San Diego Chargers: Top Questions and Concerns Heading into the 2012 Season
Let me start this off by saying that I am absolutely pleased with the effort the front office, under the control of AJ Smith, has done this offseason thus far. Sure we have lost Vincent Jackson, but AJ Smith has done a phenomenal job getting more weapons for Philip Rivers to play with during the season. From adding free agents to retaining some of the Chargers players is something that every Chargers fan is excited about.
However, there are some concerns that I do have. Maybe this article is premature, and the Chargers will probably fix these concerns during the draft, but I believe some of these issues won't be answered until the season starts.
Here are a list of concerns I do have about the Chargers heading into the 2012 season. Enjoy.
Is Assistant HC Rich Bisaccia Going to Actually Manage the Game a Bit?
Let's get one thing straight about Norv Turner. He's a hands on type of HC in terms of running and calling his own offensive plays on the field. A lot of folks out there, especially Charger fans, say that such a approach doesn't work in the NFL. Let's be frank here, it does work.
Head coaches such as Jon Gruden, during his time in Tampa Bay, called his own plays. Saints' HC Sean Payton called his own plays too. Mike McCarthy, HC of the Green Bay Packers, calls his own plays during the games. Hell, even Bill Walsh called his own plays during his epic time as a HC in San Francisco. Andy Reid calls his own plays also as the HC of the Philadelphia Eagles. All of these coaches that I've mentioned reached the Superbowl. All, except one of the HC's that I've mentioned, won their Superbowl.
So if it works for these guys, why hadn't it worked in San Diego under Turner?
The truth is, Turner ran everything. He ran the offense and managed the game at the same time. Giving yourself too much responsibilities during a game can take away from managing the game itself. All the HC's that I've mentioned above have assistant coaches who helped them manage the game and know exactly what situations are coming up and what options can they give their HC in which they can make a decision. Is it Norv Turner's fault for not giving up those responsibilities to another coach to handle? We'll never know as AJ Smith does all the hiring for the coaching staff with a bit of Turner's input.
It is said that Rich Bisaccia, the Chargers special teams coached once hired a year ago, will be the new assistant HC. Some folks may be scratching their heads on why he's a good choice, but I think I can give a common sense view here on the issue. Bisaccia has less, not less important but less, responsibilities than a offensive coordinator or a defensive coordinator would have in terms of comparing what he does to what they do. In doing so, the addition of having game management responsibilities shouldn't hinder his ability to inform Turner of game-time situations and solutions during games.
The question here is whether or not Bisaccia will be able to perform those duties. I believe he can do it, but until we see proof of this, since he doesn't have experience in the past with such responsibilities, we won't know for sure.
Few Options in FA for Complimentary RB, Will Ryan Mathews Hold Up During Season?
Let's be very honest here about Ryan Mathews. He's a dangerous RB and a huge threat for any team to go up against in the NFL. Mathews gave justice to AJ Smith last season for why he was worth moving up in the draft to acquire him in 2010. In the 2011 season, Mathews rushed for 1,091 yards (10th in the league in total rushing yards), averaging 4.9 yards per carry, added 50 receptions for 455 yards, averaging 9.1 yards per catch, which all came out to 1,546 all-purpose yards (seventh in the league in all-purpose yardage), and averaging 110.4 all-purpose yards per game.
That's impressive if you ask me. Not to mention that he did all that in 14 games. The problem I have is just that. Mathews could only stay healthy for up to 14 games and wasn't at all at full strength for majority of the games he did play in.
Mathews had Mike Tolbert to relieve him of duty for a break during games. The problem that Tolbert had was he too had health issues as he played for majority of the season but never at full capable strength.
The Chargers have limited options for a legit No. 2 RB. In the FA, as of right now, the Chargers only have Joseph Addai, Jackie Battle, Cedric Benson, Ronnie Brown, Cadillac Williams, LaDainian Tomlinson and Ryan Grant amongst other few names.
The problem I have is just like Tolbert, many of these FA RB's have injury issues too. There is always the positive side that things may work out and they stay healthy, but I'd feel better with a guaranteed healthy RB. Amongst those names, only Jackie Battle has a good shot at staying healthy with few years under his belt.
I do have faith in Curtis Brinkley playing a bigger role here, but I'd love for the Chargers to add more depth and health to the RB position.
Sure the Chargers added Le'Ron McClain, but from what I understand, his role will be more as a blocker. I believe the Chargers will utilize his running ability more so than they did with Jacob Hester as McClain is a proven NFL runner as a FB.
Let's all hope Mathews can stay healthy for an entire season while taking a minor breather here and there, once in awhile.
How Long Will It Take Rivers to Develope Passing Game Trust with New FA's?
Is this a concern? Absolutely. Is a huge concern? Maybe not but it still is something to think about.
Before Philip Rivers starting turning Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd amongst other players into weapons, he built a steady passing game relationship with them over time with game time experience.
