It wasn't a flawless performance by the Chargers first-team defense Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. In fact, it was one Darius Philon dubbed a "mixed bag".
They gave up a pair of big runs, including a 35-yard sprint by Jerick McKinnon on the second play of the game and an 18-yard scramble by Teddy Bridgewater to move the chains on third-and-long.
Still, Philon may have been too hard on the defense by calling it a mixed bag. While they gave up a handful of big plays early, they responded when it mattered most; in the red zone. In fact, it was the first thing Head Coach Mike McCoy praised in his post-game press conference.
"Defensively we had a slow start, but the great thing during the game was the red area defense," he said. "(We were) only down there early 6-0. When you have the type of offense that we have, and being able to go back down there, it takes one score and you are up. So, there are a lot of little things from this game, and that is the big thing that I am going to look at."
Corey Liuget authored the Bolts' top play in the red zone with a nine-yard sack on 3rd-and-goal from the six. Following a Harrison Smith interception, the Vikings took over in San Diego territory. However, they were limited to a field goal when the defensive tackle burst through the line to bring down Bridgewater.
"We can bend all we want, but we just cannot break," Liuget said. "We have to have that kind of mindset and play that type of defense. We have to have that type of attitude that once we got down there, we cannot let these guys in right now…. It's big for us to go out there and also defend them on a short field. They started there on the (44) off the turnover, and for us to give up a couple yards and then hold them to a field goal, it was great."
"Just huge," added Dwight Lowery. "If your defense holds them to three (and our offense can) go down and do some damage and score, it is a completely different game. If (the other team) gets seven, there is more pressure on our offense. So (red zone defense) allows the ebb and flow of the game to be a little more favorable even though you did give up points."
Outside the big runs by McKinnon and Bridgewater, the starters allowed only 29 additional yards on the ground the rest of the half. Despite disappointment for giving up those chunk yards, Lowery remained even-keeled and upbeat.
"The play (that bothers me the most) was the second play of the game," he said. "We had the right play call for what they did. It's just that sometimes you win or sometimes you lose in one-on-one matchups. Those types of things can happen. The funny thing is if you are really watching the game and you look and you see someone doesn't get pushed out of the gap or overrun the gap, then it is a completely different play. You can't get too emotional about it because it happens. It's going to happen. So you can't get emotional because when the play is over, the guys who were involved in the play probably have a good idea about what happened. You remember that, move on and when you get off the field, you get coached up and go from there."