What we’ve learned – 2013 San Diego Chargers

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The Chargers are in a rebuilding season.

With a new coaching staff and GM, there are a lot of expectations.

With drafting DJ Fluker, Manti Te’o, and Keenan Allen with the first 3 picks, Telesco covered some of our biggest needs. Head Coaches and General Managers should be given a 2-year grace period before you really judge their body of work. In other words, you cannot expect a team to be fixed with one draft.

All three of these draft picks have contributed to the team in a starting role. DJ Fluker has been great on the offensive line, especially in the run game.  He has shown you he is going to be a center piece for this offensive line for years to come. Keenan Allen has been an absolute stud on offense and is emerging as a true number 1 receiver earning Rivers’ trust. And lastly, Manti Te’o has struggled at times, but overall shown improvement. He has been getting a lot of reps for a rookie and it will take some time for him to adjust into the NFL at the ILB position.

D J Fluker

McCoy and staff are starting all three of these players, which is expecting a lot out of a draft class. Telesco decided to go this route by cutting ties with many veteran players. This has allowed his young players to start growing and building now, instead of hanging onto a couple of players who are on there way out anyways.

Defense

The San Diego Chargers defense has been an absolute disaster all season. They have been devastated from injuries, but that is no excuse. Their depth is non existent and it shows with their linebacker corp.

In a 3-4 Defense, OLBs play an enormous role. They are generally the lead pass rusher coming off the edge. With Melvin Ingram on IR before the preseason, Jarrett Johnson always on the Injury Report, and the Dwight Freeney experiment failing, we have realized our OLB depth is very weak. This flaw on the defense can really be connected to all of the problems on defense.

Dwight Freeney on IR
Dwight Freeney on IR

No pass rush means opposing WRs have plenty of time to get open and this hurts our Defensive Backs. Everyone knows this though, so that’s not an excuse. And that is exactly why I will not excuse Derek Cox for his awful play. Even with as good of a draft Telesco had, this Free Agent Signing was nothing short of a bust. Telesco will have to seriously rethink his Cornerbacks in the 2014 offseason.

Derek Cox getting burned
Derek Cox getting burned

I think we also learned that Eric Weddle cannot do everything. He is getting a lot of tackles this season, but he is not the All-Pro we have seen in the past. He is being forced to cover a lot more this season and he has been getting anihilated by some Tight Ends. He got burned repeatedly against Washington Redskins Tight End Jordan Reed.

Jordan Reed diving for a 1st down breaking Eric Weddle's tackle
Jordan Reed diving for a 1st down breaking Eric Weddle’s tackle

With that said about Weddle, he is definitely the leader of our Defense and we are happy to have him. I actually think Marcus Gilchrist has shown a lot of potential at times and may have solidified himself as the starter next year. We have not seen even a lick of former LSU Tiger Brandon Taylor.

Finishing off our defense, our Defensive Ends in Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes have continued to show their potential. Their growth has been stunted a little bit with the weak OLB play and really no true Nose Tackle to take up defenders. Cam Thomas should be nothing more than a backup DT when the Chargers switch to 4 down linemen on certain plays.

Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes on the bench
Corey Liuget and Kendall Reyes on the bench

Running Game/RBs:

Ryan Mathews is having a solid season. You have to attribute a great deal of his success to the offensive line coach and what they have done there. As said before, Fluker has done a great job in the run game. Many of Mathews big runs are right behind Fluker as he levels people. Furthermore, when Clary has played as a guard it suits his strengths in the run game.

Ryan Mathews runs for 51 yard gain vs the Dolphins
Ryan Mathews runs for 51 yard gain vs the Dolphins

McCoy and company are actually showing some trust in Mathews, and it is finally paying off for him getting some redzone carries. This is very important for Mathews’ confidence moving forward. You can see him finally being trusted and incorporated in the passing game as well. I think Mathews has proven this season he should be our ‘feature’ back on 1st and 2nd downs. Mathews is on pace for about 1,050 rushing yards, 2nd 1000 yd season in 3 years. For the Chargers to move forward with him, he will have to probably not take a big ‘Top 10 RB’ contract.

Danny Woodhead has been an excellent pickup this offseason. He has filled the void that has been there ever since Sproles left. He is no where near the playmaker Sproles is, but he definitely has similar characteristics that make him explosive. He is shifty in the running game, but more importantly a great outlet for Rivers in the passing game. Woodhead continuously gets mismatches for big gains in the passing game as well. He has over 800 all purpose yards and 7 TDs this season. Woodhead has been a huge asset to this offensive and is a big reason for Rivers league leading 70.0% completion percentage.

