It’s the offseason, and still more than a month before the NFL kicks off again. Perhaps it’s a little early to start getting excited about the return of the NFL, but it’s never too early for me to get excited that maybe this is the year that the San Diego Chargers will go and get that Superbowl victory, for the first time in their history. I think we have a good chance this year…
Where to start? Last year. Last year the San Diego Chargers went 4-12, Earning themselves the no.3 Draft pick. That is a pretty bad year on the face of it, but there is way more to it than that. In this sport, they say you are what your record says you are, but I cannot sit here in any right mind and think that the Chargers were a 4-12 team. severely depleted by Injury, the Chargers had more starting Centers (the guy who snaps the ball to the quarterback to start a play) last year than most teams will have on their roster in the entire year, and that was just the start of it. Beginning the year with a suspension was Antonio Gates, the big pass catching tight end having been one of QB Rivers’ favourite targets for years now (the two have combined for 77 Touchdowns so far), and disaster struck when the Chargers lost 3rd year Wide Receiver Keenan Allen to injury, who was top three in receptions and yards until being ruled out for the season only half way through. Bang goes the deep ball, as WR Malcolm Floyd’s threat had diminished with age, although he did manage to contribute three touchdowns and 19 fist downs last year, we’re used to seeing closer to double those numbers from Floyd in a healthy season, though not an awful swansong season as he heads off to retirement. Offensively the Chargers struggled in the Red zone, where a lack of targets and no kind of a run game led to a predictability that you just cant have in football. First and goal from the four yard line at Lambeau, with seconds left on the clock and a touchdown need to go to overtime, The Packers had all eyes on “running back” Danny Woodhead who managed to get as far as the two yard line (worth noting that Danny’s big strength is not being a redzone threat, it’s yards after the catch, in which he led the league last season) and Antonio gates in double coverage. The Chargers called almost the same play three more times, and were inevitably unable to get the ball in to the endzone. This was a theme all year, as Phillip Rivers finished second in total yards with 4,792 total yards, a couple hundred shy of the 5000 mark (503 on that fateful day at Lambeau- Aaron Rodgers managed 255 that day for the Packers). Getting the ball down the field was not the issue, just getting it in to the endzone. Unfortunately for the Bolts, that’s the only place it counts. Nine of the Chargers 12 losses were by one score or less. The defense wasn’t that bad, only getting blown out once by a Chiefs team in the middle of an eleven game winning streak in which they scored 23 or more nine times. Here is a team that could easily have fared much better, had just a few things broke our way. Maybe we should try drafting lady luck next year.
The real culprit here was the banged up offensive line. Unable to protect Rivers or rookie running back Melvin Gordon, who was landed with the pressure of replacing Ryan Mathews who departed for Philly, It was hoped the rookie Running Back out of Wisconsin would have a good year, and while he didn’t manage to score a touchdown, there was a good amount of feeling that the play calling wasn’t suiting him or doing him any favours, and despite this, he averaged the most yards after contact per carry in the league (I’m still trying to relocate the source where I saw this). The real issue for Gordon was that a lot of this contact was getting made on or behind the line of scrimmage, meaning he was rarely making big gains. Getting hit before you’ve barely had a chance to secure the football will result in Fumbles, and that’s a big part of why MG28 was benched. If I were Mike Mccoy I’d have had him carrying a football everywhere with him for the whole of this year, at all times, in an effort to improve his ball security (it would be grossly inaccurate to absolve Gordon of all responsibility for his fumbles, but he certainly wasn’t helped out much being a rookie). In a heavily results orientated sport like this, it’s easy to grow frustrated with players when they’re seemingly not getting it done, although it did not go totally unnoticed by all, just the people who needed to see it to correct it. Although with a tissue paper offensive line it’s hard to know how it could’ve been fixed.
Having a franchise QB who can throw 4500+ yards every season is not going to be enough to win you games all year, but it is a very good start. However if said franchise QB is constantly under pressure, because the running game can’t get going all year and he’s constantly losing his best receivers to injury, then it almost doesn’t matter who you have throwing the ball. Football is a rough game and injuries are going to happen, so it’s hard to berate them too much. Injuries to so many key players left the Chargers with few intimidating threats. You’re not going to win a lot of games being predictable, shown by teams stacking the box against the run (think of it like crowding the middle) and forcing Rivers to try to throw to whatever receivers he had left, or had been picked up as free agents.
