2014 Season Preview:
The Chargers are coming off a 9-7 season and trying to make it back it to the playoffs for the second straight season after breaking a 3 year streak of not making the playoffs. They started slowly last year, they were 5-7 after 12 weeks and looked like a longshot, until they won their last 4 games and snuck in.
The Chargers went out and added some good players to improve their defense (the main one being Brandon Flowers from the rival Chiefs) and rookie Jason Verrett.
Quarterback Philip Rivers was sacked just 30 times and the OL gets most of the credit for that since he isn’t the most nimble signal caller.
King Dunlap was a huge reason for the improvement, he was a free agent signing after playing his first 4 seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles. He’ll help anchor the left side of the OL at left tackle, allowing just 3 sacks all season. But, there is some cause for concern after he sustained 2 concussions and a neck injury last season.
D.J. Fluker will play on the right side at tackle and had a solid rookie season.
Nick Hardwick was considering retirement but decided to return and he is one of the best centers in the league. His return means Rivers will have some stability at the center position and he won’t have to get used to a new player at one of the most important positions on the OL.
Chad Rinehart is the left guard and Jerome Clary is the right guard, but Chris Watt was selected in the 3rd round and may get an opportunity to play if Clary struggles.
Antonio Gates returns for his 12th season in San Diego. Gates might be 34 years old, but his production hasn’t slipped that much. He actually had the most receptions (77) since 2005, Rivers threw him the ball 116 times as his safety valve. Gates only averaged 11.3ypc, but he still managed to register 11 catches of at least 20 yards, just 5 fewer than the team-leader. However, his 4 TD’s were the fewest since his rookie season.
Ladrarius Green will be the primary backup and heir apparent to Gates starting job. He had just 17 receptions, but averaged 22.1ypc and caught 3 TD’s in limited duty. It looks like they may have struck Gold with their replacement for Gates.
Rivers rebounded from a couple rough seasons (2011-2012) that saw him throw 35 INT’s by being allowed to call his own plays at the line of scrimmage. Rivers showed that he’s a true leader and capable of leading an offense much like Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. He threw 32 TD’s to just 11 INT’s and was at his best during the final 4 games as the team battled to get in the postseason, he threw 9 TD’s to 2 INT’s.
Charlie Whitehurst left as a free agent (following offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt to Tennessee) so SD signed veteran Kellen Clemens to come in as the new backup to Rivers. He played surprisingly well for the Rams last season as St.Louis went 4-5 with Clemens starting in the absence of Sam Bradford.
The team brought in injury prone veteran Donald Brown to provide some depth at the RB position which is something they needed. Ryan Mathews is the clear starter after his 2013 campaign (career-high 1,255 yards, 78.4 yards per game, 4.4. yards per carry and 6 TD’s), but Brown will relieve him to give him a breather.
Danny Woodhead will also get some action there as well since he’s the best receiver out of the backfield that the team has (76 catches and 6 TD’s). They averaged 122.8ypg (13th in the NFL) and the hope is they can become a top 10 team running the ball.
Le’Ron McClain is one of the best fullbacks in the league and he was allowed to leave via free agency. This was a bit surprising since he’s a great blocker and led the way for several 1,000 yard runners. David Johnson is a veteran that will try and replace McClain, but he’s a converted tight end, not a natural FB.
Rivers hasn’t had an elite WR since Vincent Jackson bolted for Tampa Bay in the summer of 2012. Keenan Allen emerged as a very good #1 option at WR for Rivers to sling the ball to in 2013. Allen caught 71 passes (in 105 targets) for 1,046 yards (69.7ypg), 14.7ypc, 54 1st downs, and 8 TD’s.
Malcolm Floyd played in just 2 games last season and if he can step up and stay healthy, he can give Rivers a good #2 option if Allen is covered. Floyd is 32, but he’s just 2 seasons removed from a 56 reception season (5 TD’s). However, he’s coming off a bad neck injury and he may not be counted on to provide much production, but he did look okay in a few preseason games. Vincent Brown is the other option, but he’s inconsistent as a lot of 25 year olds are.
Eddie Royal is still around to play in the slot. He caught 47 passes (13.4ypc), including a career-high 8 TD’s.
