Report Card: San Diego Chargers

While the Denver Broncos have retooled their defense in an attempt to make it back to the Super Bowl, one team has begun to turn heads. The San Diego Chargers aren’t just posing as the #1 challenger for the AFC West crown. They’re posing as a legitimate threat to win the entire conference.

Phillip Rivers is the early season MVP of the league.

Phillip Rivers is the early season MVP of the league.

We keep wanting to take the Cincinnati Bengals seriously but when it’s time for them to win that champion’s building block landmark game, they fall flat on their face. Enter the San Diego Chargers…

Do you realize the Chargers are on a 5 game winning streak which began with a win over the defending champion Seahawks?? Did you know Phillip Rivers is the first QB in NFL history with 5 straight games with a passer rating of 120 or higher?? He is tied for 2nd with 15 touchdown passes thrown. Although Andrew Luck leads with 17, he’s thrown 7 interceptions to Rivers 2.

Head Coach Mike McCoy could be up for NFL coach of the year honors this season.

Head Coach Mike McCoy could be up for NFL coach of the year honors this season.

Their only loss was to the 4-1 NFC West leading Arizona Cardinals. So this team has been through an early crucible that should serve them well as they gear up for a huge game against Denver in 2 weeks. Therein lies the problem. How do they not look ahead of this weeks game against the Kansas City Chiefs?? That is the #1 item for Head Coach Mike McCoy to convey to his team.

Has anyone coached better than Mike McCoy this season?? You would be hard pressed to find one. At the beginning of the season you had backfield cogs Ryan Matthews & Danny Woodhead. Since they have been lost to injury, Branden Oliver (249 yds rushing / 124 yds receiving) has emerged as a spark plug. He runs with an explosive fury where Donald Brown is the steady sacrificial runner for this offense.

I know what you’re thinking… sacrificial?? Yes sacrificial.

The Chargers have been a power rushing team averaging 31.6 rushing attempts per game. The Chargers know Brown (59 car. 126 yds)will not break any nifty shifty runs. His runs are the equivalent of a boxing jab to just help wear down the defense. In keeping defenses honest TE Antonio Gates has re-emerged with 6TDs on 24 receptions. He hasn’t scored at this pace since 2004.

San Diego stands to get Ryan Matthews back from injury in 5 weeks. The ground and pound approach that has allowed Rivers to flourish has kept the defense rested as well. Right now they field the 3rd best defense in football.

Right now the Chargers have the NFL’s longest winning streak in football with 5. They have scored 30 or more in 4 games and it was their blueprint Dallas took to Seattle in their watershed victory last week. Two weeks from now they could be 6-1 going into that Sunday Night tilt in Denver. At stake, control of the AFC West and possible control of the conference as a whole.

Don't forget how well Charger coach Mike McCoy knows Peyton Manning.

Don’t forget how well Charger coach Mike McCoy knows Peyton Manning.

Last year the Chargers won in Denver on a Thursday night 27-20 but lost the rubber-match in the playoffs there 24-17. Those were the two lowest point totals for the record setting Bronco team a year ago who this year aren’t as potent. This year the Chargers are a little more battle hardened and must show it by not overlooking the Kansas City Chiefs.

The following week will take care of itself. Thanks for reading and please share the article.

AFC Divisional Playoff: San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos

The last game of the National Football League’s divisional round of the playoffs. All week long we have heard two camps: The pundits who always say Peyton Manning can do no wrong. In the other the question is being raised on the legitimacy of his legacy having lost so many times in the playoffs in his first game. Did you know that Joe Montana only lost four times in the playoffs in his first game?? Peyton has double that with 8. How is Manning being called the greatest ever quarterback again?? Yet I digress…

Phillip River's team has beaten Manning led teams twice in the playoffs in the past.

Phillip River’s team has beaten Manning led teams twice in the playoffs in the past.

One amazing aspect is if you go back to the beginning of the 2012 season, it was up in the air how the Manning tenure in Denver was going to go. They were 2-3 when they were down 24-0 to the San Diego Chargers. Phillip Rivers was having his customary good game when the wheels came off. Denver roared back to win 35-24. http://www.pro-football-reference.com/boxscores/201210150sdg.htm The Broncos went on to win the final 11 games of the season while San Diego lost 7 of their last 11. They even lost their coach as Norv Turner was fired.

