Know Your Enemy (Part Three): The San Diego Chargers

brian clothierContributor IMay 17, 2009

SAN DIEGO - MAY 03: Linebackers James Holt #53, Anthony Fielder #58 and Larry English #52 of the San Diego Chargers participate in a practice drill during minicamp at the Chargers training facility on May 3, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Terrell/Getty Images)

In the third and final installment of the "Know Your Enemy" series, we look at the AFC West champion San Diego Chargers.  For more on the AFC West, be sure to read

The San Diego Chargers took the AFC West crown in 2008 with a regular season record of 8-8.  This year, it may take one or two more wins to repeat as the division champs.

Unfortunately, most Bolts fans will probably remember last season for the controversial officiating rather than the division title.  That being said, there were some bright spots in the Chargers’ season to celebrate. 

LaDainian Tomlinson was playing injured (toe) throughout most of the 2008 campaign and still managed to rack up 1,110 yards rushing.   Darren Sproles (recently tagged as the team’s "franchise player") also made an impact when given opportunity. 

Sproles was a rock in the backfield with Tomlinson’s nagging condition, and gained 330 yards rushing in 61 carries.  He also gained nearly 350 yards on 29 receptions, proving his value to the team dynamic.

With Sproles’ rise in stock and LT’s worst performance statistically in his eight-year career, it’s likely we’ll see more of a platooning of the two backs this season.  In that possibility, Tomlinson would be fresher longer and he’d only have to be healthy, not spectacular.

Speaking of injury-prone superstars, Antonio Gates struggled in 2008 as well.  And, 2009 is playing that familiar tune already.  Gates did manage over 700 yards on 60-plus catches last season while battling with ankle and toe injuries, but he was not the type of impact player he has been in seasons past.

Keeping Gates and LT pain free in 2009 will be a top task of San Diego trainers.  Good luck with that.

Phillip Rivers made the trip to the upper echelon of quarterbackdom last season.  The often outspoken Rivers cooled his tongue and heated up his arm in 2008, tossing 312 completions on 478 attempts and compiling 34 TDs versus 11 interceptions.  He would finish the regular season with a 105.5 QB rating.

And aside from the injury bug and a weak offensive line (the right side of the ball is porous at best), the Chargers look poised to put up the types of numbers that made them the 11th ranked offense overall in the NFL.

On defense, the not-so Super Chargers looked like any other defense from the AFC West.  Ranked 25th overall in 2008 (ahead of No. 27 Oakland, No. 29 Denver, and No. 31 KC), San Diego selected a defensive end in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft (No. 16 overall).  The team hopes that Larry English (Northern Illinois) will eventually add a third high-octane rusher to the sack duo of Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman.

The other bright spots on defense, of course, are DBs Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer.  This cornerback tandem totaled 152 tackles and four interceptions (one for a touchdown) in 2008.

Ron Rivera will transition from the linebackers coach position (2008) into the spot vacated by Ted Cottrell.  His last stint as defensive coordinator was with the Chicago Bears (2004-2006). 

Rivera’s weapon of choice is the 4-3 defense.

A quick study of the San Diego Chargers’ 2009 schedule leads me to believe the team will not have an easy journey back to the top of the AFC West.  Early obstacles come in matchups against AFC North powerhouses Baltimore and Pittsburgh before the bye week (Week Five).  Games against the NY Giants, Eagles, Titans, and Redskins will all be substantial tests out of the division.

All in all, it’s possible the Bolts will finish the regular season with a record slightly higher than 8-8 and a wildcard berth into the playoffs.  The good news for Broncos fans is that prediction is an optimistic one.  With the huge shakeup division wide, the AFC West looks to be a crap shoot.



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