Chapter One: Two sacks on Browns’ quarterback Josh McCown. It was Attaochu’s first career multi-sack game.
“Jerry just has that knack for getting to the quarterback and he just works so hard,” fellow linebacker Manti Te’o said recently. “I see the work he puts in, the focus that he has during the week and it all pays off on Sundays. You can always expect #97 to be around the quarterback, whether he is getting the sack or the quarterback pressure.”
It’s something Attaochu has been hungry to do, having missed five games last season (playing only 161 total snaps as a rookie) because of a nagging hamstring injury. He ended the year with just 10 tackles, two sacks and one forced fumble.
He hopes his performance to start this season is a precursor to more production as a consistent pass rusher.
“It definitely feels good to get a sack,” Attaochu said Monday. “That’s a rewarding statistic. Beating our man is probably more important than getting a sack on a consistent basis, because the sacks can happen on accident sometimes. You gotta beat your man on a consistent basis and then more opportunities to get sacks come.
“That’s really the whole goal behind everything, because sometimes you have the best rush, but the quarterback can get the ball out really fast; or, you have a terrible rush but [the quarterback] is just going to stand there and you’ll eventually be able to get to him. So, I think there’s two sides to it, but the main focus is to win your one-on-one match-ups, beat your man and make [the quarterback] make bad decisions or make him hold the ball.”
Attaochu came into training camp with a goal to be more vocal, especially with the absence of veterans Dwight Freeney and Jarret Johnson. Health was also a priority, as was honing his skills against the run game.
He missed the season opener because of a hamstring issue but notched eight tackles and two sacks while playing about half the total team snaps through three games.
Head coach Mike McCoy has been quick to compliment Attaochu for his tenacity from sideline-to-sideline and his ability to “wreak havoc” on the opposing quarterback.
“That was a great game for him,” McCoy said after the Chargers’ Week Three loss to the Minnesota Vikings. “I know it’s all about winning and losing, but there are some positives.”
Attaochu’s performance is part of the collective effort of the linebacker corps to bring more of a pass rush presence to the field after tallying just 26 sacks in 2014 (fourth-worst in the league). Through three games this season, the defense had only one sack, but racked up four against the Browns (with two coming from Attaochu and 1.5 from linebacker Melvin Ingram).
“The work that we’ve done with [assistant linebackers coach] Bobby King and [linebackers coach] Mike Nolan — as far as pass rushing and the little things they’ve been teaching us — I definitely think all of us are doing it on a more consistent basis,” Attaochu said.
They hope it’s a sign of things to come.