San Diego Chargers: Season Preview

San Diego Chargers
Season Preview

The San Diego Chargers head into the 2012 season with some serious expectations.

Head coach Norv Turner is definitely on the hot seat this season after failing to make the playoffs the last 2 seasons and compiling a a mediocre 17-15 regular season record (after going 32-16 his first 3 seasons in San Diego). Many were surprised he wasn’t fired after the disappointing 2011 campaign, but he has 2 years left on his contract and the Chargers didn’t want to have to pay to have 2 coaches on the payroll.  And just making the playoffs may not be enough to keep his job, he may need to make a deep playoff run.

So, this season is going to spell the future for Turner and possibly even general manager AJ Smith. And SD had some major changes in the offseason, which won’t make the accomplishment any easier.

The offense

He’d smile a lot more with a competent replacement for Vincent Jackson

Philip Rivers needs to bounce back big time if Turner wants to keep his job after a subpar 2011 season.

Rivers did his best Rex Grossman impersonation as he threw a career high 20 INT’s (tied for 3rd most in the League). If he rebounds, it will be without his best WR in Vincent Jackson who bolted in free agency to Tampa Bay. Jackson caught 60 passes (115 targets), averaged 18.4 yards er catch and snagged 9 TD’s. He also had 21 receptions of at least 20 yards and 54 of his 60 receptions were for first downs. Billy Volek was not brought back, so Clipboard Jesus aka Charlie Whitehurst will be the #2 QB.

The offensive line is a definite concern for the Chargers, but lets start with the good news first. Center is a definite strength with Nick Hardwick since he didn’t allow any sacks last season and Rivers won’t have to worry about getting the ball hiked to him. Hardwick will be his main protector, but he missed some time in the preseason due to a concussion.

Undrafted Mike Harris will be protecting Rivers blind side. Who? Yeah, you’re not alone. I’m a UCLA Bruins fan and I didn’t recognize his name. He could either be a nice surprise or Rivers could be looking at a long season and throwing a lot of picks when he is under pressure again. Oakland has to be licking their chops since they open the season against SD. The hope is that Harris can play just well enough…until Jared Gaither returns. When in the starting lineup, Gaither is a solid player and should be a positive if and when he can return. However, after Hardwick…it all goes downhill. Kris Dielman decided to retire due to the ever growing concern about concussions. He will be sorely missed and will not be replaced by Tyronne Green or Rex Hadnot. The right side is very suspect with an average Luis Vasquez at right guard and awful Jerome Clary at right tackle. Clary might be a worse player than Oakland’s Khalif Barnes  and that takes some doing. Rivers was sacked just 30 times last year. He might be lucky if he gets sacked just 35-40 times this season. The OL got worse, not better.

Ryan Mathews had a good year for San Diego and he may be relied on even more if they decide to run the ball more. He also caught 50 passes so he’s turning into a dual threat and his breakaway speed was clearly evident by his 4.9 yards per carry average and 9 runs of at least 20 yards. But, he will miss the opening game with a broken clavicle.

They lost Mike Tolbert to the Carolina Panthers. They added free agent Ronnie Brown who didn’t pan out in Philadelphia (he averaged just 3.2ypc and his longest run was just 15 yards), but he is strictly a backup at this point. If Mathews gets hurt and Brown has to play a lot, the Chargers could be in serious trouble. Le’Ron McClain is an excellent FB. He spent last season with Kansas City after his first 4 seasons with Baltimore. He provides a veteran presence and is a solid lead blocker for Mathews.

Malcolm Floyd is going to try and replace VJ as the #1 WR. While he is extremely talented, he has never lived up to expectations. He played in just 12 games last year and has missed 9 games the last 2 years combined. He needs to stay on the field to give Rivers the deep threat he will need to try and replace the departed Mr. Jackson. Floyd’s talent isn’t in question as he averaged a career high 19.9 yards per catch. 41 of his 43 catches went for first downs, so he is a clutch WR, but health is key. Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal were added in free agency to try and help replace Jackson. Meachem was a good 3rd WR in New Orleans, but he will be learning a new offense and the Saints felt he was replaceable for the money he wanted. The Chargers overpaid  (over 6 million a year) in an effort to try and give Rivers a capable replacement. Royal didn’t see a lot of time in preseason because of a sore groin. That’s an ominous sign.

Antonio Gates has been an excellent tight end in the NFL, but it seems like Father Time might be catching up to him. He has missed 9 games the last 2 seasons. Last year, he had just 64 catches and his 12.2ypc was the 3rd lowest of his 10 year career. His 7 TD’s were the 2nd lowest of his career. With Jackson bolting for Florida and some questionable replacements at WR, Rivers will need Gates to return to Pro Bowl form. Randy McMichael is a veteran backup and that’s a good thing. He used to be an excellent player, but has just 84 receptions in 40 starts over the last 3 years. If McMichael and Brown are seeing a lot of action, SD will be in serious trouble.