So the Chargers brought in the Denver Broncos offensive coordinator when they made Mike McCoy their head coach. You don’t think he brought information with him to Southern Cal playbook information?? You don’t think that Chargers defense doesn’t know Bronco tendencies and formations?

The Chargers quite frankly shouldn’t be here. They struggled against a Chiefs team that was playing mostly back-ups. Yet here they are playing with house money. They ran the football 40 times in the upset of Cincinnati and now they get to rematch and close the circle against Manning and the Broncos. Did you know that Phillip Rivers is 6-2 v Denver?? The key to San Diego winning at Invesco Field is to run the football like that with Ryan Matthews again. Without Von Miller and Kevin Vickerson, the Bronco defense is missing a lot of firepower v the pass and the run.

Ryan Matthews is the key to this football game.

Ryan Matthews is the key to this football game.

For the Broncos they have to run the ball 40 times themselves and take the ball out of Manning’s hands a little. Remember Super Bowl XXXVII when Jon Gruden taught the Buccaneers every tendency of his former quarterback and team in Rich Gannon and the Raiders?? Turned out great for the Bucs in that Super Bowl triumph. We think the same thing is going to happen here. Remember the Chargers are riding a 5 game winning streak. In an upset the Chargers win 30-24.

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NFL Week 5: Peyton Manning Sets The Pace

At the end of the NFL 2013 season many experts have the Denver Broncos headed to New York and Super Bowl XLVIII. Why not? We’re talking about the #1 offense in the NFL right now averaging 483 yards per game. Worse part is they just pulverized the #2 offense in the Philadelphia Eagles 52-20 and let’s face it, they could have scored 80. Peyton Manning and the Bronco offense rank first in passing with an average of 383 yards per game with an obscene 179 points scored. Are you serious?? They are on pace to score 719 points for the 2013 season. Now the count will begin elsewhere for the Broncos possibly going undefeated along with shattering numerous passing records in the process.

Peyton Manning has turned each of the last four games into a surgeon's clinic on how to pay quarterback.

Peyton Manning has turned each of the last four games into a surgeon’s clinic on how to pay quarterback.

However posing as the #1 challenger in their own division no less are the 4-0 Kansas City Chiefs. Andy Reid has kept the Chiefs in games playing stout defense and a low risk / high yield offense that doesn’t beat itself with turnovers. Going into last week’s contest with the Giants, Alex Smith was one of three quarterbacks (one was Manning)  who had gone the longest without an interception this season.

They’re forte through this first stanza of the season has been to play conservative football and not put their 7th ranked defense in a demoralized position. Led by the NFL’s sack king Justin Houston (7.5 sacks) this defense has forced 12 turnovers which includes 3 at the expense of the Giants last Sunday. Lets take a look at the standings.

West Division

W

L

T

PCT

PF

PA

HOME

ROAD

DIV

CONF

STRK

LAST5

Denver Broncos Broncos 4 0 0 1.000 179 91 3-0 1-0 1-0 2-0 W4 4-0
Kansas City Chiefs Chiefs 4 0 0 1.000 102 41 2-0 2-0 0-0 1-0 W4 4-0
San Diego Chargers Chargers 2 2 0 .500 108 102 1-1 1-1 0-0 0-2 W1 2-2
Oakland Raiders Raiders 1 3 0 .250 71 91 1-1 0-2 0-1 1-2 L2 1-3

Don’t overlook the San Diego Chargers too quickly. Sure they lost Dwight Freeney for the season with  a torn quad, but this is a 2-2 team that could easily be 4-0. They’re only 6 points away from it. Last Saturday Phillip Rivers tortured the Dallas Cowboys with a 401 yard passing day with 3 touchdowns. Rivers consistently found the mismatch as he threw all 3 of his TDs against Cowboys linebackers. Danny Woodhead was a surprising star with 2 scoring receptions. Yet the Chargers keep playing very close to the vest affairs that could short circuit their season.

Phillip Rivers is off to an unbelievable start in 2013 as well.

Phillip Rivers is off to an unbelievable start in 2013 as well.

Lost in the wake of Manning’s performance is the fact Rivers is off on a torrid pace of his own. Through four games he is 105 of 142 for an astounding 73.9% completion rate for 1,199 yards 11 touchdowns to just 2 interceptions. He is on pace to throw for 4,800 yards and 44 touchdowns himself. Can they fast break with the Broncos when they meet them in their two match-ups.

