There is no doubt that fans of the San Diego Chargers are a little gun shy after their beloved team shot themselves in the foot last year by missing the playoff for the first time in five years. It’s not hard to argue that the Kansas City Chiefs did not win the AFC West, as much as the Chargers lost it.
How could a team with the league’s best-ranked offense and best-ranked defense come up second-best?
There were numerous reasons why the Bolts failed to bring home their fifth consecutive divisional crown, take your pick.
Turnovers may have been the single most devastating problem with the Bolts last year, but a slow start, injuries, holdouts and the worst special teams display by any team in decades contributed heavily to the Chargers demise.
So, what’s different this year?
To answer that, let me start be enumerating the things that aren’t going to change.
First and foremost is Philip Rivers. The Chargers have in Rivers one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. The man is at the top of his game and in the prime of his career. His numbers are superlative, his accuracy is sublime. His quick release, tremendous pocket presence and overall love for the game make him the perfect leader for this Chargers team.
With Rivers at the helm, there is little chance that San Diego won’t match or even better last year’s numbers. Chargers fans can rest assured that their team will finish with a top-rated, high-scoring offense once again.
The most immediate difference between last year and this will be seen on special teams. There is just no way that the Chargers will field as futile a unit as they did in 2010.
Rich Biasaccia has replaced Steve Crosby as the special team’s coach and in three preseason games so far, his unit has looked normal. At this point, normal is a huge improvement.
In past years, San Diego has been a preseason favorite of the media. They have been lauded for their personnel and hyped as Super Bowl contenders prior to any on-field snaps. This year is different in that the Chargers are flying under the radar. Few are talking about them and that may just work out in San Diego’s favor.
The Chargers could end one of their worst habits this year and get off to a fast start in the win column. Believe it or not, this may be due in large portion to the lockout. While other teams are scrambling to get their staff up to speed, the Chargers return a mostly veteran squad that is already familiar with each other.
Even the departure of defensive coordinator Ron Rivera hasn’t brought about big changes. His replacement, Greg Manusky was a former Chargers linebacker coach for five years and uses a very similar scheme to his predecessor.
Given all this cohesion, the Chargers have a real advantage over other teams around the NFL and that should translate into a fast start.
As if that weren’t enough, the Chargers have filled many personnel gaps left from last season.
Holdout wide receiver Vincent Jackson is set to be Rivers' favorite target again. All-Pro Antonio Gates, though still nursing a painful right foot, is looking to re-establish himself as the league’s premiere tight end.
Ryan Mathews is healthy and with a full pro season under his belt, should be better equipped to hold onto the football and give the Chargers a serious running threat. New free-agent signings Bob Sanders and Takeo Spikes look to add some much needed snarl to an otherwise historically passive defense.
Finally, the Chargers are just plain due. Head coach Norv Turner is on the hot seat and he knows he must get the Chargers into the postseason and win a playoff game or his job will be forfeit.
That should be incentive enough to extricate Turner from of his conservative shell and be more creative with his play calling. He certainly has the weapons at his disposal to be more aggressive, this is the season to show it.
The team itself is under the gun to provide a winner. The city is on the verge of losing their NFL franchise and all the benefits it provides if a new stadium is not built soon. Having a successful campaign will go a long way to convincing the powers that be to build that stadium and keep the Chargers in San Diego.
There is no tomorrow for the Bolts. It’s now or never.
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