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Defense focused on communication
SAN DIEGO – The Chargers’ defense flexed in the season opener against Minnesota, all but vanquishing the Vikings’ passing game.
San Diego conceded a 46-yard run to Adrian Peterson and little else during a Week 1 win, prompting some pride in the locker room as the performance came in spite of five new defensive starters and a pile of preseason injuries that kept them from getting rehearsal time.
When defensive end Luis Castillo (tibia) had to undergo surgery, Vaughn Martin became the sixth new starter on a unit governed by new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
The linebackers in particular have been overhauled. Shaun Phillips remains a cornerstone, but starting next to him are Takeo Spikes, Donald Butler and Travis LaBoy, all new to the unit.
Even Bob Sanders, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, still is adjusting to a new scheme and 10 different players around him, Manusky said Friday.
Against New England, the still-infant defensive cohesion played a role as the Patriots’ no-huddle offense proved effective.
“We have a lot of new parts, a lot of moving parts,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “Our communication, the details of what we’re doing and getting all those guys fitting and playing together I think is critical for us.
“We were presented with a lot of different looks (against the Patriots). There were times that it showed we haven’t been together as long as we need to be together. When we did things right, it showed that we’re going to be very good.”
The Chargers’ pass defense did not play its best Sunday. It allowed the Patriots (out of timeouts) to complete two passes in a span of eight seconds late in the first half to add a field goal to its lead and gave up 423 passing yards.
But several times various players caused loud, pad-popping noises with tackles audible over the raucous New England crowd.
“We’re playing more physical than we have,” Turner said. “The finesse part is the issue defensively. The physical part I don’t think is keeping us from getting it done. We’re not getting as many rushes (on offense) as we would like, but when we’re running the ball we’re being very physical with it.
“The thing that jumps out at people are the glaring mistakes, the turnovers, which we have to fix. But there’s a lot of little things right now that are keeping us from getting the other team off the field and (keeping us from) finishing a drive. Those are things that don’t jump out at you when you’re watching the game.”
ROOM TO GROW: Butler got his first NFL sack Sunday, dropping Tom Brady in the second quarter.
Butler also is third on the team with 16 tackles. Not bad production for a first-year player that missed his entire rookie season, including preseason, due to a torn Achilles tendon.
Still, Butler knows how much improvement he still needs to make.
“Each week I want to try to get better, whether it be my pre-snap reads, my drops or my run fits,” Butler said. “I think these past two weeks I’ve been able to get better.”