Last year the Broncos finished the season on an 11 game winning streak that began overcoming a 24-0 deficit to the Chargers. Each team’s season turned on that game. San  Diego finished the season 4-7 which cost Head Coach Norv Turner his job. The Chargers haven’t forgotten and will be looking to pay Denver back in kind. New offensive Coordinator Ken Wisenhunt comes in with a roven background and two Super bowl appearances by his offenses in the last decade. They have to overcome the loss of Dwight Freeney as the season rolls on.

As for the Kansas City Chiefs…it’s hard to not cheer for a team that went through the turmoil they had last year. It wasn’t just the 2-14 season they had to endure….most people forget they had a suicide inside their practice facility by a player last year to compund things. Now with a proven winner with a chip on his shulder in Andy Reid (see Sal Paolantonio video leaving field in Philadelphia wo weeks ago) and a proven commodity in former 49er Alex Smith, this team is quietly on a mission. The Chancellor forwarned you about this team: https://taylorblitztimes.com/2013/05/13/2013-kansas-city-chiefs-preview-tools-for-a-resurgence/ This is about redemption in Kansas City and nothing motivates men like when they feel they have something to prove.

Justin Houston is a wrecking ball of a linebacker, and at 23 years of age, has just scratched the surface.

Justin Houston is a wrecking ball of a linebacker, and at 23 years of age, has just scratched the surface.

Just like San Francisco found out last year: A sure-fire champion wakes up in the middle of a season and finds themselves the hunted in their own divisional back yard. As all of NFL coverage has talked about Manning’s torrid start ad-nauseum, keep a few things in mind. On defense the Broncos are 24th in football and the Chargers should be able to score with them. Second Ryan Clady is still inactive and this week the Broncos have to have a back up Tackle play against DeMarcus Ware. This game against Dallas could be interesting.

Last but not least keep a few things in mind… Peyton Manning is not a good cold weather Super Bowl and to win it all he’ll need to win 3 games out in the elements. Just remember one of hi worst losses was a 41-0 drubbing against the New York Jets in the same spot that this year’s February Super bowl will be held. Last but not least, the greatest scoring offenses in NFL history, the 1983 Washington Redskins (541 points), the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (556 points), and the 2007 New England Patriots(589 points), ALL eventually ran into a defense and DIDN’T win the title. In fact two lost in the Super Bowl and the other in the NFC Championship Game. Further evidence of this we can throw in the 1990 Buffalo Bills , the 2011 New England Patriots, and the 2001 St Louis Rams for good measure. Bronco fans learn from history and be humble as this season grows on. The first question is:  Do the Kansas City chiefs have one of those defenses that can slow Manning and company before they get out of their own division??  Something to think about…. although right now Manning has established a record setting pace

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Is The 2004 NFL QB Draft Class The Best Ever?

Eli Manning has two rings….were they better than the 1983 class?

With 3 members of the great quarterback class of 1983 in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, at first glance you might say no. Until you realize the class of 2004 has 4 Super Bowl rings won between Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Not only are they in the prime of their careers but you have to include Pro Bowl QB Matt Schaub and Phillip Rivers as well. Many pundits have the Houston Texans as an AFC favorite to make this year’s Super Bowl and Phillip Rivers has made the AFC Championship along with a couple of Pro Bowls. How do they stack against the great classes of the past??

Well for starters this class didn’t have to live up to the expectations of the class of 1999. Remember that group? Donovan McNabb, Duante Culpepper, Tim Couch, Akili Smith, and Cade McNown were the hot quarterbacks anointed to challenge the class of 1983 yet came up woefully short. Couch, Smith, and McNown were out of the league within 5 years. Culpepper had some big seasons culminating with an NFC Championship visit in 2000 and had his best season in 2004 with 4,717 yards and 39 TDs. After that he was a journeyman playing for several teams.

As for Donovan McNabb, he was the face of the Philadelphia Eagles and led them to 4 straight NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl appearance. He played with distinction for well over a decade and was a Pro Bowl quarterback 6 times including 5 straight years (2000-2004). For his career, he threw for 37,726 yards and 234 touchdowns while crossing the 3,000 yard threshold in 8 different seasons. Yet no Super Bowl victories. The class of ’99 only had 1 Super Bowl appearance.

