San Diego Chargers Will Win the AFC West
Earth to San Diego Chargers Fans: your team has a pulse. Over the past five years, the Chargers have been heralded as one of the most talented teams in the NFL. With players ranging from Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson to Shawne Merriman and Quentin Jammer, the San Diego Chargers have been stocked with talent. Unfortunately, that talent has gone to waste due to an under-performing team that has choked when it matters the most.
But this year feels different, doesn't it? For the first time in half a decade, the San Diego Chargers aren't being called one of the most talented teams in the league. They aren't in the headlines. They aren't even in the top 10 of some analysts’ preseason power rankings.
And guess what? The Chargers love it! They know how good they are. They know they are an elite team in the NFL, and they don’t need the media to tell them why or why not.
First things first, though: here are the keys to making it back to the top of the AFC West and advancing into the playoffs.
Key No. 1: A Fast Start
It is well-documented that the Chargers are notorious over the past four seasons for starting slow (2007: 1-3, 2008: 3-6, 2009: 2-3, 2010: 2-5). To get back on top of the AFC West this year, the San Diego Chargers must start hot. This may be a tall task for the Bolts though, as three of their first six games come against Minnesota at home and against New England and the New York Jets away. Fortunately, they will have 2 weeks to prepare for the Jets, as that game comes directly after their bye week in Week 6. If they can start fast, they will be in a much better position come November and December when the Chargers have typically thrived.
Not only must the Chargers start fast in the win column, they must also start fast in games. In the seven games that the Chargers lost in 2010, they were outscored 36 to 110 in the first half! Talk about starting slow. The Chargers then came back in those games to outscore their opponents 104 to 76 in the second half of games, but it was obviously too late. If the Chargers are to start fast this year, on the field and in the win column, they MUST learn to score early, and the players and coaches know it. As Norv said about the importance of scoring early:
“I think it’s an attitude about coming out and executing early, but then it does have something to do with style, the play selection and what we’re doing. We’re throwing the ball more on first down. We’re throwing the ball more in the red zone.
“You’d like to continue to have balance, but early in the game it can be difficult to run. The other thing we've done that we haven’t done as well as I’d like early in games is we've played well on third down.”
That says it all.The Chargers must be more aggressive early in games. Finally, Norv has acknowledged that he has been too conservative, futilely trying to establish a running game when he has one of the best QBs in the league.
Key No. 2: Philip Rivers
Yes, he is about to have six kids. Yes, he talks crap. No, he doesn't curse. This says everything you need to know about Philip Rivers so far in his career. Philip, a soft-hearted family man who has been a target of the media for years now (mainly for this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LsSpYLU7Ig0), is seen by many who don’t know him as a loud-mouth who routinely talks crap to fans and players alike.
Yet, the outside perception of Rivers does not bother his teammates, or Rivers himself. They know the real Philip: the one that played on two busted knees in the 2007 playoff loss at New England, the one that has lead them to three playoff runs, and the one that has carried his team back to countless victories.
We all know know the stats. The career passer rating of 97.2, which is second all time. Over 4,700 yards last season while throwing to 17 different wide receivers and missing his primary targets Vincent Jackson and Antonio Gates for the majority of the season.
(Check out this video of what Antonio Gates has to say about Philip Rivers and the importance of him to the San Diego Chargers on the NFL Network. http://www.chargers.com/media-vault/videos/Gates-Were-a-blue-collar-team/1d5eee25-c020-4443-88b6-e1f25479742)
Simply put, the Chargers will go as far as Philip Rivers’ blue collar takes them.
Key No. 3: Veterans
For all the talent that the Chargers have had over the past five years or so, they have lacked one thing: Veteran leadership. Yes, they had L.T., but he was so used to a poor supporting cast that he always led on his own, with little help around him, especially on offense. This glaring fact has become evident in the past playoff debacles, where the team has flopped on its back against far less talented teams.
Now the Chargers finally have some veteran leadership on both sides of the ball. On offense the Chargers have Philip Rivers, the undisputed commander of this team (go back to the previous slide if you are confused), and Antonio Gates running the ship.
More importantly, on defense, the Chargers finally have a group of veterans that have “been there and done that." They have ex-Defensive Player of the Year and Super Bowl winner, Bob Sanders, who looks in “Pro-Bowl form”; if he can stay healthy paired up with the Chargers’ best defensive player Eric Weddle (see his new contract), the two form one of the best safety combinations in the league. They picked up seasoned vet Takeo Spikes who has been on a variety of teams and knows Greg Manusky’s Defense by heart. The best middle linebacker in the league, Patrick Willis, certainly seems to miss this guy:
“Takeo is like a brother to me. We spent some time here together and he’s a guy I looked up to even before I played with him. I certainly will miss him.”
That’s good enough for me.
Not to mention Pro-Bowl outside linebacker Shaun Phillips who is coming off the best year of his career.
Oh, and Quentin Jammer…The most underrated CB in the league. Like Norv Turner said: "The guys in the league (other CBs) that get a lot of attention are the guys that get a lot of interceptions. The guys that get a lot of interceptions are the guys that have the ball thrown at them a lot." Basically what Norv is saying is that interceptions = the most misleading statistic in the NFL.
The veterans must take the reins of the San Diego Chargers for them to succeed and, so far in the preseason, it seems like that is happening.