Rivers had five seasons with Floyd before he ever became a full-time starter. Five seasons in which they had an understanding with one another in how to take advantage of the strengths that Floyd can give Rivers during games.
Jackson had two seasons before becoming a full-time starter with Rivers. It still wasn't until the fourth season together that Jackson broke 1,000 receiving yardage. Rivers also spent time with Jackson before he became a legitimate threat.
Chris Chambers came into the picture also, but it took him some time to become just as effective as Jackson and Floyd was with Rivers to do damage on opposing defenses.
The good thing here is that Philip Rivers did well throwing to players in 2010 that didn't have as much time with Rivers as he did with the starters. Guys like Patrick Crayton, Legedu Naanee, Randy McMichael, Seyi Ajirotutu, Richard Goodman and others all stepped up for Rivers despite the little experience they've had with him as starters.
Still, the good thing that helped those players was that they either were drafted by the Chargers and steadily already knew the offense or they were FA's who were added to the team who already knew Norv Turner's offense cause they played in it.
Problem here is that neither Eddie Royal nor Robert Meachem have ever played in an offense that's anything close to Turner's Vertical Offense as both came from a spread offense that sets them up for one on one against defenses while they'll face double coverage playing in a offense that sets up the vertical game with power runs. Not to mention that if Floyd goes down with injury like he has as of late, only Vincent Brown amongst the WR's have any true game-time experience with Rivers last season, and he was a rookie then.
I believe they'll do great things, and it isn't a huge concern, but it is still a minor concern.
How Will New DC John Pagano Do and How Will He Run the 3-4 Defense?
This is the biggest question facing the Chargers heading into the 2012 season. The biggest concern whatsoever. I don't care about whether or not the Chargers have a elite pass rushing OLB. Nor do I care whether or not Antonio Garay can or can not handle the run defense that was awful last season. The reason is simple. The scheme.
How is it that the Chargers in 2010 had the No. 1 defense in the entire league with a great pass and run defense but sucked in 2011? They practically had the same personnel. The difference here was the defensive coordinators.
In 2010, the Chargers had defensive genius Ron Rivera as the DC. He took over a defense that he doesn't traditionally run, in terms of the Chargers running a 3-4 defense in which he's a 4-3 coach. Let's look at his impressive stats. Rivera had the Chargers first in total defense, first in pass defense, and fourth in run defense. He took a defense that didn't have a elite pass rusher but somehow had the Chargers put out 47 sacks with a bunch of different players, ranking second in the league in sacks.
Last season, Greg Manusky promised to be more aggressive. He proved to be more conservative as I rarely seen him send the type of intricate scheme blitzes that Rivera deployed on opposing offenses. I know this for a fact. You can't be conservative unless you have a elite pass rusher who can pressure despite seeing multiple blockers. The Chargers haven't had a guy like that since the decline of a healthy Shawne Merriman. Manusky, with the same similar personnel, had the Chargers ranked 16th in total defense, 13th in pass defense and 20th in run defense.
I'm glad as hell to see Greg Manusky out the door. It's not to say that he was a bad DC, he just ran a defensive scheme that didn't fit what the Chargers had in terms of personnel. Rivera did a phenomenal job in looking at what he had and adjusting his coaching scheme for it.
Let's hope that John Pagano, the new Chargers' DC, is just as good as Rivera. I wouldn't mind it one bit if he's just as good as his brother Chuck Pagano, the Colts new HC. If you readers didn't know much about Chuck Pagano, he was the Ravens DC in 2007 and 2011 while being the secondary coach between those years while coaching behind Rex Ryan.
I can do nothing more than hope Pagano does well. He's been with the Chargers defensive side of the ball for the past seven years. Let's hope he knows how to use them well, just like Rivera did.
These are my most major concerns. Sure Charger fans can be concerned with the offensive line. I'm not. It did just fine last season without Kris Dielman in the lineup, and that experience as a cohesive unit during the last five games is something I'm not to keen about breaking up, especially since it's played well.
Am I concerned about the strong safety spot? Sure but not so much concern as I am with the new DC and how he'll play his defensive scheme and personnel packages during games.
These are, in my own opinion, the biggest concerns as of right now. Depth isn't much of a concern cause that's a given to every single team in the league. You'll always have a lack of depth in certain positions. That's just the way it is.
However, I do believe these concerns aren't going to stop the Chargers from winning the AFC West. These are concerns that I have when the Chargers return to the playoffs. Sure I'm being bold in saying they'll win the division. Sure Peyton Manning is in the AFC West, but he should be more concerned about playing the Chargers and everyone else in the AFC West than it is with the other teams in playing him.
Aside from what I've mentioned, it'll be interesting in how things will play out because if the Chargers don't win the division, I could guarantee you that it had everything to do with one of the four concerns I mentioned in this article.