Which brings us to the hallowed class of 1983. Dan Marino, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Todd Blackledge, Ken O’Brien, and Tony Eason were the signal callers who were going to dominate pro football for the next 15 years. They did….well kind of. With all of them going to the AFC, the next decade worth of drafts were slanted to pass protecters, specialist linebackers who defensed the pass better than the run along with receivers, and cornerbacks to cover them. The AFC took to the air as their earthbound counterparts in the NFC were rooted in the ground with power running schemes and more stout physical defenses. As the decade wore on each of the class of 83 started making their way to the Super Bowl. One after the other they went down in Super Bowls XIX- XXVIII in 10 straight games. Only after the Denver Broncos built John Elway an NFC team did the class of ’83 finally win two Super Bowls. Four of them reached the Super Bowl and three of them made it to multiple Super Bowls. While Elway, Kelly, and Marino rewrote the record books: Were they better than the ’04 class??

Big Ben has had playoff heroics that are either equal or surpass those of John Elway

The biggest issue the newer quarterbacks face is perception. The media fawned over John Elway being the prototypical quarterback (6’3, blonde hair, golden arm) that he rarely faced detractors until his Super Bowl losses. Sportswriters of the time lauded Marino for his cool in the face of a blitz, and Kelly for his toughness. Roethlisberger, because of a few off field incidents, is rarely thought of in high regard when it comes to writers who romanticize the game’s players. His scrambles and daring play are every bit as good as John Elway’s and has won more games for the Steelers than most can keep count. Where Elway had The Drive (Elway’s 98 yard drive to tie the 1986 AFC Championship Game) Roethlisberger led a last second drive culminating with a last second touchdown throw to win Super Bowl XLIII with :42 seconds left. We hardly hear of it talked about in the air of Elway’s drive when Big Ben’s was greater because it won a Super Bowl. Why?? Talk about playoff heroics… What about the 3rd and 19, 58 yard bomb to Antonio Brown with 2:00 left in the 2010 playoff with the Ravens?? It led to the game winning score and another Super Bowl visit. Others in that instance would have played for overtime. Yet where is the coverage of his daring or a nickname for either of these moments??

Did we say last second drives to win Super Bowls?? Well Eli Manning has two. Not only did he take down an undefeated Patriot team in 1 Super Bowl (2007), he proved it wasn’t a fluke with an encore performance in the 46th edition. Where Elway won one conference championship game with a last minute drive on the road, Eli has done that twice now in Green Bay and San Francisco in overtime. He has become the NFL’s all time winningest quarterback in the playoffs with 8 wins away from home, he set the record for road wins in a season with 11. Then what may go down as one of the defining games of his career happened last Sunday. After throwing 3 interceptions early in the game to put his Giants in a hole, Eli comes back with 240 yards passing in the 4th quarter alone in beating Tampa Bay 41-34. The Giants scored 25 points in that final period as Manning threw for 510 yards overall. He came within 45 yards of the all time record of 554 set by Norm Van Brocklin in 1950.

Comparing these two classes is one-sided in the favor of the ’04 group when it comes to Super Bowls. The latter group is 4-1 in the big game where the ’83 group was 2-10. Where John Elway was the winningest quarterback in NFL history at one time, folks are slow to notice Roethlisberger is approaching 100 with a total of 84 right now. To further tilt matters this group is in it’s prime and how many Super Bowl visits are in the near future when we include Matt Schaub and possibly a Phillip Rivers (both are 2-0 to start 2012). As of right now there are 3 busts in Canton from the earlier group but this one is better and hasn’t come close to finishing their run yet. They need to get the respect their elders did concerning their on-field heroics.

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NFL Week 2 AFC West: Who Are These Guys??

The most enigmatic division in the NFL has just gotten weirder and weirder over the last two weeks. We chronicled how the Chargers play up or down to their competition and until Norv Turner is gone will continue to do that. True to form in their 1-1 start, they played down to the Vikings and up to the Patriots, although they lost. In the 93 years of the NFL, normally when a team can run the ball better than their opponent, they usually will win. Well the Chiefs are turning that axiom into a lost cause. They have run for over 100 yards in their first two games yet were blown out of the stadium on both occasions. They were also dealt another loss when they lost RB Jamaal Charles, who ran for over 1,400 yards last year. Second in the NFL.

