6 Things the San Diego Chargers Must Do to Be Contenders Again
From every sports station wired for the NFL, the Chargers have seemingly remained the perennial Super Bowl favorites for over the last few seasons, and yet time and time again, seem to squander beneath their projections.
At the bare minimum, an AFC West title—although they haven't hoisted the hardware in two seasons.
All the preseason hype formulated from journalists speculations does not pan out as predicted. Thus, Chargers fans find themselves reacquainting all too often with frustration and disappointment.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but the Chargers seem to be reluctantly flying under the radar. With the arrival of No. 18 to the Mile High city, and a healthy arsenal of backs and receiving core in Arrowhead healthy, the Chargers are beginning to sink into the mist of the AFC West.
Talent is an understatement on the Chargers roster, and wins will come by naturally, but there does need to be some restructuring or repairing if you will in the clubhouse.
For the Chargers to be crowned divisional champions, they are going to need to make these next few adjustments.
Avoid Digging the Early Holes
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Come Chargers season, every citizen, fan and newscast station in San Diego knows not to tune into the action at least four games into the season.
As a die-hard Chargers fan, those four games prompt November, excuse me, NORVember—the time when the Chargers begin to capitalize on all their mistakes, and play the style of football that they are capable of playing.
The NFL is allotted only 16 games a season, yet for some reason the Chargers think that it is OK to start their season once things become a little dicey. They find themselves crawling out of their own ditches.
Last year was an exception to the trend; however, after the early 4-1 start, the Chargers reeled off six straight losses.
The Chargers need to not overlook their opponents, and play to the tune of their own drum, and success will follow.
With Rivers ability to spray the ball around and connect with all sorts of targets, complemented by a defensive pass rush, the Bolts should be able to work their magic and return to form.
Pass Rush Presence
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Their inability to get to the quarterback last season was a matter that needed to be addressed, and was in April's draft. Rather than moving up the draft board to nab the talented safety, Mark Barron, they elected to steer toward the linebacker position, and grab Melvin Ingram followed by defensive end, Kendall Reyes.
Impressing, to say the least. A.J. finally made a feasible climb back into the race with these two selections alone.
Last year, Antwan Barnes emerged onto the scene, collecting 11 sacks of his own. Now, with the selection of Ingram, the Chargers seem to have bolstered their presence and pass- rushing abilities.
With a mixture of Corey Liuget, Antwan Barnes, Sean Phillips, Antonio Garay, Jacques Cesaire, Vaughn Martin, Luis Castillo and Jarret Johnson, the Chargers assessed their needs and should improve steadily on their last season woes.
Win the Division
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The Chargers have struggled miserably the last few seasons, losing games they shouldn't have, although that seems like the terminal cancer that has distracted them from escaping mediocrity.
Nonetheless, the once unbeatable Chargers now are surrendering to divisional opponents on a much more frequent level.
In the last few seasons, the silver and black have had the Chargers' number. A streak that I cannot begin to swallow.
If they are to win the division, it begins with taking control within their very own division. Usually, the Bolts have handily defeated their opponents time and time again, and that urgency needs to resurface if they want any shot to compete in 2012.
With the way the Chargers have been playing, the Wild Card isn't the way they will enter the playoffs. In my opinion, it is AFC West or bust, and that is the attitude they need to carry with them as they march into each contest.
Ryan Mathews Will Emerge
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As he enters his junior year in the league, Mathews is on the cusp of having a breakout season. The only thing that has deterred him from transcending his peers has been the perennial threat of injury.
Last season, Mathews was sidelined on and off, which sent Mike Tolbert soaring to personal bests, and thus optioned to create a triple threat with the likes of smash and dash (Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams) of the Carolina Panthers.
With the release of Vincent Jackson and his contract, the Chargers were able to acquire a solidified replacement of Mike Tolbert in Le'Ron McClain. McClain has the build and presence of former Chargers bowling ball, Lorenzo Neal, but the agility to break loose like former running back Natrone Means.
McClain will bolster Mathews' game to new highs, formulating gaping holes for Mathews to hit the daylight running.
With Tolbert gone, Mathews should elevate every statistical category, as he will be carrying the brunt of the load. A workhorse in between the tackles, Mathews will look to lift his game to the stature of an every down back in the league.
Special Teams, Check
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Another point addressed was the disgust of the special teams' inability to tackle. After an alarming season in 2010, where Scifres saw five punts blocked and a plethora of kicks returned, the Chargers had to cut ties with former special teams coach, Steve Crosby.
With the hiring of Rich Bisaccia, 2011 saw much improvement, despite losing kicker Nate Kaeding to a season-ending injury after teeing off the first kickoff of the season.
The opponent's field position lessened last year due to an onslaught of revitalized tacklers, but their average return of 25.5 yards was among the worst ranks in the league.
On the other side of the ball, the Chargers really haven't had the Devin Hester threat on punt returns or kickoffs since the playmaking abilities of the Lightning Bug, Darren Sproles.
With the recent additions of Eddie Royal, Roscoe Parrish and Michael Spurlock, the Chargers seem to have collected an array of special teams talent.
Richard Goodman provided a little spark last season, but after acquiring the speed of Royal, who the Chargers have become accustomed to, the load appears a bit lighter, and hopefully field positioning will edge closer to the goal line.
Weddle...the Lonely Island
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Quarterbacking the defensive backfield, Eric Weddle seems to have full control entering his seventh season, but has never had a solidified presence at his side.
After claiming the injury prone Bob Sanders off waivers, it was only fitting that he would return yet again back to the pine. A talent wasted.
Weddle has had to make do with his arsenal of substitutes from Steve Gregory to Paul Oliver. Now, a solidified presence to match Weddle's style of play is a must, and A.J. Smith honed in on LSU's Brandon Taylor to assist in the duties.
A LSU tradition, Taylor along with now teammate Jacob Hester were representatives of the No. 18 jersey—one in which signifies a player who has overcome adversity and what it means to be a Tiger. Taylor will need to carry his mentality over to San Diego to help bolster their backfield presence.
Despite the acquisition of veteran Atari Bigby, Taylor looks NFL ready. At 6'3'', Taylor appears to have the framework to snare the big plays from from the receiver's hands, and a perfect complement to Weddle's field awareness.