AFC WEST CHARGERS 2014 STRENGTHS: • Powerful offense with talent and depth at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and offensive line Chargers Offense San Diego’s offense is scary-good in 2014 because Chargers GM Tom Telesco really has strengthened the team’s depth at each of the skilled positions, bringing in Kellen Clemens to back up Rivers; Donald Brown and rookie Marion Grice to back up Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead; rookie Tevin Reese to back up Keenan Allen, Malcom Floyd, Vincent Brown and Eddie Royal. They already had rising standout Ladarius Green spelling tight end Antonio Gates at times. But this new infusion of depth gives Rivers all the ammo one could hope for in going head-to-head in a division led by Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Look for new offensive coordinator Frank Reich to go with old O.C. Ken Whisenhunt’s second-half 2013 plan of making San Diego a run-centric, ball-control offense. Look for the highlyskilled Green to double his play (from 30 percent of the snaps to perhaps 60 percent in 2014), while Mathews becomes the main benefactor in the rushing game (he had a career-best 1255 rushing yards in 2013). Rivers, meanwhile, will keep the defenses honest with his 10-to-20-yard completions to 10 better-than-average pass catchers than the aforementioned names listed in this paragraph. If last year’s Chargers were a 53/47 percent pass/rush squad (rated second-best offense, second-best passing squad and 12thbest rushing by Football Outsiders), look for the numbers to become more run-oriented with improvements trending in that area for this team. After all, the 2013 offensive line was rated third in run blocking and eighth in pass protection by Football Outsiders, and the 2014 squadron looks to be even better with all five linemen returning. Offensive Player to Watch Rivers won the 2013 AP Comeback Player of the Year award, which is a trophy that should be shared with head coach and Tim Tebow whisperer Mike McCoy, the Broncos offensive coordinator who teamed with Tebow for that miraculous 2011 in Denver. Well, in 2013, Chargers rookie head coach McCoy helped 2014 WEAKNESSES: • Porous defense from the front seven to secondary SAN DIEGO Rivers re-invent himself as an in-route, out-route master QB. According to Pro Football Focus, Rivers led the NFL with a +15.1 grade on passes in the 11-20 yard range. He wasn’t particularly good on a 1-10 yarders, nor longballs, but he somehow was unbeatable on the in-between passes, getting rid of the ball best in the 2-to-3 second range, registering a league-second-best score when pressured, while also throwing 28 percent of his passes to tight ends. All of this lent to a resurgence in the Chargers passing game, along with Rivers’ league-leading 69.5 completion percentage plus a 106 passer rating after two seasons at 89. Chargers Defense Football Outsiders rated the Chargers defense as the worst in football in 2013, rating 31st against the run and 31st against the pass. These rankings are much more unkind than the oldfashioned, NFL-issued rankings which called San Diego’s D 23rd-best when judged by yards allowed (29th against the pass, 12th against the run) or simply by points allowed (11th). But we must go to advanced metrics to show how truly badawful these Chargers were on every down, giving up poor field position to its offense, time and time again, only to have Rivers & Co. bail the D out and move the ball at will against nearly every opponent. Yes, these Chargers had a decent pass rush from a wide variety of rushers (16 different Chargers contributed sacks). When broken down with advanced analytics, San Diego ranked 15th in adjusted sack rate, which takes into account down, distance, opponent and intentional grounding penalties. That aside, the rest of the defensive coordinator John Pagano’s D did very little from keeping opposing teams from moving the ball at will on a play-by-play basis. If the Chargers don’t make massive improvement in 2014, you’ll see mass changes in 2015, whether it be with third-year DC Pagano or many of his 11 returning starters. Free safety Eric Weddle, cornerback Brandon Flowers and linebacker Dwight Freeney are the only Chargers who grade out as good starters in Pro Football Focus’ analysis of this team.
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