Premium on pass protection when Chargers face ‘Sacksonville’
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Even as Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers enjoyed his bye week at home last week, he couldn’t resist the urge to get a sneak peek at his next opponent.
What Rivers saw from the Jacksonville Jaguars on film and will see this Sunday is a defensive front that will threaten the pass protection he has enjoyed through the first half of the season.
The Chargers have allowed 11 sacks through eight games, which is tied with the Jaguars for seventh-best in the NFL. Rivers has the most attempts of any quarterback in that top seven.
“I think we’re on one of the best paces from a sacks and hits-wise that we have been on in some time,” Rivers said Wednesday. “Those guys up front have been great, so obviously need to continue that.”
Jacksonville’s defense has a league-leading 35 sacks, with 10-sack games against the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans. Four Jaguars defenders have at least four sacks, led by Calaias Campbell’s career-high 11 in his first season for Jacksonville.
There is nothing fancy about how the Jaguars create pressure. They ask their four defensive linemen to get after the quarterback while the other seven defenders drop into coverage.
“There’s not a lot to what they do, and I don’t say that in any way negative. They do it very, very well, and it’s super challenging,” Rivers said. “Everything has got to be even more precise because of how sound they are on defense.”
That approach makes pass protection a comprehensive effort. Wide receivers have to get open and Rivers has to get the ball out quickly. Screen passes and draws can make the defensive line hesitate when Rivers does drop back to pass. A consistent run game is necessary to avoid third-and-long situations where the Jaguars can turn to their specialized rush packages.
“Well, we faced a couple teams like that this year. Denver is pretty good at it, and so is Kansas City, so you kind of have a plan that you try to work with. It’s tough,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said.
But there are limits to how much the game plan can be tweaked to neutralize that pressure, especially for an offense trying to get into a rhythm. The Chargers have only scored 21 or more points in four games after averaging 25.6 points per game last season.
Rivers sees an offense that is close breaking out. Given his track record against Jacksonville, having thrown for 12 touchdowns and no interceptions in four wins against the Jaguars over the last four seasons, Rivers believes the turning point could be this week, provided the pass protection holds up.
“We’ve done enough good things to where I think we have a confident group,” Rivers said. “We know we’re just scratching the surface. We’re still just not scoring the points that we’re used to scoring, and if we can get it going how we know and we start scoring 25, 28, 31, then you’re going to win more than you lose.”
NOTES: Denzel Perryman will play weakside linebacker as he makes his season debut this week, with Hayes Pullard remaining at middle linebacker, head coach Anthony Lynn said Wednesday. Perryman was the projected starter at middle linebacker before undergoing surgery in August to repair a torn ligament in his ankle.