With the Baltimore Ravens having just outlasted the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday, it is officially time to begin looking at next season. Ironically, Baltimore’s fortunes made a huge impact on the future of the San Diego Chargers.
Not only was their 4th and 29 conversion instrumental in getting Norv Turner fired, but their playoff upset at Denver inadvertently caused Mike McCoy to fall into the lap of the Bolts. Fans will either be eternally grateful to the Ravens for the latter effect or forever cursing them.
Once again, Boltheads looked on as the “next great young quarterback” played his way into the winner’s circle. In 2011, many wondered if Philip Rivers would follow Aaron Rodgers and lead his team to a Lombardi Trophy. In the two seasons since, Rivers has fallen farther out of the conversation than even the biggest pessimist would have thought possible.
Each time I mention this, many comment that his supporting cast must be improved. I maintain that Rivers deserves more than his share of the responsibility. Regardless, the Chargers need a lot more production (and protection of the ball) from their quarterback.
As we saw from Joe Flacco this postseason, there’s not much of an answer for a receiver who can simply go up and haul down any pass that is in his vicinity. Rivers had that relationship with Vincent Jackson going into the Chargers’ last playoff game. However, both men underperformed that day and things haven’t been the same since.
We saw flashes of Vincent Brown being able to be "the guy" in 2011, but his August injury kept him out for the entire season. Of course, had the Chargers still been in the race in December, he might have pushed himself to get back on the field. Ironically, it was the ability he showed on the play he was injured on that was most missed by the Bolts last season.
The back shoulder fade that Joe Flacco threw to Anquan Boldin on Sunday was a thing of beauty. Philip Rivers used to be able to get those sorts of balls to Jackson. Unfortunately, he's still throwing passes like that even though guys are unable to make the play. But Danario Alexander played like that type of receiver throughout the second half of the year.
Can he stay healthy enough to do it for an entire season?
Robert Meachem was non-existent for most of the year. He caught two touchdowns against his former team, but dropped an easy one in Cleveland. Micheal Spurlock similarly bested Eddie Royal after being re-signed.
I hope the guys that can support an improved Rivers are on the roster. If so, they need to stay healthy. Malcom Floyd was able to stay on the field this year, but suffered without Jackson drawing coverage away.
I know the offensive line needs a complete overhaul, that goes without saying. I've certainly written about it at length lately. However, January has once again proven that even the best quarterbacks need the threat of a rushing attack to be effective.
I won't waste any more space speculating about Ryan Mathews. Whether it's his health, his inability to make quick decisions and hit the hole accordingly or his Ray Rice-like affinity for fumbling, he simply has not panned out.
I thought last season was his "make or break" year. Actually, I hoped that he would take a step forward after an injury-shortened campaign that landed him a Pro Bowl berth. But the Chargers need more to complement him than Ronnie Brown, Curtis Brinkley and Jackie Battle. In fact, San Diego needs a running back on the roster that can be relied on should Mathews get hurt again.
The Chargers simply can't expect the "chuck and suck" offense to work any more. Even a healthy Antonio Gates looks to be slowed by age. It's your move, Tom Telesco.