The Chargers last year spent big money to bring in weapons for Philip Rivers, but they ignored putting a quality line in front of him and it cost them. Rivers was under constant pressure throughout the season, and had his worst year as a starter. With RB Ryan Mathews dealing with injuries, the running game fell apart as well, leaving this once mighty offense weak and not a real threat to anyone. The defense was still pretty solid, and was a top 10 unit against the run, but it wasn’t enough given the state of their offense. Norv Turner was fired after the season and Mike McCoy was brought in from division rival Denver to fix this offense.
Philip Rivers is still a very good quarterback, he was just put in a poor situation. The Chargers offense was a run focused system that wanted to bring an extra guy in the box, so the quarterback could attack down field. Unfortunately with no rushing attack or protection, Rivers was a sitting duck last season. Rivers has to hope the line and the running game are improved this year, for him to get back to his career norms.
The Chargers drafted Ryan Mathews in the first round in 2010, but since then they haven’t gotten the production of a first rounder. He did have a 1,000 yards in 14 games in 2011, but Mathews needs to be more consistent and actually stay healthy. He’s already missed 10 games in his three year career and has probably played another 4-6 at under 100%. The Chargers brought in 3rd down back Danny Woodhead to give them a weapon out of the backfield, but he’s not really going to be able to take over Mathews work load if he goes down with injury again.
It’s not off to a good start for the Chargers as last year’s free agent bust Robert Meachem has been cut, and last year’s free agent surprise Danario Alexander will miss the season due to an ACL injury. Though Meachem was a bust last year, the hope was he would put it together in year two of his big contract. The loss of Alexander is a killer though, as he was such a weapon after signing late with the Chargers last year. Top wide receiver Malcolm Floyd has been nicked up, but he should be fine for most of the season. Youngster Vincent Brown is expected to take on a bigger role, with rookie Keenan Allen and veteran Eddie Royal getting into the mix as well. Antonio Gates still remains one of the league’s best tight ends, though he’s always dealt with some injury issues.
The Chargers offensive line is going to be a major work in progress this season. They lost their top offensive lineman from last year in Louis Vasquez who went to the Broncos. They did bring in some guys like King Dunlap, Chad Reinhardt and 1st round pick D.J. Fluker, but they are going to miss the veteran presence of Vasquez. If this line doesn’t improve the Chargers offense will likely crumble again so the pressure is on for this group to succeed.
The Chargers have a really good starting group here of Kendall Reyes, Cam Thomas and Corey Liuget. None of the three are elite players, but all three can play at a high level for extended periods. Together they form a strong group that should once again help the Chargers contain the run. There is solid depth behind this group as well.
This could be a problem area for the Chargers, particularly on the outside. Shaun Phillips is now in Denver, and 2012 1st round pick Melvin Ingram is on IR. The team brought in Jarrett Johnson last year, and he’s a solid ball player, but he’s not much of a pass rusher. Opposite him the Chargers will go with veteran Dwight Freeney. Freeney struggled in a 3-4 role last season in Indianapolis, and while they could find ways to use him more effectively he’s hardly anything more than a situational answer. Inside the Chargers should be pretty good as rookie Manti Te’o will team up with Donald Butler for a pretty strong pairing.
The Chargers revamped their secondary somewhat and have new corners Derek Cox and Richard Marshall competing with Shareece Wright for the top three corner back jobs. While Cox and Marshall have some experience, it is hard to imagine that this ends up being anything better than an average unit. The idea of these three as the primary cover guys is even more of an issue considering the lack of the pass rush this year. At safety the Chargers do make up for their cornerback issues with a starting tandem of Eric Weddle and Marcus Gilchrist. Gilchrist is a solid safety with some promise, while Weddle is one of the top five safeties in the league.
The Chargers have a solid but unspectacular pair of kickers with punter Mike Scifres and kicker Nick Nova. Neither is considered great, but both get the job done for the Chargers. Eddie Royal will likely be the primary return man, and he’s always capable of breaking off some big returns.
The Chargers simply lack the talent to contend this season. Philip Rivers is still a quality quarterback, but unless a cohesive offensive line is formed and a running game established he’s not going to be able to get this team to playoff contention by himself. Defensively the Chargers should be solid, particularly versus the run. The question is do they have enough pass rush and pass defense talent to be a balanced defense. A weaker schedule could get them in the 6-7 win mark, but it seems very unlikely that they can hit .500.