After a run to the AFC Championship Game in 2007, San Diego had incredibly high expectations entering last season. However, San Diego got off to a slow start, and every time it seemed like they were about to turn the corner and make a run, they fell flat. The run finally came when the calendar flipped to December and the Chargers were sitting at 4-8. Not only did they need to win out (which they did), they also needed Denver to lose out (which they did) to make the playoffs. Lucky for San Diego, 3 of their last 4 were against division opponents, and the other was Tampa Bay. Of their 8 wins last year, only 1 came against a team with a winning record (New England). However, most people will probably forget that and remember them for beating Indy in the playoffs…again.
Some attributed San Diego’s underachievement to their loss of linebacker Shawne “Roid Rage” Merriman to a knee injury in the preseason. San Diego did have the league’s 11th best run defense, but they were hindered by the terrible, terrible pass defense that finished 31st in the league. The Chargers gave up almost 4000 yards in the air last year, and 3 of their top 5 tacklers were from their secondary. Despite having the #11 run defense, the Chargers did give up over 100 yards 9 times last season. The loss of Igor Olshansky to Dallas via Free Agency won’t help their front 7, and they may be even worse on this front this year.
Corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer vastly underperformed, with Cromartie taking a big step back from his breakthrough rookie year with only 2 picks. They were 24th in the league in sacks, and 17th in takeaways. Considering these bad numbers, it’s incredibly lucky that they had Kansas City and Oakland twice on their schedule. Linebacker Shaun Phillips, who led the team with 7.5 sacks last season, will be a formidable counterpart to Merriman. The Chargers also beefed up their linebacking unit with the addition of Larry English, their first round draft pick from Northern Illinois.
The Chargers biggest moves in the offseason were to re-sign running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Sproles is a quick, elusive back who drove up his market price when he single-handedly carried the Chargers to a victory over the Colts in the first round of the playoffs. Tomlinson has had injury issues over the last few years and seems to have lost a step. There isn’t a whole lot of difference between Sproles and Tomlinson’s running styles and the Chargers lack a “change of pace” or in this case, a power back.
San Diego did boast the #2 scoring offense in the league last year, keyed mostly by the passing attack led by Phillip Rivers. Rivers racked up a league-leading 34 touchdown passes last season, though some of that may be attributed to the fact that their defense was so bad that their offense was continually playing catch-up. Antonio Gates is one of, if not the best tight end in the league. If you want to argue that Witten is better, that’s totally fine, but Gates is definitely in the top 2. Gates is always a legitimate threat anywhere on the field and has great hands and route-running ability. Gates led the team in TD receptions with 8 last season. Vincent Jackson is the real threat in the receiving corps, and put up a team-leading 1098 yards and 7 TDs. On the other side, Chris Chambers is still trying to remind people that he’s relevant.
San Diego also utilizes their running backs in their passing game. Last season, about a third of their completions went to running backs. LT, Sproles, Mike Tolbert, and Jacob Hester accounted for about 100 receptions. For all the success they had throwing, their rushing offense suffered, finishing 20th in the league. LT has been a workhorse back for years, and came close to 300 carries again last season. One has to wonder how much more LT has in his tank, if they keep forcing him to carry the ball 300 times a season. At 29, he’s not getting any younger and his injuries have begun piling up.
Ian’s Prediction: 8-8
After being really high on San Diego last season, I just don’t see it this year. They’ve lost a few people in free agency, and the defense still has a lot of holes. They didn’t do much to improve their team in the offseason. Just because everyone says they are a shoo-in to win the division, don’t take that at face value. Don’t forget their 4-8 start last year. If Kansas City (who they beat by a total of 2 points) wins either of those games, San Diego is golfing instead of playing in the playoffs. Rivers is good, but he got out-passed by JaMarcus Russell, Jake Delhomme, Matt Ryan, Trent Edwards and Chad Pennington in games last year. The Chargers get all of their division games out of the way before December this year, and close out with Dallas, Tennessee, and Washington 3 of the last 4 weeks. San Diego will face 7 of the top 8 defenses in the league from last year in PIT, BAL, PHI, NYG, WAS, DAL, and TEN. Their schedule is not set up for success, but they still should be able to beat the teams they should beat, which likely means another mediocre season for the Chargers.