However the Chiefs have lost three prominent players to injury and no one can answer the lingering question: What happened to the Chiefs passing attack?? It fell apart just  because Offensive Co-ordinator Charlie Weiss left?? We don’t buy that. Josh McDaniels and Todd Haley are from that same New England Patriot coaching tree. They both were offensive passing coaches there. So how do you explain Matt Cassell who threw for 27 touchdowns to just 7 int a year ago, to having thrown for only 1TD and 4 interceptions in two games this year?? Look no further we’ll reveal that answer in a moment. Yet lets take a look at the AFC West standings…

AFC WEST W L T PCT HOME ROAD DIV CONF PF PA DIFF STRK
Oakland 1 1 0 .500 0-0-0 1-1-0 1-0-0 1-1-0 58 58 0 Lost 1
San Diego 1 1 0 .500 1-0-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 0-1-0 45 52 -7 Lost 1
Denver 1 1 0 .500 1-1-0 0-0-0 0-1-0 1-1-0 44 45 -1 Won 1
Kansas City 0 2 0 .000 0-1-0 0-1-0 0-0-0 0-1-0 10 89 -79 Lost 2

Which brings us to the cream of this crop in the Oakland Raiders. Someone must have told Darren McFadden about our CEO’s claim that the SEC sends too many draft busts to the NFL. Since the midway point of last year no running back has run with more purpose. Even in defeat he ran hard for a well earned touchdown in Buffalo, where he fought off two Bills at the pylon. DMC rushed for nearly 100 yards for a second straight week. He’s the second leading rusher in the NFL after two weeks and it’s his play that’s allowed Jason Campbell to settle in and play some good football.  Right now Campbell has completed over 65% of his passes and is going downfield with confidence. That touchdown bomb to Denarius Moore was a thing of beauty. Last year he would have overthrew his receiver or thrown a two yard outlet pass since he saw Buffalo CB McKelvin running with Moore. The Raiders have stuck to their philosophy of running first to set up the pass. Something the Chiefs used to do.

How about the embattled John Fox and the situation in Denver regarding the quarterback position. Should he start Tim Tebow or Kyle Orton?? We say start Tebow and you can always go back to Orton. By going with Orton and switching to Tebow late it looks like you’re giving up the season and the Bronco players might go in the tank. If Orton is your guy trade Tebow and get something for him. You can’t dangle a talent like that in front of a fan base and have him not hit the field. We said it before on our CEO’s facebook page, the more Cam Newton succeeds in Carolina, the louder the fan base will call for Tebow. How embarrassing was that a week ago to be on Monday Night Football and your stadium chanting for Tebow to play?? They’re chanting this while Orton is playing ok football. When he has a bad outting Coach Fox might need a heavy police presence to get him to his car. Better make a decision fast or keep winning. Well so far they did the latter after Willis McGahee (The U) came off the street to rush for over 100 yards in last weeks win over the Bengals.

The Chargers have the NFL’s best quarterback that hasn’t played in a Super Bowl in Phillip Rivers. He’s a fiery field general yet needs his duplicate on the defensive side of the ball. The Chargers are well coached and are strong in ever phase of the game. What they lack is a little more play making ability to get a little more out of each play. On defense they haven’t had a “presence” since Shawne Merriman left this team. They don’t have an enforcer maybe Bob Sanders can remain healthy and become that guy. They have to stop coming out unmotivated and playing down to teams then try to roar back late in the game. It will work against a lessor team but you saw what happened in New England when they try that against a good one. This will be Norv Turner’s last year coaching them if they can’t break that spell.

Which leads us back to the Chiefs. Haley should fire his offensive co-ordinator and take over play calling himself or pass it over to Josh McDaniel. This team needs to get back to running first and passing second. This was the #1 team in the NFL in rushing attempts and yardage last year. So after 2 weeks Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster and Thomas Jones have a combined 38 carries for 219 yards?? Last year those were single game totals and to have McCluster with as many carries as Jones shows their running out of passing formations. Too much slick ’em and not enough sick ’em. Get your lineman firing off the ball and run at your opponents with purpose. Enough of this trick ’em football!! Chiefs if you listen and play to your fundamentals you can reclaim your division. We know that you have scored 10 points while giving up 79, has a team ever had that bad a beginning of a season and made the playoffs?? Yes, the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers were 0-2 after losing 51-0 and 42-10 to the Browns and Bengals yet fought their way to a 9-7 wildcard. So it can be done. Aside from the Raiders, who in this division has some direction??

