32 teams in 32 days: San Diego
Cold, Hard Football Facts for Mar 20, 2008
We continue our team-by-team early off-season look at the NFL with the ...
San Diego Chargers
We interrupt this space normally reserved for team highlights with an important message from the Chargers Girls: "We're hot!"
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2007 record: 11-5 (412-284)
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 2-3
Expected W-L (based on PF/PA): 11.3-4.7
All-time franchise record: 354-359-11 (.497)
Playoff record: 9-14 (.391)
Last five seasons: 49-31 (.613)
Best Quality Stat in 2007: Bendability Index (1st), Defensive Passer Rating (1st), Big Play Index (1st)
Best game of 2007: 23-21 home win over Indy (Week 10). Surely, this was not San Diego's most impressive win of the season. There were blowout victories over Denver (41-3), Houston (35-10) and Detroit (51-14). But this was the game that told the Chargers everything would be alright following a dismal and emotional 1-3 start to the Norv Turner Era. The Chargers certainly didn't deserve to win – they were outplayed in most facets of the game. But they forced Peyton Manning into a personal record 6 INTs while Indy's Mr. Clutch, Adam Vinatieri, missed a potential game-winning kick with 90 seconds to play. The key is what the Chargers did with the gift victory: it gave them a winning record (5-4) for the first time all year and, after a loss the Jaguars the following week, would reel off eight straight victories on their way to the AFC championship game.
Strength: Defense. The loud, young Chargers defense finally started to live up to its own opinion of itself with a superb performance in 2007, one that carried the team through its unexpected late-season surge. From Week 12 through the AFC championship game, the only teams to score more than 17 points on San Diego were powerhouses Indy and New England. The Chargers finished 5th in scoring defense and, more importantly, No. 1 in two our key defensive Quality Stats: Bendability Index and Defensive Passer Rating. The defense also led the NFL with 48 takeaways, which contributed heavily to San Diego's No. 1 ranking in our Big Play Index.
Weakness: Passing attack. You can't blame it all on the quarterback. After all, there has certainly been a dearth of receiving talent in San Diego in recent years. But Philip Rivers, in his second year as a starter in 2007, took a noticeable step back from an impressive 2006 campaign. He attempted to same exact number of passes, 460, in both seasons, giving us an easy test case to work with:
- He completed 284 passes (61.7%) in 2006; 277 (60.2%) in 2007
- He passed for 3,388 yards in 2006; 3,152 in 2007
- He averaged 7.4 YPA in 2006; 6.9 YPA in 2007
- He tossed 22 TDs in 2006; 21 in 2007
- He threw 9 picks in 2006; 15 in 2007
- He compiled a 92.4 passer rating in 2006; 82.4 in 2007
Overall, the Chargers finished 26th in passing yards (187.8 YPG) and 16th in Passing Yards Per Attempt (6.07), our Quality Stat that measures passing efficiency. An improved passing attack – in a league that usually requires great play in the passing game to win championships – is the only thing standing between the talented Chargers and a Super Bowl ring.
Most underrated players: ILBs Stephen Cooper & Matt Wilhelm. These are the unheralded stalwarts of one of the league's best defenses. Both were in their fifth seasons last year – all with San Diego – and both got the chance to be fulltime starters for the first time in 2007. They made an immediate impact. Cooper led the team with 108 total tackles; Wilhelm was tops with 74 solo tackles. No surprise for ILBs in a 3-4. But they also proved forces in the passing game. Cooper registered two sacks, defended six passes and grabbed two INTs. Wilhelm boasted one sacks, four batted passes and three INTs. And it may just be coincidence, but Wilhlem missed two starts (Green Bay, Kansas City) and most of a third game (New England) back in September. The Chargers lost all three games, surrendering 30 points or more in each contest. They would surrender 30 or more just once in their other 16 games.
Unit on the rise: Linebackers. See above. Both Cooper and Wilhelm are signed through 2011 and are in the primes of their careers. Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman is not as good as he thinks he is – San Diego detectives are still searching for evidence of him suiting up for the AFC championship game. But he is an explosive force and will be a mere 24 years old when his fourth NFL season gets underway in September – with 39.5 sacks to his credit in just 37 starts and 42 appearances. Shaun Phillips, the other outside linebacker, does not get as much attention but is a huge OLB (262 pounds). And, lest we forget, Phillips tallied 68 tackles, 8.5 sacks and two picks last year. Not bad for the "other" OLB in the San Diego line-up. He'll be an aged 27 years old by kickoff, giving the Chargers linebacker corps a talented unit each of whom is at the peak of their careers.