Danny Woodhead scores a TD vs the Cowboys
Danny Woodhead scores a TD vs the Cowboys

Woodhead was only signed to a 2-year deal, but I think this season we have learned Woodhead may be a keeper.

Receiving Corp/TEs

We have had some pleasant surprises and some not so pleasant surprises.

First of all, we already talked about Keenan Allen. He has been an absolute bright spot with Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd out. His 58 Receptions and 843 yards lead all rookies and are flat out impressive considering he did not start getting production until week 5. We have learned this guy is going to be a stud for years to come.

Keenan Allen catches TD Pass from Philip Rivers vs. the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night
Keenan Allen catches TD Pass from Philip Rivers vs. the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night

Eddie Royal has been quite suprising with his 7 TDs, but he is inconsistent and is really just a #3 receiver. He has over acheived. With that said, Vincent Brown has greatly underachieved in my mind. He has dropped numerous passes, looked scared at times not fighting for balls in the middle of the field, and has also just not read defenses the same way as Rivers. The Chargers have really hurt for #2  WR production, especially in the redzone, and Vincent Brown has been a disappointment.

This disappointment is compounded with the idea that many people thought and expected Brown to have a breakout season. In 2011 when Brown was a rookie, he ended the season playing exceptionally well. 2012 came and he broke his ankle pretty nasty in a preseason game.  This year he came back and we thought we would see the same down-the-field play we saw in 2011. Not so much. Maybe he feels overshadowed by Keenan. We have learned that Vincent Brown may not be with us in the next couple of years unless he can prove to us next year.

Ladarius Green has been an absolute stud when he has played. Many Chargers fans saw him last year and throughout this year and have been like “wow who is that guy? He is good!!” I remember hearing people saying he was being groomed to be the heir to Gates. It seems true. With Royal out the last couple weeks, Green has been getting more playing time and really has been ‘unleashed’. Gates is still getting plenty of snaps as the Chargers have been running 2-TE sets. This is better for the run game as well and Green has been taking advantage of Gates getting double teamed.

Ladarius Green makes catch vs the Dolphins
Ladarius Green makes catch vs the Dolphins

Other notes of WRs:

We learned Rivers truly misses Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd. Both of those players strengths are stretching the field and going for the long ball. Even with the emergence of Keenan Allen, Rivers really does not have a deep threat. In the past this has been Rivers strength. Just imagine what San Diego would look like with these 2 guys and Keenan Allen.

Danario Alexander making a 1-handed TD catch vs. the Broncos
Danario Alexander making a 1-handed TD catch vs. the Broncos

Philip Rivers’ Resurgence

Many analysts are saying “Rivers is back”. I say he never left.

The talent has always been there. We know what he is capable of. Last year Philip Rivers was sacked second most in the league (49 times).  Whats peculiar is in 2012 his turnovers went down from 2011, but in 2011 he only had 30 sacks.

Either way, Chargers are 4th in the league in Sacks allowed. Meaning Rivers being sacked only 22 times is exceptionally better than last years 49. The offensive line coach must be thanked again for the successes on offense.

Ken Whisenhunt’s offense has worked very well for Rivers and Telesco’s Danny Woodhead signing was also huge for Rivers. Whisenhunt has incorporated this short passing game and it has done wonders for Rivers completion percentage.

Rivers also looks a lot different in the pocket. He has always stepped up well, but he has been moving around a lot more and has ran away from numerous sacks this season. He is definitely a pocket passer, but he has made strides this year in picking up yards with his feet. He is rushing 3.6 yards per carry which is up from his previous career high of 2.7. This shows he trusts his feet a little more to pick up a few yards here and there.

Philip Rivers calling out Defense at the line
Philip Rivers calling out Defense at the line

Rivers definitely misses his deep threats, but has made due with what he has. He has complete command of his offense. He has now been given more power in the offense and changes plays and reads defenses regularly. Reading defenses has been something Rivers has always excelled at, but this year he is playing extremely well. He has also greatly reduced his turnovers. Rivers should definitely be a Pro-Bowler this year if not an All-Pro. In my eyes, we have learned that Rivers still has a little bit of a window and should stay out QB for 5-6 years.

Conclusion

Chargers have been in most of there games this season and you can attribute one or two plays to every loss. With a couple additional players next year they will be better. They have good things to come with an elite offense, and have plenty of room to grow on defense.

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