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Poor tackling and inability to slow the run plague Chargers' defense

SAN DIEGO -- John Pagano, defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, has pointed to his team’s inability to limit explosive plays as the weakness of his defense the past couples seasons.

And once again poor tackling was the glaring weakness in San Diego's 27-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Saturday.

The Chargers gave up five runs of 15 or more yards against Tennessee’s stable of running backs, including a 71-yard touchdown run by DeMarco Murray and a 41-yard scamper for a score by Bishop Sankey.

In all, the Chargers allowed 288 rushing yards against the Titans, giving up an embarrassing 8.7 yards per carry.

San Diego’s struggles defending the run lead to our first question in this week’s mailbag:

@eric_d_williams: If there was an easy solution Pagano would have figured it already.

Also, it’s worth noting that when San Diego’s first-unit defense was in the game, the Chargers held the Titans to a field goal after a big run by Murray and forced a three-and-out on the next drive.

However, the drop off from San Diego’s starting defense to the second unit is significant. It’s one of the reasons why I think it will be hard for the Chargers to go from worst to first in the AFC West. General manager Tom Telesco still hasn’t built enough talented depth throughout the roster, particularly along the front seven defensively and at safety.

A couple players on defense had pretty good individual efforts, including defensive end Darius Philon, defensive tackle Damion Square and safety Dexter McCoil. But overall, the Chargers consistently struggled to set the edge in the running game, took poor angles to the football and failed to get runners to the ground in the open field.

That starts at practice. It’s something I wrote about in watching training camp the past three years and San Diego head coach Mike McCoy’s philosophy on hitting in practice. The Chargers have had some of the most physical practices I’ve seen during the McCoy era this season, but I still don’t think they play at the same tempo defensive players will see on game days.

I don’t believe McCoy allows enough full-speed hitting in team drills due to safety and injury concerns.

And while that’s understandable considering all of the injury issues this team has had in the past, when teams do not practice at game speed or with the same type of urgency they will see in games, the defense plays slower once San Diego faces teams with different color jerseys. And that leads to missed assignments and poor tackling.

I’m not sure how Pagano resolves the poor tackling issue -- although competing against the Arizona Cardinals in a controlled scrimmage this week should help create the type of intensity needed to get better at tackling at a game intensity level.

@eric_d_williams: Attaochu played 31 snaps defensively against the Titans, which is a lot for one of San Diego’s frontline defensive players.

However, Attaochu being in late in the fourth quarter I do not believe is an indication that the Georgia Tech product is on the roster bubble.

Outside linebackers Tourek Williams, Ben Gardner and Chris Landrum all appeared to leave the game at different times due to injuries or a need for rest, so Attaochu was on the field because of depth issues at outside linebacker.

Also, Attaochu just started playing football in high school. So he’s still developing a feel for the game in general, and specifically what the Chargers are asking him to do at outside linebacker. The more game reps he receives in preseason, the better and faster Attaochu will play in regular-season games.

For now, just like Philon and Nick Dzubnar played extended reps against the Titans, I view Attaochu being in the game late as the Chargers trying to speed up a young player’s development.