San Diego Chargers: 5 Bold Predictions for the 2014 Season
Though a 9-7 record may not show it, 2013 proved to be an exceedingly productive season for Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers. This upcoming season should be more of the same.
The team saw Rivers, who many assumed was miles past his prime, throw 32 touchdowns and 4,478 yards while completing 69.5 percent of his passes.
It saw Ryan Mathews finally become the player some thought he could be when former general manager A.J. Smith traded up 16 spots in the NFL draft just four years ago.
Much has changed for San Diego in the last three years. Between replacing a general manager and head coach who overstayed their welcomes, the Chargers were able to take a rebuilding year and ride it straight into the playoffs.
Keep reading to see what the Chargers do to keep the ball rolling.
1. Chargers Lead AFC West in Sacks
The Chargers only sacked the quarterback 35 times in 2013—the 10th-worst by any team in the NFL last year.
Focusing on the defensive side of the ball during the early portion of this year’s draft, it’s obvious they want to change all that.
No longer should this team struggle to hit the passer—they have three guys who are more than capable of doing so, and for the first time in a long time, they’re all healthy.
Look for veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney to lead the pack for the 2014 Chargers. With a relatively young defense behind him, the former Indianapolis Colt should be in prime position to share his defensive wisdom as he plays in what could be his final year in the league.
Next is Melvin Ingram.
Sure, with only three sacks in two years, he’s been a bit of a disappointment since being drafted 18th overall in 2012. In fairness, injuries and coverage issues have all but stifled his opportunity—until now. Playing alongside Freeney and not having to be “the guy” might bode well for the former Gamecock.
Jeremiah Attaochu is the final, and most obvious, piece to the puzzle. The former Yellow Jacket gashed offensive lines for 31.5 sacks in his four seasons at Georgia Tech. During his senior year, Attaochu gave the Chargers 12.5 more reasons to draft him in the second round.
Look for this trio to serve as the crux of many nightmares this season.
2. Donald Brown Doesn't Find His Way into the Backfield Carousel
This one might catch most of you by surprise–it shouldn’t.
Ryan Mathews had the best season of his career in 2013. With 1,255 yards and six touchdowns through 16 games, Mathews ranked 7th in rushing yards amongst all players in the NFL.
This was only the second time Mathews surpassed the 1,000-yard mark throughout his NFL career–it won’t be the last.
Likely to share carries with Mathews and the ever-elusive Danny Woodhead, Brown’s poised to find himself in similar waters. This time he won’t be playing with an injured Ahmad Bradshaw or a struggling Trent Richardson.
He’ll be trying to split carries with one running back who’s found his footing in the pros and another who’s become one of Rivers’ favorite targets.
It’s very likely that, as Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke originally said, the Chargers are simply planning ahead. Considering both Mathews and Woodhead are only under contract through 2015, one of them will likely be wearing a bolt-less helmet in 2016.
Either way, don’t expect much from Brown in his first year with Mike McCoy and the Chargers.
3. Keenan Allen Avoids a Sophomore Slump
The rookie receiver from Berkeley had one of the best seasons a Chargers wideout has had in a long time. Racking up more than 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns on 71 receptions, the Greensboro, N.C. native surprised many.
Akin to many rookie sensations, Allen will attempt to avoid a sophomore slump. He’ll succeed in doing so, but he’ll need some help.
Poised to return from a serious neck injury that kept him out of most of 2013, Malcom Floyd should provide Allen and company with some much needed relief in the receiving corps.
“I’m really excited to make plays again,” Floyd told U-T San Diego’s Michael Gelkhen. “Hopefully, I can do more this year than I ever have.”
Sure, Floyd’s only played a full 16-game season once in his nine-year career, but he won’t need be healthy all year for Allen and the Chargers to succeed.
With Eddie Royal, Vincent Brown, Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green there to alleviate some of the pressure for both Allen and Floyd, there’s no reason these two shouldn’t give opposing defenses fits week in and week out.
4. Chargers Sweep Broncos, Take Second Place
The Chargers played relatively well against a stellar Denver Broncos team last year. Averaging more 340.3 passing yards per game, the seemingly immortal Peyton Manning carried the Broncos all the way to Superbowl XLVII before they, you know, ran into Richard Sherman and the Seattle Seahawks
While they won the overall series in 2013, Manning and the Broncos slowed down a bit toward the tail end of the year. The longer the clocks continue to tick, the better it becomes for the Chargers. Manning cannot play forever.
Coming off of the best season any quarterback has ever had, the future Hall of Fame quarterback is entering his 18th year behind center. Among many other reasons, much of Manning’s success stems from pass protection. Considering the Chargers are wisely stocking up on pass-rushers, Manning probably won’t throw 55 touchdowns again this year.
He won’t even beat the Chargers this year.
That doesn’t mean the top of the AFC West mountain won’t be painted blue and orange again, though. The Chargers being the Chargers, they’ll find ways to struggle against lesser teams and overcome enough stronger teams to take second place and gallop alongside the Broncos into the playoffs.
5. They Take Another Step Toward Los Angeles
Alas, the San Diego Chargers will be no longer.
Los Angeles is growing impatient, and San Diegans don’t seem willing. Ownership might have enough to convince city officials to place a new stadium on a city-wide special election—that’s the easy part. Convincing taxpayers to vote in favor of an $800 million stadium is the hard part.
Most want to see the San Diego Chargers remain just that—the San Diego Chargers.
Whether it's not knowing where to place the new stadium or not knowing where, or whom, the funds will come from, San Diego is no closer to keeping its beloved football team than it was 10 years ago.
It isn’t all bad news, though—this means all Los Angeles Chargers games will be televised in San Diego, blackout or not.