2011 San Diego Chargers Preview

The San Diego Chargers took their fans on a weird football odyssey last year. In 2010, NFL had some strange twists but do you realize that the Chargers finished #1 in offense AND defense yet finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs?? The last two times we at Taylor Blitz Times can remember that happening was in 1977 when the 12-2 Dallas Cowboys won it all, and the ’87 San Francisco 49ers who were 13-2 and should have won it.  When a team plays up and down to the level of their competition its suffering from a lack of leadership. Direct reflection of Norv Turner who should have been let go for having that much talent & not make the playoffs. Its evident that they played to the level of their competition and weren’t motivated to do away with the lesser teams.

How do you improve on having the best offense and defense in the NFL? How does a team with the second rated passer in Phillip Rivers sit at home in January? The Chargers were the 2nd highest scoring team and gave up the 10th fewest points in the NFL. These numbers and rankings just aren’t adding up.  There has to be a change in the culture of this football team for its psyche is a little off, yet where would you tinker as to not upset the production of the team? Norv Turner is definitely on the hot seat this year and throughout his head coaching career his leadership qualities have always been in question.  He’s shed some of that over the last few years with a trip to the ’07 AFC Championship Game but the team has had enigmatic season endings ever since. So those allegations are resurfacing.

Phillip Rivers handing off to rookie Ryan Matthews

Quarterback: Its sometimes strange in how media covers certain players or why fans don’t readily accept them. Phillip Rivers is on the flip side of the great trade for Eli Manning and is best known for his verbal skirmishes with Jay Cutler when he was a Denver Bronco. From time to time you see him in the face of a defender if he feels he was hit late and gets into it with opponents verbally. To us thats moxie, hutzpah, the type of fire from within that Dallas Cowboy fans would like to see from Tony Romo.  So why is it that Rivers public persona takes a hit for this side of his personality??

When they talk of the NFL’s best quarterbacks his name rarely comes up. Take a look at what he did last year; 357 of 541 for 4,710 yards and 30TDs with 13 int. Yikes folks those are Dan Fouts numbers!! He was the 2nd highest rated quarterback, led the NFL in passing yards and his touchdown total ranked 5th.  Do you realize he also led the NFL with 65 pass plays last year that gained over 20 yards??  He was named to his 3rd Pro Bowl, this time as a starter so maybe perceptions are starting to change. Entering his 8th season Rivers is in his prime and playing some great football.  He’s averaged nearly 31 touchdowns over the last three seasons and seems to be getting better with age.

The natural tendency is to gauge his success with that of his 2004 draft counterparts Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger. Now each of them have Super Bowl rings, so that has become the measuring stick for him to be graded by.  As a quarterback he has performed better than the both of his counterparts but without the hardware, he has to get his ring before he’s going to get his due.  May not be fair but perception is reality. He earned his courage badge forever when he limped one legged through the playoffs to the AFC Championship with a torn knee ligament in 2007.  It might be high time for Rivers to take on more of a leadership role yet what he has to have his team avoid falling behind and having to try and rally the Chargers in every game. He is a Super Bowl quality quarterback who might be just one year away from winning his.

Matthews in a 2010 pre season game against Chicago

Offensive Backfield: It took a year for everything to roll over but the Chargers learned that there is life after Ladainian Tomlinson.  After a year in which the Chargers found out the hard way that Darren Sproles was only a 3rd down back, they drafted Ryan Matthews from Fresno State. Last year he teamed with 243lb. butterball ex fullback Mike Tolbert, to form a formidable rushing attack. Tolbert led the team with 735 yards rushing with 11 TDs, while Matthews ran for 678 yards and 7 TDs despite missing 4 games. This year look for Matthews to go over 1,000 yards for the first time in his career.  He runs with power yet has more wiggle than Tolbert and can turn vicious shots into glancing blows.  We expect him to take on the featured role and have Tolbert’s carries diminish in 2011.  Now do we expect Matthews to duplicate the 1400 yards and 18 touchdowns that he and Tolbert combined for?? He’s going to come close. We expect a 1,200 yard 13 TD season this year.