Silly-season activity: The big news in San Diego has been not who the Chargers have signed but who they've let go. Super sub RB Michael Turner was signed away by Atlanta. The Chargers also released All Pro fullback Lorenzo Neal, who was 95 in NFL years (37 to mere mortals), safety Marlon McCree and tackle Shane Olivea. All three were key starters last year. Top offensive players Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have both undergone surgeries that will require rehab for the bulk of the off-season – unlike the average CHFF reader who requires rehab far into the distant future.
On the sidelines, wide receivers coach James Lofton was sacrificed over the futility of San Diego's corps of pass catchers. He was replaced by Charlie Joiner, a fellow Hall of Famer. Joiner spent the last seven years with the Chiefs before being axed because of their offensive ineptitude. Hey, nobody said great players made for great coaches.
Youth/experience: Just four Chargers will have 10 or more years under their belts when the 2008 season gets underway – and one of them is Pro Bowl long-snapper and San Diego's all-time games-played leader (223) David Binn. He's so old (35) and so entrenched in the soil of Southern California that the state parks department has made it illegal to cut him. Generally speaking, this is a young team at the prime of it playing powers.
2007 Draft grade: D+. All six picks last year made the roster, but only second-round pick Eric Weddle – a two-way star and darkhorse Heisman candidate his senior year at Utah – made any kind of impact. He contributed heavily (53 tackles, 1 INT) as a nickel back last season and should move into the starting safety position with McCree out of the picture. He's the only reason the Chargers don't get a big fat F for their 2007 draft class.
San Diego's primary sin, and sign of gross domestic malfeasance and mismanagement, was the decision to draft a wide receiver in the first round. No. 1 wideouts go belly up in the NFL so often that the World Wildlife Fund is going to declare them an endangered species.
The Chargers found out the hard way last year, with first-round selection Craig Davis out of LSU. He made one start and caught 20 passes for 188 yards and 1 TD.
How bad was it, folks? Let's put it this was: Davis was so unproductive, especially by the expectations of a No. 1 pick, that his puff-piece profile on the Chargers website was reduced to describing an 18-yard catch he made that "helped extend (a) first-quarter touchdown drive Week 6 vs. Oakland" and another catch, this one for 11 yards, that kept alive a TD drive against Detroit.
Not exactly the type of boilerplate that will get riveted next to his bust in Canton.
2008 Draft power: 1st (27), 5th (154), 6th (185), 7th (218)
General Draft strategies: The Chargers have just one first-day pick and one pick in the first four rounds. They need to nail their No. 1 selection (here's a clue, A.J: don't take a f'in wide receiver!) and hope for a gem with one of their later picks to avoid consecutive poor draft classes. It's certainly a young, talented team. But two lousy drafts in a row can stifle the prospects of even the most promising club.
The Chargers usually seem to fall into the category of teams that select the "best player available" not necessarily the player they need the most. With the notable exception of last year's draft class (which, of course, is still a work in progress), it's worked quite well for them in recent years, netting studs such Eric Weddle, Antonio Cromartie, Marcus McNeill, Shawne Merriman, Luis Castillo, mighty mite Darren Sproles and Nick Hardwick, to name just some of their great selections.
Of course, last year they selected WR Davis No. 1 to fill an obvious need in the line-up. With wide receiver still a need, but such a risky move in the draft, the Chargers should seek players at that position via free agency or in later rounds, where undiscovered WR gems so often appear. The Chargers have selected very few offensive and defensive linemen with high picks in recent years – McNeill (2006) and Castillo (20005) are obvious exceptions – but they should look to fill these areas where you can never have enough depth.
Coaching: The decision to hire Norv Turner last year was panned by almost everybody, including the Cold, Hard Football Facts. After all, the guy had won nothing in his previous nine seasons as a head coach with Washington and Oakland. The season's rocky 1-3 start only increased the noise from the pigskin peanut gallery, including your trolls truly. But Turner silenced the critics by winning eight straight games from November to January and advancing his wounded team to the AFC championship game. You have to believe the kinks that marred the start of 2007 have been worked out and then 2008 will bring smoother sailing, at least from the coach-player relationship point of view. Turner has earned respect he didn't have a year ago.
Overview: It's all pretty simple: the Chargers are a young, talented team with a coach who seems to have found some of the answers that dogged his career and dogged the recent history of a franchise that hadn't won a playoff game in more than a decade until 2007. If they can fit together the few remaining pieces of the puzzle – namely, a consistent, efficient passing game – this is a team that should threaten for the conference title again in 2008.
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