Where you and your opponent start on the field has a pretty big bearing too on games too. Josh Lambo replaced long time servant Nick Novak as the Kicker and delivered these things called touchbacks that we hadn’t seen for a while, and had a pretty solid rookie season. If he can build on that we shouldn’t have too many worries in that position, however Punter Mike Scifres delivered a net a avergae of 38.2 yards per punt, 27th in the league. The Chargers allowed an average return on punts of 9.8 yards, while only averaging 4.2 per punt return themselves, meaning they were starting most drives worse off than their opponents, and while this isn’t all down to the punter, it sets the tone for every special teams play. Scifres was a Charger since 2003 and even assumed some place kicking responsibility when he was needed, but last year the Chargers struggled to pin back teams inside their own 20, only managing it fifteen times all season. In week five in the Steelers game on a monday night in San Diego, the Chargers had more first downs, more time of possession, and 160 yards more total – and lost, in the dying seconds no less. I vividly remember the feeling of pure disbelief and dejection, especially when on that last fateful drive the chargers were called for unnecessary roughness, for a tackle on a player who was about to enter the endzone, stopping the clock at 0:05 and and moving the steelers to the one inch line. It came down the last second but the game realistically was lost with our awful field position for that whole game, just made it more heartbreaking that way. Lots of little bits of luck conspiring against us all year long it seemed. Scifres won’t be with the Chargers next year, but has landed on his feet having been given a job in Carolina with the Panthers, but last year his punting not being good enough was another factor that helped contribute to the poor season. Still, best of luck to a guy who gave us years of good service, except maybe week 14 when the Chargers go to Carolina.
The flipside here is that while last season was pretty much a train wreck, there’s plenty of reasons to optimistic this year. In march the Chargers got some business early, Signing wide reciever Tavis Benjamin, formerly of the Browns, who had a five touchdown and 966 yard year. He’s also a return specialist, replacing the much maligned Jacoby Jones who had that responsibillity last year, and who was in my opinion at least, thoroughly dissapoinitng. That should be a start to putting right the mess that was the Chargers special teams and help us out with field position a bit. More on that later.
The Chargers had a good draft, taking Defensive end Joey Bosa with the third pick in the first round. Bosa is a defensive end in the JJ Watt mould, powerful, fast, and loves the game. He can break up plays before they’ve even begun and should bring some much needed extra threat to opposition QBs. This is of course, assuming he signs (at the time of writing this, there are still some disputes over his contract, I like every other Charger am hoping this all gets sorted out) and when he lines up, he’ll give every offensive line we play something extra to think about. Every team wants a JJ Watt, and with any luck the Chargers might have at least one now.
In the Second round the Chargers drafted Hunter Henry, touted as the best Tight End in the draft, to lighten the load on Antonio Gates, and if he can step up the way he’s expected to he could transition in to being the main tight end for the Chargers, though Gates isn’t quite finished yet. The third round saw the selection of Max Tuerk, a center expected to have a good future, although he’ll likely be behind Slauson as second choice, at least at the start of the season. lack of depth at the center position hurt the chargers last year, and they’ll be looking to avoid a similar catastrophe again this year. In the fourth and fifth rounds the Chargers added Joshua Perry (Inside line backer) and Jatavis Brown (Outside line backer) respectively, but its round six of the draft where things get interesting again.
The Chargers made two selections in the sixth round of the draft, the first of which was Drew “Laser” Kaser. Kaser is a punter out of Texas A&M, very capable of “flipping the field” (that is, turning your bad position in to your opponents bad position) with a booming leg, he brings with him the opportunity to turn around what was a nightmare on special teams plays last year. If you’re having trouble visualising why this is important, then it might be worth having a look at Kaser’s 76 yard punt vs Rice from his A&M days, it’s a game changer. If he can replicate anything close to that in the NFL then it will have been a pick well spent. With their second selection in the sixth round the Chargers took Derek Watt. Where have you heard that name before? Yep, he’s the younger brother of JJ Watt, but that isn’t the only reason to be excited about him, although it does help knowing that there’s already been one superstar produced from his family.At Wisconsin, he was used in tandem with Melvin Gordon, as a pretty good blocker for the RB and there’s hope that he’ll be able to help finally spring Gordon free and get him in to the endzone. It’s worth noting that he’s no slouch with the ball himself, and a good enough catcher adding that little unpredictability that can go a long way, and there is of course the off chance that he could turn in to beast like his brother. No pressure there though, as for this season at least I and I think many other Chargers fans will just be happy to see him replicate the team work that made MG28 a star in Wisconsin, anything else will be a nice bonus.
So there it is. One terrible year, some deadwood moving on, some investment in a downfield threat and some shrewd draft picks and seemingly the Chargers have a decent bedrock upon which they can build some success. Players staying healthy often dictates which teams do well year upon year, but with a little bit of luck in that department, the Chargers probably have enough talent across the board to shoot for the playoffs. Winning the Superbowl will require a few things to go our way, but we’re in a better position to make our own luck this year. If Keenan Allen can pick up where he left off, Gordon can improve with the tools they’ve added to help him, and Gates can still catch the ball in the endzone, and all the other players we have brought in and are still bringing in can gel, Rivers will have plenty of weapons around him to give himself a shot at a ring, finally. That’s a lot of ‘if’s, but what else is being a fan about?
If like me, you live in England, then the Chargers can be taken at 66/1 for the Superbowl. Got to be worth a punt?