The defensive line is the weakest part of the defense. Sean Lissemore is the starting nose tackle and he needs to step up to cement the job as his, especially after the team selected Ryan Carrethers in the NFL draft. Kwame Geathers is listed as the backup, but he’s no shoe-in to keep the job. The one thing they have at the position is size, all 3 players weigh in at 303 pounds.
Corey Liuget has been nursing an ankle injuries lately and has been inconsistent throughout his career. Kendall Reyes had a great rookie season, but last season his play regressed.
The linebacking unit is the strength of the defensive unit with some very talented players. Jarrett Johnson and Dwight Freeney are the starting outside linebackers and both need to bounce back to help shore up this pass-rushing unit.
Johnson, 33, had just 33 tackles and 3 sacks in 11 games. Freeney, 34, is close to being done but may have a little gas left in the tank if they can keep him. Freeney played in just 4 games last season due to a torn quadriceps muscle, but if healthy he should be able to apply pressure to the opposing QB.
Donald Butler and Manto Te’o are the young blood and unquestioned strength of the linebackers. Butler, 25, is a solid part of the defense, despite a lackluster 2013 campaign, but a lot of that
can be attributed to porous defensive line play. Even in a down year, he still managed to record 84 tackles and 4 tackles for a loss. Butler hasn’t even sniffed his prime and should rebound and provide stability for the LB unit.
Te’o may not be the fastest player, but he had a solid rookie season, he has a nose for the ball. He registered 61 tackles, a team-high 7 tackles for a loss, and broke up 4 passes when he was in coverage. Te’o has room to grow and if Johnson and Freeney rebound it makes his job that much easier.
SD allowed 258.7ypg through the air, 29th in the NFL so they addressed it by bringing in a spectacular CB in Flowers. Flowers was spectacular in Kansas City during his career and last year his play slipped a little (68 tackles, a career-low 8 PD, 1 sack and career-low 1 INT), but he’s still just 28 and a huge upgrade to the Chargers pass defense.
They didn’t stop there either. They selected CB Jason Verrett in the 1st round of the draft and he could challenge incumbent CB Shareece Wright for a starting job but he was banged up in pre-season after offseason shoulder surgry.
He’ll likely be eased into playing time in the NFL and not rushed too quickly. Richard Marshall has had a very good pre-season and also could be in the mix for a starting spot.
Eric Weddle is the incumbent returning free safety and leader of the secondary. He had a good campaign (115 tackles, 9 PD, and 4 tackles for a loss), especially in coverage (a very good 72.8 QB rating when thrown at) and pass rushing (1 sack, 2 hits, 9 hurries). He is the leader of SD’s secondary.
Nick Novak is a good kicker, but his range is starting to slide, and punter Mike Scifres is solid as well, but his range is also starting to slide, but his ball placement has improved to make up for it. Keenan Allen can be a solid returner, but gets tripped up by the last or next to last man way too often, and Eddie Royal may be the guy to improve kickoff returns. Coverage units will be overhauled with all the bodies that don’t fit with the secondary.
With so many obvious needs, it is stunning that the Chargers didn’t get a player that is going to walk into training camp as a day one starter, and so far in camp have not had a single player break through to start. In a division with Denver and KC, drafting for depth is a failure with so many holes. They may improve in time, but with Rivers a dozen years into the NFL, time is not on their side.
I don’t understand the signing of Donald Brown. The Running game was not the problem. The Chargers needed receivers, something that would have helped the return game, and some help on the offensive line. The big question is, are they even better than they were last year? Have Rivers and will be a solid team, as he has even at his worst been an above average QB. The AFC East doesn’t have the defenses to stop Rivers- and only the Patriots have the offense to keep up with Rivers. The NFC West has two teams that will make the Chargers know if they are worthy of taking the next step, bonus games of the Ravens and Jets should pose no issues with the offense, if Royal and Allen are up to the task. Another 3-3 record in the division and double digit wins should be in range. BUT. If the Chiefs have line problems, or Manning goes down, then a number one seed could be in range. I see the Chargers going 10-6 and getting the top wild-card, before going 1-1 in the playoffs as the secondary fails them again.
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