Chargers: 5 Things to Look for in 2013
The Chargers are under a new regime with general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy. Change was needed, but there are no guarantees it will end a three year postseason drought.
Five Things to Look For in 2013
5. Special Teams
Kevin Spencer, the special teams coordinator, is already under scrutiny. The third team played poorly in each of the three preseason losses.
In defense of Spencer: Many of the miscues can be attributed to players who are no longer on the roster. Special teams are where guys on the bubble audition for jobs.
“Once you get down to the 53-man roster and there are only a few spots, you always ask who is going to be that backup player who can recover kicks for you,” McCoy explained. “That’s where the games are won and lost a lot of times by turning the field over. We have to find the guys who can make the plays for us.”
WR/KR Richard Goodman returned kicks for the past two seasons. He initially made the 53-man roster, but was released on Monday when LB Reggie Walker was signed. Walker was the Cardinals special teams captain in 2012.
Kickoffs will now likely be handled by WR Eddie Royal or WR Keenan Allen (round three, 76th overall). Allen has shown promise in the return game but fumbled a punt against the Bears.
In 2012, the defense gave up 3,681 yards (ranked 15th) through the air. A mediocre performance that will be a challenge to improve upon.
FS Eric Weddle is the only returning member of last year’s starting secondary. CBs Shareece Wright (round three, 2011) and free agent Derek Cox (Jaguars) are slated to replace former first-round picks Quentin Jammer (free agent, Broncos) and Antoine Cason (free agent, Cardinals). Marcus Gilchrist (round two, 2011) will attempt to stop a revolving door at SS as he transitions from CB.
It may take a while for this group to work well together. Poor communication and not knowing each other’s tendencies could lead to big pass plays and extended drives for the opposition.
3. Pressure on the QB
The secondary will be greatly aided if the D-line can provide pressure on the opposing quarterback. Second year defensive coordinator John Pagano was retained by McCoy because the defense made significant strides forward in 2012. Most notably, the pass rush was improved as San Diego racked up 38 sacks (ranked 11th).
Getting pressure on the QB was an offseason focus a year ago when OLB Melvin Ingram was drafted (round one, 18th overall). Ingram had just one sack in his rookie campaign, but did help provide a more consistent rush. He will miss this season with a torn ACL in his left knee.
Former Colts OLB Dwight Freeney, 33, a 12 year vet and seven-time Pro Bowler, was signed to replace Ingram. Freeney has 107.5 career sacks, but his sack numbers have diminished each of the past three seasons (10, 8.5, and 5). Despite the loss of Ingram, if Freeney has a little gas left in his tank the pass rush may actually be improved.
2. Protecting Rivers
The O-Line has been atrocious for the past two seasons. The inability to protect Rivers led to 30 sacks and 20 INTs in 2011. Last season, Rivers managed to cut his INTs to 15 (a 25 percent decrease), despite being sacked an outrageous 49 times.
Revamping the O-line was the main focus for Telesco. C Nick Hardwick is the only member of last year’s group to retain a starting job at the same position. Jeromey Clary moved from RT to RG to make room for this year’s first-round pick (11th overall) RT D.J. Fluker. The left side of the line will be anchored by free agents LG Chad Rinehart (Bills) and LT King Dunlap (Eagles).
The talent level on the O-line may be improved, but even more so than the secondary this is a group that thrives on trusting each other. It will likely take some time for them work as a cohesive unit. In the meantime, Rivers will need to be smarter with the football when pressured to avoid costly turnovers
1. Pulling out victories.
The difference between a good head coach and a quarterback and their great Super Bowl winning colleagues is their ability to win close games.
For the Bolts, the difference over the past three seasons between making the playoffs and watching from home has come down to a few heart breaking losses. Victories, that could have been secured by a come from behind last possession drive and/or a stand on defense.
Rivers has had plenty of opportunities to capture late victories, but consistently has come up short. The last time San Diego won and/or tied a game with a final possession touchdown was Week 9 of 2009 (Giants).
The biggest test for McCoy and ultimately the future of Rivers will be how the Chargers perform in close games.
San Diego is not expected to go to the playoffs in 2013. To defy expectations; McCoy will need to be an excellent clock manager, Rivers must lead the offense to final possession scores, and the defense will have to make late stops.
If the Chargers continue to struggle in close games, then the attention will quickly shift to next year’s draft and the future of Rivers in San Diego will be in real question.