Usually when it comes to sports on a national level, there is an East-Coast bias.
It maybe time to turn some attention out West, beyond the Los Angeles Lakers.
Last season, the San Diego Chargers missed the playoffs. So, they can’t be taken seriously heading into this season, right?
Last year clearly demonstrates there are three aspects to play on the field, and the Bolts were dismal at one of them, special teams.
What did I pick up from last season’s? That it was the first time the Bolts missed the playoffs in 5 years. Why am I optimistic about their chances?
For starters, Philip Rivers. The face of the franchise has elevated his game to another level, mastering his craft and entering the elite quarterback club. Why isn’t there more hype for the San Diego Pro Bowler? Remember that east-coast bias?
The Chargers had the #1 overall offense and #1 overall defense last season, with one of the worst special teams in all of football (if not the worst).
Check this out:
Philip Rivers – 30 TD / 13 INT (#1 Offense in the NFL)
Peyton Manning – 33 TD / 17 INT
Drew Brees – 33 TD / 22 INT
Aaron Rodgers – 28 TD / 11 INT (Won Superbowl)
Nobody touched Tom Brady’s 36 TD / 4 INT
The Top Quarterback Ratings:
1- Tom Brady (111.0) – MVP & only had Moss for 4 games
2- Philip Rivers (101. – Only had Vincent Jackson for 5 games
3- Aaron Rodgers (101.2) – Best WR Group in the league
4- Michael Vick (100.2) – MVP-runner up (#2 Offense, behind SD)
*No other QB had a rating of 100
Top 3 Scoring Teams in NFL
1- Patriots (32.4)
2- Chargers (27.6)
3- Eagles (27.4)
*All Pro Bowl QBs and deservedly so
All you need is a leader to compete, and San Diego obviously has their fiery captain. By the way, he led the NFL in passing yards with 4,710 yards.
Off -Topic: Historic Insight
For the record, last year’s was also Peyton Manning’s most yards thrown for in a season with 4700. His amazing record was 49 touchdowns and he threw for 4,557 yards that year, which was his previous high yardage total).
There are only 2 quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League that have thrown for 5k (5,000 yards) in a single season. The Hall of Fame great Dan Marino in 1984 with 5,084 yards, and Drew Brees in 2008 with 5,069. Yes, all time, amazing huh?!
Antonio Gates was banged up the 2nd half of last season, and mostly played through injury (while missing 5 games).
Who else missed playing time last year? #1 receiver Vincent Jackson. One of the top tier wide receivers in the league, could be join his quarterback on an elite level after this year is in the books. Sure, he has had issues off of the field, but on the field he missed 12 games and only playing 4.
In that time, Malcolm Floyd stepped into the #1 receiver role. He put up over 700 yards receiving, on only 37 catches because he also missed 6 games. He did average nearly 20 yards per catch (19.6), and will be one of the better #2 receiving options this year, especially with single coverage (he was doubled at times last year in the absence of both Jackson and Gates).
Throw in the lack of a running game. Whether it was lack of execution or experience, Ryan Mathews was a rookie last season that also missed games to injury (missed 4 games). Fullback-turned-running back Mike Tolbert made in his first year as a ball-carrier had 182 carries for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns. He had a healthy 4.o yards per carry average, and check out his first 2 seasons in the league:
2008: 13 carries, 37 yards, 2.8 yards per carry, 0 touchdowns
2009: 25 carries, 148 yards, 5.9 yards per carry, 1 touchdown
Barely involved in his rookie season, he had some impressive numbers last season, and with the departure of Darren Sproles, he will split carries with Mathews in what should make a formidable platoon. Looking at the upside, he could be their next Michael Turner (who backup up LaDanian Tomlinson in San Diego before he made a career for himself in Atlanta as one of the better running backs in the league).
They quietly have a dependable offensive line.
LT – Marcus McNeill (former All-Pro selection)
LG – Kris Dielman (former Pro Bowl alternate)
C – Nick Hardwick (former Pro Bowler)
RG – Louis Vasquez (entering his 3rd starting season)
RT -Jeromey Clary (entering his 5th starting season)
This team was ranked first in defense for a reason. Part of that reason may be the departed Ron Rivera (now the Head Coach of the Carolina Panthers), but the defensive scheme and most of the staff remains.
Last season, the Chargers defense had a strong front-7 and an improved secondary. I like the pieces this defense has in place, let’s look at the unit:
Defensive Line – Luis Castillo, Antonio Garay, Jacques Cesaire
And the 18th overall pick (1st round) in the draft, Corey “Too Legit to Quit” Liuget.
Linebackers – newly acquired Takeo Spikes, Shaun Phillips, Stephen Cooper, Larry English
Quentin Jammer, Eric Weddle, newly acquired Bob Sanders, Antoine Cason
Last year’s starter Steve Gregory is the 3rd safety that will provide depth and a solid starting option if injuries were to occur (Bob Sanders).
One of the best kickers in the league, Nate Kaeding.
As well as one of the best punters in the game, Mike Scifres.
The weakest link on the team last season has been outstanding in this preseason thus far. Sure, it’s the preseason, but grading special teams during the preseason is a little different than grading the offense and the defense, and on the upside, they have scored on a kick return by Brian Walters (103 yards).
The Chargers aren’t far off, they never are. They had a 9-7 injury-riddled season and nearly won the division after a slow start. It happens in a league that inches closer to parody every season. Eventually, all the high draft picks (like the Kansas City Chiefs) relate to a good team and a winning season.
Head Coach Norv Turner is one of the best offensive coordinators in the league. Perhaps he gets over that playoff obstacle on a personal note and becomes a great head coach. Add some good veteran pieces in Takeo Spikes and Bob Sanders, get Vincent Jackson on the field every week, and you have a legit contender that already has the Colts’ number. What is ahead for them, is getting over that Pittsburgh hump. They are in the same boat as the Patriots, who haven’t won a playoff game since 2007, and the Ravens who have yet to get over their rival Steelers hump as well.
The Colts have weakened on both sides of the ball, the Patriots are banking on standouts from the past and their youth development, the Ravens are counting on their youth all around, and the Steelers are sticking to their formula with the same players and the same mediocre offensive line. The Jets, the team that has the Chargers’ number, we know their defense will be stout. But their offense, it’s debatable but I would argue that they got worse and could be heading towards a mediocre 8-8 season.
It’s a wild roller coaster season. Things have to fall your way with a little bit of luck, but the door is wide open in the AFC.
This could be the year that lightening strikes.
You could be singing, “San Diego…Super Chargers!” like it’s 1994 all over again.
You stay classy San Diego.