The San Diego Chargers head into the final week of the 2012 season stuck between a regime that is headed out the door and the future of the franchise. A win over the hated Oakland Raiders could make the Chargers’ draft pick in April in the mid-teens; a loss would mean a pick as high as sixth.
Teams may not intentionally tank for draft position, but coaches that feel safe will often play more young players to get tape of them for the following season. The Chargers have been playing their young players all season because of injuries and Norv Turner isn’t about to hurt his chances of landing another job by blatantly losing the game.
The Chargers’ late-season surge could cost them a lot of draft value, which is tough when the roster has several holes that need to be filled. Any new regime is going to prefer as many draft picks as possible as high as possible in each round.
Talking Point for Week 17
Despite having draft position on the line, a good performance for the Chargers’ young players and a win over a division rival is rewarding. The Chargers have been getting an extended look at defensive end Kendall Reyes that has yielded positive results.
Unfortunately, the Chargers lack a lot of young players that need expanded playing time. Safety Brandon Taylor was given his shot last week and tore his ACL.
Melvin Ingram continues to play behind the veteran Jarret Johnson at outside linebacker. It’s time for the Chargers to give Ingram more playing time to see what he can do with it. Ingram has only played over 51 percent of the snaps in a game twice according to ProFootballFocus and the results have been mixed.
Ronnie Brown and Donald Butler were the only two players that didn’t participate in practice on Thursday and no other players were even limited according to the team’s official website. The Chargers look like a healthy team, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
The Chargers have 17 players on injured reserve which is an amazing number for one team. Most of those players have recently been put on injured reserve and can’t really be cited as the reason for the Chargers’ poor season.
Stat Trends: Offense
Philip Rivers has gone three games without throwing an interception and that’s a big reason for the Chargers’ 2-1 record over the last three weeks. When Rivers throws two touchdown passes and one interception or less, the Chargers are 5-1 this season.
The lack of running game has been consistently poor and so has the protection. Rivers gets very little help outside of Danario Alexander and Antonio Gates, who are B-list stars at this point. The Chargers desperately need a playmaker.
The play of Rivers might even out if he’s given adequate protection and a decent running game, but he’s clearly not able to carry the entire offensive load without help. Turner will be gone, but the Chargers would be wise to bring in an offensive coordinator like Cam Cameron who runs a similar offense to ease the transition.
There’s something to be said for consistency and the worst thing you can do is run a scheme that doesn’t fit the personnel. The Chargers can look at their Week 17 opponent for an example of what not to do.
Stat Trends: Defense
Good defenses have three things in common: they get off the field on third down, they limit scoring in the red zone and they force turnovers. The Chargers force turnovers at an above-average rate, but are otherwise bad at getting off the field and limiting touchdowns in the red zone.
Defense can sometimes get away with being poor in one of the three statistics if they are very good in the other two or have an elite offense—the Chargers have neither.
It doesn’t really matter that the Chargers have a solid run defense because the team allows opponents to score touchdowns on 67.57 percent of their trips inside the red zone according to teamrankings.com. Only the Buffalo Bills are worse in the red zone than the Chargers.
With 11 sacks last Sunday, the Chargers jumped from 27th in sack percentage to 10th. That’s an amazing jump and one that will ultimately mask how poor San Diego’s pass rush has been in 2012.
The Chargers have been playing better football recently and while the games don’t mean anything, many of the players will return next season. It’s a good sign for the future that a few players are playing well and can use their experience in 2012 as a springboard.
There’s also the imminent change of the general manager and head coach that has the potential to put the Chargers back on the right track. How the firing of A.J. Smith and Turner impact the future will depend on who is hired to replace them.