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Wednesday, January 5, 2011
Chargers regular-season wrap-up

By Bill Williamson

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Final Power Ranking: 14
Preseason Power Ranking: 8

Mike Tolbert
Mike Tolbert finished his breakout season with 735 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Biggest surprise: Running back Mike Tolbert and defensive tackle Antonio Garay. Both entered the season as role players. Both ended the season as players the Chargers want to lock up with long-term deals. Tolbert proved to be a terrific running back; he ran over opponents and was a great counter-punch to rookie running back Ryan Mathews. Tolbert is also good as a short-yardage back. Garay, a Chicago castoff, filled the role left by Jamal Williams wonderfully. Many NFL scouts thought he was one of the better nose tackles in the league this season. It looks like San Diego scored big with these little-known talents on each side of the ball.

Biggest disappointment: The season as a whole. There’s no way the Chargers expected this season to unfold the way it did. They finished 9-7 and saw their four-season reign as AFC West champions end. The Chargers finished the season ranked No. 1 in total offense and total defense. Yet, special teams problems and injuries took a toll. The unit seriously hurt the Chargers for the first three quarters of the season, so it’s no surprise that the Football Outsiders ranked San Diego’s special teams last in the NFL. The team fired special teams coach Steve Crosby after the end of the season. The Chargers also were battered, especially at receiver and linebacker. They used 73 players, one off the NFL record. Quarterback Philip Rivers completed passes to 17 players. In the end, the Chargers’ record was a lot worse than what this offense and defense showed they were capable of doing.

Biggest need: The Chargers’ No. 1 ranking on both sides of the ball shows that this is a very talented roster. Assume the Chargers will be healthier next season and this should still be a good team. But it could always use some depth. Expect the Chargers to look for help at safety, linebacker and defensive end. If this team could find a pure pass-rusher in the draft, it would help immensely. The Chargers could also use offensive line depth and perhaps another receiver, especially if they don’t put the franchise tag on free agent Vincent Jackson. San Diego should be well equipped to get what it wants in the draft with extra second- and third-round picks coming. The Chargers will have five picks in the first three rounds, which will give it trading power and the ability to stockpile picks.

Team MVP: Rivers. At 29 years old, the quarterback just gets better. Expect him to get some NFL MVP votes. He is the third player to have a passer rating of 100.0 or more for three straight years, joining Steve Young and Peyton Manning.

The numbers lie: The 2010 Chargers showed that statistics aren’t everything. Since 1970, five previous teams led the NFL in total offense and defense. All five made the playoffs. The Chargers had a plus-119 point differential in 2010, fifth best in the NFL. It was the highest plus-point differential for a non-playoff team since the 1991 San Francisco 49ers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.