Out of the backfield on 3rd down is where Darren Sproles was best utilized. Last year he gathered in 59 receptions for 520 yards and 2TDs.  Matthews and Tolbert combined for 47 receptions and another 361 yards out of the backfield.  By the time we put in FB Jacob Hester, this team can run out of any formation with either power or speed and should try some Power-I formations to cut down on penalties and  take control of the line of scrimmage early in ball games. They have 3rd down speed to get after linebackers and cause the mismatches that Sproles can turn into first downs. This team is set at running back and Tolbert can take over when Matthews needs a rest or is injured.  Both are young with Matthews in his 2nd year and Tolbert entering his 4th.  They also drafted Jordan Todman out of UConn for insurance.  At running back this team is playoff caliber as a committee. They have the breakout year from Matthews that we’re expecting and they could be Super Bowl quality.

Receivers: When you stop to think that between Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates, there were a combined 17 games missed in 2010. Despite that the Chargers still finished with over 4,700 yards through the air?? Yikes! Even though he missed 6 games, Gates still made the Pro Bowl after a 50 catch season & scoring 10 TDs.  Once again his yards per reception average ranked up there with those of an outside receiver at 15.6.  However at 30, has he hit the wall when it comes to completing a full 16 game season? He has been durable in the past in not missing games but he has been on the injury report a bunch with turf toe and ankle sprains over the last 3 years. After 8 seasons as the main “go to guy”, the last 7 with Pro Bowl distinction, has the pounding started to take its toll on Gates?? Keep an eye on this.

Receiving by committee was what the Chargers went through without their best wideout in Vincent Jackson. Emerging from the pack was Malcolm Floyd, who snagged 37 catches for 717 yards and 6 TDs. With Jackson healthy, maybe the Chargers don’t need that other big time receiver as many pundits think they do.  However they took a flyer on hometown product Vincent Brown, a 5-11, 187 lbs. with a 3rd round pick. He is shiftier than the taller, more stiff receivers in Nanee and Floyd who are straight line route runners.  If Brown comes in and contributes this could reduce playing time for former Cowboy Patrick Crayton.  In 2011 Crayton was 4th on the team with 28 catches for 514 yards yet only produced 1 TD. The Chargers need just a little more explosion out of the slot position and Brown could be that guy.

Vincent Jackson’s return is important to the Chargers maintaining mismatches in the passing game. At 6’5, 241 lbs. Jackson is a huge receiver who can muscle most corners. Add to that a 6’5, Floyd and a 6’3 Legedu Naanee and you have a receiving corp that causes serious physical mismatches in speed against linebackers in the nickle or smaller DBs to cover them. Along with Gates this is a near Super Bowl caliber group.

Offensive Line: An individual source of issues can be seen with this offensive line. Although they were number one in total offense, some deficiencies show up here.  However we have to remember San Diego is a passing team or at least they’re perceived to be since they were always scrambling from behind last year. The Chargers were 15th in NFL rushing with 1,810 yards and their 18 TDs ranked 4th.  In 2010, the offensive line did have 12 missed starts mainly at LT and RG due to injury yet the offensive line at RT was manned all season by Jeromey Clary. They drafted Steve Schilling , a guard from Michigan to compete for the RG spot. However when this team ran the football to the strong side, they only produced 22 rushing first downs and on 3rd and shorts/goal line were only successful 45 times. These numbers ranked 30th and 24th respectively. That has to get better so this team can run out the clock and win more games.

Consider the fact that the Chargers dropped back 578 times last year, they weren’t that bad when it came to protection. Rivers was sacked 38 time last year and hit another 68 times. Some of this can be attributed to Rivers penchant for holding on to the ball a little too long. San Diego’s protection ranked 21st in sacks allowed yet only 13th in hits on the quarterback so the protection breakdowns are infrequent. Once they get the right side of the line fortified this group can make it up to average

Defensive Line: Where everyone has been talking about the defenses in Pittsburgh and Green Bay yet this was the number one defense in all of football. This line was the impetus for the Chargers being 4th in the NFL against the run, allowing opponents  only 3.7 yards per carry.  Add to that the very first pick was on DT/DE Corey Liuget from Illinois, whom “Bolts From The Blue” believes will replace Jacques Cesaire at LDE.http://www.boltsfromtheblue.com/2011/4/30/2145940/2011-nfl-draft-san-diego-chargers-selections That may have been true before the lockout but if Liuget starts slow he’ll at least provide some serious depth. Aside from a lack of consistency in his pass rushing (1.5 sacks) we would have a hard time replacing him unless he was clearly outplayed in the pre season.

