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Why the Bolts Run Defense Will be Key to Sunday's Game Against Detroit

11.09 feature

The Chargers defense is playing at arguably its most complimentary level as it has all season.

And a lot of it has started up front, as the Bolts run defense has come along even stronger over the last couple of weeks.

After being 28th in the NFL a season ago by allowing 145.8 yards per game on the ground, the Chargers enter Week 10 tied for the sixth-best run defense, allowing just 89.9 yards per game and 3.72 yards per carry.

The group has been especially stout in that department over the past month-plus, as the unit last allowed 100-plus yards on the ground all the way back in Week 3.

The Bolts then allowed 76 yards on the ground to the Raiders, 96 to the Cowboys and 68 to the Chiefs.

Then came the Bears, who came in after a big rushing performance the week prior, who they held to just 73 yards on 25 carries. And the Bolts held the Jets in check, allowing 64 yards on 20 carries on Monday night.

This has allowed the pass rush to wreak havoc on passing downs, leading to explosion in sacks and takeaways over the last couple of weeks to showcase the all-around team effort.

"We always talk about the rush and cover working together," Chargers Defensive Coordinator Derrick Ansley said Thursday. "Those guys are rushing the passer at a really high rate. Give credit to [Outside Linebackers Coach] Giff [Smith] and [Defensive Run Game Coordinator/Defensive Line Coach] Jay [Rodgers] coming alive with those guys and getting a good scheme ready every week. K9 [LB Kenneth Murray Jr.] is really doing a good job in the mix with that, along with D.J. [S Derwin James Jr.].

"We have a lot of guys that can go forward and attack the quarterback," Ansley added. "We have to keep that going to continue to help us on the back end and keep the explosive plays out of the air."

Outside linebacker Khalil Mack added Thursday about the defense: "I feel like we're honing in on the opportunities and we're having a lot more fun and enjoying playing with each other and making the most of the opportunities."

Perhaps one of their bigger tests of the season so far will be the performance against the Lions run game, which offers a tough matchup to prepare for.

The Lions come into Week 10 with a strong running game led by a two-headed duo of David Montgomery and rookie first-round pick Jahmyr Gibbs. Overall, Detroit ranks sixth in the NFL with 131.4 rushing yards per game.

Montgomery is a physical back who started off the season with 451 yards from scrimmage to go along with six touchdowns in five games. The running back has missed the last two Lions games prior to their bye week, but has been listed as a full participant on the injury report in both practices so far this week.

Gibbs, the second half of the duo, brings a change of pace as he has the quickness to change a game, as evident to Detroit's last game where he rushed for 152 yards and a touchdown.

Both running backs have their own unique, different skillsets that they bring to the table to attack the defense.

"Both of them are really talented," defensive lineman Morgan Fox said Thursday. "When you got one coming down hill, you've got to be ready for more physical, downhill runs and just kind of click into that mindset of if they run it this way, it's going to be a war and a fight.

Fox added: "Then you get [Gibbs] who's faster, speedier, can do things out on the edge. It's like, 'We've got to protect the perimeter, protect the outside runs where if he hits in space, he's dangerous.'"

And one of the keys to stopping the run will be getting the edge up front against their strong offensive line when attacking whichever running back is on the field Sunday.

"I think that it starts with the front. You have to take care of their offensive line," Ansley said. "No matter who is running the ball, those guys are big and strong up front, and they're athletic.

Ansley continued: "We have to do a good job of attacking blocks, staying connected and knowing where our help is at in the run game, but we have to be aware of which back is in the game because David and Jahmyr are really different in their styles.

"Jahmyr is more of a home-run threat and David is more of a hammerhead, move-the-chains type of guy with enough speed to take it to the house, as well," Ansley added. "We have our work cut out for us, but we're looking forward to the challenge."

Take a look back at the Chargers Week 9 primetime win over the Jets in monochrome

Mack knows quite a bit about what to expect lining up on the other side of some of the members of the Lions offense.

While hasn't lined up against Montgomery in the NFL yet before Sunday, he has seen what the running back is capable of firsthand. The two played together on the Bears for Montgomery's first three seasons in the NFL from 2019 to 2021.

Mack has also gone up against Detroit's left tackle Taylor Decker before in the past and played against right tackle Penei Sewell once during Sewell's rookie season.

Their Lions offensive line and running back group work in tandem, and making them as one dimensional as possible is something will be important for the Chargers defense in Week 10.

"It's explosive," Mack said about the Lions run game. "Playing with [Montgomery] like [three] years, understanding what he can do, what he brings, his physicality. It changes the whole dynamic of their team."

Mack later added: "I haven't played against [Sewell] as much but Taylor I played against a few times over in Detroit while being in Chicago. They got solid guys up front. It's going to be our job to make them one dimensional and play the pass hopefully."

Fox added: "I think at the end of the day for us it's just clicking into a mindset that it doesn't matter who's out there, we got to do our job and set the tone from the jump."

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