This time, Takeo Spikes and his defense didn't let Aaron Rodgers get away. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
In 2011, the Chargers defense was wildly mediocre. In the off-season they added a truckload of new players. If Thursday night's win against the Packers is any indication, the changes are working.
"We're a lot faster team," said head coach Norv Turner. "Every time a quarterback got on the edge, it didn't matter if it was Rodgers, it didn't matter if it was the other two guys, there was someone chasing him."
That list of someones is quite long.
"One time it was Liuget, one time it was Reyes, one time it was Barnes, one time it was Ingram."
That's a 2nd year player (Liuget, who lost nearly 20 pounds in the off-season and is showing explosiveness he lacked his rookie year), two rookies (Ingram and Reyes, who consistently beat the man in front of him, even against the Packers starting offensive line), and a veteran who's coming in to his own (Barnes, who was the only Chargers player to reach double digits in sacks in 2011). Unlike last season, that pursuit actually got to the man with the ball.
"The quarterback had to throw the ball out of bounds, instead of chasing him and not being able to get close and having the guy complete a ball," said Turner.
The Chargers defense was last in the N-F-L in stopping teams on 3rd down. If you can't get off the field, you're in trouble. Last year in the regular season, Aaron Rodgers kept several drives alive with his legs. This time the difference was immense.
Ingram, the rookie first round draft pick, hit Rodgers to force a bad throw that was intercepted by Antoine Cason.
"I felt like it was a very productive day," said Ingram. "But there's always room to get better, so I'm going to out and just keep working hard and try to get better on every play. You never stay the same, you either get better or you get worse every day so I'm trying to get better every day in every aspect."
Ingram's impact is already being compared to the last great Chargers rush linebacker, Shawne Merriman. Cason succinctly summed up Super Melvin's pro debut.
"Awesome," Cason said.
Hopefully that word describes San Diego's defense for the 2012 regular season.