Oh the West. How deceptive you are, competitive only because of how shitty each team is. While I could be referring to either American or National, today the topic at hand is the AFC.
San Diego: Come for Shamu. Leave because of A.J. Smith.
The Chargers, much like many a team in the NFL, are perplexing. On paper, they should have it all. But bad luck, big egos, and terrible Special Teams have kept this should-be contender from the playoffs two years in a row. They went from claiming the League’s best offense and defense in 2010 to the 6th and 16th best, respectively.
Replacing the departed Ron Rivera with Greg Manusky was bound to cause some hiccups on the defense, but a six game losing streak is friggin’ unacceptable. While they bounced back and only lost one (to the Lions) of their remaining five, 8-8 was not enough to overcome Jesus and the Gospel of Tebow in their glorious ascendance to the postseason realm. Obligatory Chosen One mention out of the way.
And while Bolts fans are undoubtedly pissed that scrotum licker cum laude, Eli Manning, recently got himself ANOTHER big ring before P-Riv could snag themselves a measly AFC Championship, they’re probably mildly excited at the opportunity to beat the shit out of his older brother twice a year.
But we as a species shouldn’t look to the future; not when there is so much in the past that we can complain about. And so we must look back, for this is the Chargers 2011 Retrospective.
Team Highlight: Coming together and managing a .500 season. I’d like to think it was the win against Baltimore, who had already secured a berth, in week 15 that really sums this team up. It was a good win that gave them an even record and, more importantly, playoff hopes. The Ravens were the only good team on their moderate schedule, but the win was impressive. Turnovers, a problem for the Bolts all season, were all on the Ravens’ side of the ball that game, showing they could play sound football against a monstrous defense. Philip Rivers’ 290 passing yards, with Tolbert and Matthews combining for 3 TDs, the Chargers showed fans they still had a little bit of gas in that engine. Unfortunately, too little, too late.
Team Lowlight: Losing six games in a row is not something that a team like the Chargers does. Well, not in the middle of the season, anyways. The Chargers didn’t exactly have the toughest schedule, but the slump they hit was uncharacteristic. And though the team responded well in the beginning and at the end, losing only two games outside of that skid. But 8-8 is not a successful season—maybe in the NFC, but not here.
Team MVP: Vincent Jackson shut the fuck up, took his Franchise money, and put up the numbers he was paid to. It’s a goddamn shame they didn’t resign him. He was the saving grace of a decent-but-lackluster offense. Though I do like Malcom Floyd and his inability to catch a pass WITHOUT getting a first down, he wasn’t the star.While Ryan Matthews emerged as the replacement they drafted for LaDainian Tomlinson, he’s not as durable or, frankly, capable as the future Hall of Famer. And Philip Rivers had a comparably terrible year, despite having a great set of receivers and backs. Sure, he threw over 4,000 yards for the fourth year in a row, but 20 interceptions? He’s not from USC—he shouldn’t be getting throwing that many.
Needs: Based on this and my post on the Jags, readers are probably going to get the impression that I think everyone should be fired. Not true. Just the terrible coaches. I could say that Norv should be fired, but that wouldn’t be surprising. I could say the same for AJ Smith, but he’s made some decent off-season moves (aside from letting VJax go and settling for Robert fucking Meacham) and got some decent players on the cheap, including Atari Bigby (help for Weddle in the backfield) and Eddie Royal (special teams boost). But they do need to bolster their offensive line and give Philip Rivers more than a second to get the ball out of his hands, especially in light of the concussed Kris Dielman. Perhaps David DeCastro from Stanford, if he’s still on the board by the Chargers’ 18th pick.
Who do Chargers fans hate more, AJ Smith or Norv Turner?: I’d have thought it’d be Norv, but it’s AJ. The reasons are plenty. People say he’s cheap. Then there’s the saga of Marty Schottenheimer, and the chorus of ‘What Ifs’ that followed. There’s the Vincent Jackson contract debacle. And then there’re the collapses of 2010 and 2011 seasons—seasons that should have belonged to San Diego. But considering the negative, look at what he’s done. Since inheriting the GM spot from the late John Butler in ’03, the team has gone 88-56 and only one losing season (their first). So suck it up, Bolts fans. Your team could be owned by Dan Snyder.
Jango Scale of Scandal Likelihood: 4. Maybe when Ron Rivera was running the defense, if the whole bounty issue had come up then, they’ve have gotten more than a glancing eye. But I don’t really buy that AJ would allow money to be tossed around when he’s holding out on star players.
Entirely Too Early Prediction for 2012: My best friend Jason, the consummate Chargers fan (and source of advice for this post), would probably stab me if I said something negative here, but I truly believe this is San Diego’s year to return to the AFC West throne. As much as Vincent Jackson meant to the team, they truly aren’t anything without Philip Rivers. Even on an off day, the guy is the foundation for that offense. Young guys like Matthews, Floyd and Meacham will be utilized, and if Antonio Gates (FIRST MENTION ALL BLOG, WILCO TANGO FOXTROT) stays healthy enough he will have the impact he has in seasons past. For the first time in a long time, the AFC West is looking competitive. The Raiders could slip, but that’s what everyone expects, so don’t be surprised to be surprised. The Chiefs are getting Matt Cassel, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles back. And I think the Broncos stocked up, too. Didn’t they give Tebow a huge contract extension? Anyways, I wouldn’t be surprised to see San Diego and one other team in the postseason.