RE Luis Castillo and NT Antonio Garay hold ground against the run as well as Keisel and Hampton in Pittsburgh. Garay also pitched in with 5.5 sacks which is hard to do facing double and triple teams on the point. On paper this is another above average unit the Chargers field. If they can produce a few more sacks lookout.

Charger linebackers getting fired up!!

Linebacker: Shaun Phillips again went to the Pro Bowl after a solid season. His 55 total tackles was low but his impact was felt elsewhere with his 11 sacks, 7 passes defensed and 1 interception. Almost 20 times forcing a turnover or a punt is tremendous from one defender. The surprise campaign was turned in by inside ‘backer Kevin Burnett formerly of Dallas. He may have been robbed of a Pro Bowl season after a 95 tackle, 6 sack, 2 interception performance. Both Burnett and Phillips returned an interception for a touchdown in 2010. Each are primed to duplicate those performances the first issue is to retain Burnett’s services since he’s a free agent.

As for Stephen Cooper at the other inside linebacker spot, he will be challenged by Jonas Mouton out of Michigan who was selected in the second round.  What is surprising is that there was actually someone on the Michigan football team that could tackle last year?? We didn’t see it but we didn’t watch every game either. Our apologies this was an insurance move that was necessary but we see it playing out that Cooper will start early and then be replaced if Mouton can pick up the defensive sets and calls.  Last year Cooper accounted for 44 tackles in 12 games with 1 sack and an interception. Since he will turn 32 this year his production doesn’t merit what his tenure says he should be paid under the current collective bargaining agreement.

This team is still reeling from the loss of Shawne Merriman. He was their spiritual leader as much as a vocal one and his replacement Antwan Applewhite is serviceable but not the playmaker Merriman was. Alright we’re a little harsh but he did record 46 tackles and 3 sacks in the 13 games he replaced Merriman. At times he could be fooled but you have to attribute that to a lack of experience and he should be less stiff in his play this year. At 26 years of age Applewhite should be in his prime, the question is will they call for him to make the plays they used to ask of Merriman?  Linebacker on this team is slightly above average with a chance to be really good if Mouton shows up ready to play and Applewhite improves with his play recognition.

Antoine Cason making a solid tackle

Secondary: How is this team going to play at the corner with the loss of Cromartie? Remember that question before last season? Quite well thank you. His replacement Antoine Cason had 67 tackles, 17 passes defensed and 4 interceptions along with a forced fumble in a solid all around performance. He outperformed his counterpart Quentin Jammer who had 45 tackles, 11 passes defensed with 2 interceptions.  Understand that this team was #1 against the pass and was the only NFL team to allow less than 3,000 yards passing for the season. These corners are beyond solid.

By the time we make it back to the safeties, Eric Weddle (FS) and Paul Oliver (SS) you have two guys are who are willing to tackle. Weddle was second on the team with 95 tackles.  On a team that produced 47 sacks and a lot of pressure you’d think that the safeties would have more interceptions than the 2 Weddle produced and 1 for Oliver. Yet being the last line of defense they will step up and hit you that much we do know. As a secondary this is a near Super Bowl caliber secondary based on the corners. This might be the best corner tandem in football, rivaling that of Revis and Cromartie in New York.

Overall: Something is missing from this football team and it starts at the top when it comes to motivation.  This team starts too many games slow and then come roaring back only to fall short. In losses last year to the Patriots, Raiders, Bengals, and Rams it was the same thing over and over. The Chargers either didn’t score in the first quarter or first half and then scored in a mad scramble at the end of the game. This team lacks urgency and reminds us of the situation in Tampa right before Gruden took over. We think Norv Turner has taken this team as far as he could take it and the next coach may put them in the Super Bowl.

There is just no way Turner can survive not making the playoffs again with this much talent on the roster. This team might want to take a page from the Buffalo Bills in 1989 to squash their slow starts.  Since they’re so proficient at the hurry up offense, start the game with it to put their opponents on their heels a bit. If this team can get a lead they’re super dangerous. In 8 of their 9 wins, this team scored over 30 points averaging 34 points per game.  This is a Super Bowl champion in waiting. 2012 may be their year the question is will Norv Turner still be there.  This is the best team in the AFC on paper but they will frustrate their fans again this year.