As a Raider Fan, I hate this guy
And as a Raider fan, I can put him on IR, If I see him

 

The defense struggled last year (23.6 points per game, 22nd in the NFL) and put a lot of pressure on Rivers to move the chains and score points. When you look at the difference between 2010 (when they were a lot better defensively) and 2011, Ron Rivera is the common denominator. He was the head coach of the Panthers last season and his loss had an effect on SD’s defense.

They addressed that area when they drafted Melvin Ingram #18 overall and he was a steal at that pick. He will need to help improve their defense. He will play LB and some DE as well. He should help improve their pass rush. The defensive line needs to stay healthy and get some production from the starters.

Antonio Garay is the incumbent at DT and is the anchor of the line, but he is suffering a leg injury,  and isn’t expected to start the season opener against Oakland. Aubrayo Franklin played for the Saints last year and has 70 career starts. He should be a decent stop gap at DT until Garay returns to the lineup. The DE’s need to step up and produce. Corey Liguet (disappointing 19 tackles in 15 games, 13 starts in his rookie year) and Vaughn Martin are the starters, but they were a letdown last year. Kendall Reyes was drafted in the 2nd round to add some DL depth. This group needs to step up and help pressure the QB and relieve some pressure off a porus secondary.

The Chargers also added Jarrett Johnson to start at ROLB, but he is 31 and is mainly a run stopper and decent coverage LB’er. Ingram will see a lot of time, especially when they want to pressure the opposing QB.  Takeo Spikes had a busy 2011 campaign (106 tackles), but it seems like he has been in the League forever. He is 35 years old and it isn’t like they haven’t planned for his replacement. They drafted Jonas Mouton, but he spent most of last year on the Injured list. He will be expected to contribute and push Spikes for a starting job. Donald Butler emerged last year as a bright spot for their defense at RILB (96 tackles and 2 sacks) and gives them an infusion of youth to an older group of LB’ers. Butler and Johnson should help a run defense that was 20th in yards allowed. They only allowed 8 rushing TD’s, but that was more a product of a very poor secondary. Shaun Phillips is 31 and played in just 12 games and it showed in his decrease in production (he went from 11 sacks in 2010 to just 3.5 last year). Ingram will see time backing him up as well. This is clearly the strength of the defense.

When you look at their pass defense, 224 yards per game isn’t bad. It was 13th in the NFL, but they allowed 29 passing TD’s, tied for 27th. Not to mention, a 62.6 completion %, 26th.

Eric Weddle is the best player in the secondary, but he’s a solid player at best. He isn’t an elite safety. They added Atari Bigby, but he’s not much of a difference maker. Quentin Jammer has never really been as good as advertised and now he’s 33. The CB’s need an improved pass rush from the LB’ers to help them out. That’s the best way to help out this poor secondary. that allowed 29 passing TD’s, tied for 27th in the NFL.

Special teams

Hey Phillip, thanks for keeping me around
No Problem, I going Crab Fishing this January again

This is where they were pathetic last season and lost some games, costing them a playoff berth.

Mike Scifres is an excellent punter and should be a bright spotf or them. Nate Kaeding was injured most of last year, but he returns as the kicker.

Richard Goodman averaged 27.5 yards per kickoff (4th) and will be the primary returner. Royal will replace Patrick Crayton as the punt returner. They hope he can improve upon Crayton’s 9.2 yards per return (19th).

The Chargers benefit from playing in the AFC West….so there is hope that they can rebound from a disappointing season and save Turner’s job. But, there are as many questions as answers for them heading into the 2012 season.

Second Look

By David Snipes

I hate Norv Turner.

I love him as an OC, would take him in a heartbeat, but as a Head Coach? No thanks.

I still think Marty Ball was a better coach, but that’s old news. This team has had a steady decline in Blue Chip talent, and Rivers had a bad year ad it cost them the playoffs, The good thin about being in the West is you get 6 easy games and can make the playoffs with a decent year, and the bad thing is you never go 3-13, get the coach and GM fired and get a top 4 pick.

This defense has few players I’m scared of, Jammer is 33 and slowing noticeably, and this team is borderline bottom 5 in the AFC, or second in the West, depending on how other teams pan out.

6-10

 

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Big time sports fan of the Lakers, Raiders, Angels and Dodgers. From 1990-1995, I worked at the Glendale News-Press and I had a blast. I covered mainly high school sporting events and Glendale Community College athletic events, but also attended Dodgers, Raiders, and Rams games. I also write for Joel Huerto (former co-writer and editor at the GNP) at onemanfastbreak.net. I watch a lot of sports on TV (basketball, football, usually just postseason MLB) and UFC.

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