aggressive at length did so on the field Saturday.
“It changes the game. It gives the offense the ball more so they can score. It definitely gets in the quarterback’s head,” Strickland said of the disruptions. “He might rush a pass, he may hold onto the ball a little longer. He’s trying to get it out faster, so now he’s making more mistakes when we’re in his face.”
Starting running back Matt Forté rushed four times for seven yards. Backup Chester Taylor didn’t fare much better, gaining 10 yards on six carries.
SPECIAL NIGHT: Richard Goodman hadn’t returned kicks since high school.
That all changed after a mid-week conversation with special teams coach Steve Crosby, which led to a 51-yard kickoff return against the Bears.
The Chargers gave a handful of players repetitions during OTAs (Organized Team Activities) and training camp, but not the former Florida State receiver – until this week.
“I was running fast on punt coverage. I went to (Crosby) and said, ‘That same speed, I can transfer it with the ball in my hand. All I need is a crease.’”
Goodman practiced catching punts before practice as a Seminole in case of emergency, but played too big a role in the offense to do it during a game. He got an opportunity during special teams practice mid-week and found himself staring at Robbie Gold during the first quarter Saturday.
The return set up a 28-yard Philip Rivers touchdown pass to Legedu Naanee.
“I thought I brought a spark tonight. That’s what coach was looking for,” said Goodman, who also caught a pass for 12 yards and made two special teams tackles.
Fellow undrafted rookie Brandon Lang also made an impact on teams, blocking a Brad Maynard punt in the end zone for a safety.
“That was my first time ever being on the punt rush team,” Lang said. “Coach Crosby always teaches moving your best pass-rush move to get past them and that’s what I did. It was real exciting. That’s my way of making this team.”
BLUE CORNER: Naanee figures to expand upon his two career touchdowns during the regular season.
He looked ready to add to that total after his 28-yard touchdown Saturday against Chicago.
Naanee overcame late double coverage to haul in a Rivers pass near the right pylon, touching off a celebration inside Qualcomm Stadium and giving the first offense a touchdown.
The 6-foot-2, 220-pound receiver diagnosed a Cover 2 defense. With four vertical routes, he knew the safety faced a difficult assignment with the tight end up the seam.
“I saw Philip diagnosing the whole side, looking at the safety, looking at the corners, so I knew it was coming to me,” Naanee said. “I knew that I just had to do my job.”
BOLTS: Jacob Hester threw an effective block on Goodman’s return … Travis Johnson reached running back Chester Taylor in the backfield and stripped him of the ball. Lance Louis recovered for Chicago … Shawne Merriman, as expected, did not play but was on the sideline after signing his one-year tender Friday. He possibly could play against Dallas next Saturday … Darren Sproles, Larry English, Brandon Siler and Scott Mruckzkowski were among the Chargers that did not play against Chicago … C.J. Spillman and Donald Strickland worked at gunner during the first punt coverage opportunity of the season.
GAME WEATHER: Sunny, 71 degrees. Read