Wednesday, January 15, 2014
San Diego Chargers season wrap-up
By Eric D. Williams
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.
Final Power Ranking: 12
Preseason Power Ranking: 23
Biggest surprise: The production from rookie receiver Keenan Allen is the headline here, with the turnaround of quarterback Philip Rivers a close second. The rookie season of Allen, picked in the third round of 2013 draft, was supposed to be a redshirt year. But season-ending injuries to Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander forced the Cal product to play sooner rather than later. After a sluggish start, Allen responded. He finished the regular season with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards, and tied for the team lead in touchdowns with eight. Allen finished with eight catches for 183 yards and two touchdowns in the postseason, emerging as an offensive rookie of the year candidate and San Diego's No. 1 receiver.
• NFC season wrap-ups: N | S | E | W
• AFC season wrap-ups: N | S | E | W
Biggest disappointment: Cornerback Derek Cox signed a four-year, $20 million deal with the Chargers in free agency as the team's top cornerback but failed to live up to that expectation. Cox gave up several big plays and was one of the reasons San Diego's secondary struggled during the first half of the season. Cox ultimately was replaced in the starting lineup by veteran Richard Marshall in Week 13.
Biggest need: More talent in the secondary, with a pass rush help and beefing up the interior of the offensive line a close second. The Chargers gave up 23 passing touchdowns this season, No. 12 in the NFL, but 18 of those came in the first 11 games of the season. And San Diego also finished with just 11 interceptions on the season, No. 26 in the league. Veteran safety Eric Weddle played solid, mistake-free football for the most part in earning his second Pro Bowl berth, but he needs help. Shareece Wright gradually played better in his first season as a starter, but overall San Diego needs to add more young talent in the secondary.
Team MVP: Rivers elevated the play of the entire offense and deserves to be part of the conversation of league MVP. In his 10th season, Rivers benefited from former offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's conversion of San Diego's offense to a short passing game. Rivers finished in the top five in completion percentage (69.5 percent), yards per pass (8.23), passing yards (4,478), passing touchdowns (32) and passer rating (105.5). At 32 years old, Rivers looks like he still has the ability to play a few more years at an elite level. The Chargers need to add a couple of more pieces on offense to make his job easier.
GRADING THE SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
Philip Rivers exercised some demons by performing at a high level this season. Heading into 2013, Rivers had thrown a combined 48 interceptions in three seasons. This season, he threw just 11 and none in the playoffs.
Running back Ryan Mathews played through nagging injuries, finishing with a career 1,255 rushing yards. Danny Woodhead finished with a career-high 76 receptions for 605 yards and eight total touchdowns.
Keenan Allen burst onto the season as a rookie, but you cannot discount the contribution Eddie Royal made as a slot receiver playing with a toe injury the second half of the year. Royal tied with Allen for a team-high eight touchdowns, totaling 47 catches for 631 yards.
Antonio Gates rebounded from an injury-plagued 2012, leading the team in receptions with 78 for 872 yards and four touchdowns. Speedy Ladarius Green could be Gates' heir apparent.
Center Nick Hardwick is the only member to play all 16 games, as the Chargers used seven O-line combinations. But they protected Rivers well (30 sacks), and paved the way for 122.8 rushing yards a contest, No. 13 in the NFL.
The Chargers finished with just 35 sacks on the year. Corey Liuget was the most consistent player up front, finishing with 50 tackles and a team-leading 5.5 sacks. Kendall Reyes picked up his game in the second half of the season, finishing with five sacks.
Donald Butler finished with 84 tackles but missed three games with a groin injury. Manti Te'o finished with 61 tackles in his rookie season. The Chargers were inconsistent against the run this season.
Eric Weddle made the Pro Bowl and finished second-team All-Pro. Undrafted rookie free agent Jahleel Addae came on the second half of the season, but San Diego's cornerback play has to improve.
Kicker Nick Novak tied a franchise record with 34 made field goals. He also finished with six tackles on special teams. Mike Scifres averaged a franchise-best 48.3 yards per punt. The Chargers could use an explosive playmaker in the return game.
Mike McCoy did about as much as you could as a first-year head coach, taking the Chargers to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. But the Chargers struggled at times in end-of-game situations early in the season, something McCoy cleaned up later in the year. Coordinator John Pagano also deserves praise for getting his defense playing at a high level toward the end.