NFL Preview Series: San Diego Chargers

Byron Dixon| Elite Insiders 

The San Diego Chargers have been a competitive team since Philip Rivers has been the QB and with Rivers entering his mid 30’s the sense of urgency to get over the hump and make a deep playoff run and make a Super Bowl appearance is growing. Although the Chargers may be a candidate to move to Los Angeles their franchise QB Rivers is not going anywhere, he just inked a four-year extension that will keep him under contract through 2019.  Rivers’ extension includes $83.25 million in new money, with $65 million in guarantees.

While We Were Away:There were rampant rumors this off-season that Philip Rivers would be traded to the Titans for the No. 2 overall pick.Rivers won’t turn 34 until December, so he should have at least one strong season left in the tank. He was exceptional in 2013, but saw his numbers decline a bit in 2014 – yardage dropped from 4,478 to 4,286; YPA fell from 8.2 to 7.5; completion percentage slipped from 69.5 to 66.5; interceptions rose from 11 to 18 – but that’s because his offensive line wasn’t as strong this past season. It’s been proven that Rivers’ success relies heavily on how well he’s being protected, so the Chargers absolutely had to make sure that they improved his blocking this off-season.The front office appears to have done enough. General manager Tom Telesco began by signing Orlando Franklin away from rival Denver in free agency. Franklin has been an outstanding guard for the Broncos, so he’ll be a massive upgrade over Johnnie Troutman, who was absolutely atrocious last season. The other guard position appeared to be in doubt after the draft, but San Diego managed to secure former Rams’ tackle Joseph Barksdale, who will push right tackle D.J. Fluker inside if he’s able to secure the starting job.

Elsewhere on the offensive line, King Dunlap will continue to man the blind side after signing a 4-year, $28 million contract this offseason. Meanwhile, the one concern remaining up front is at center. Nick Hardwick retired, leaving the unproven Chris Watt in his place. Watt was chosen in the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft, so while he has potential, it’s unclear how he’ll play. While Rivers has to be excited about the improved offensive line, he’s probably even more thrilled about the weapon Telesco obtained in the first round this past April. San Diego moved up to snag Melvin Gordon, who is easily the most talented running back on San Diego’s roster since Tomlinson retired. Compared to Jamaal Charles, Gordon can go the distance any time he touches the ball, and he’ll also be able to effectively run in between the tackles and catch passes out of the backfield. Gordon is exactly the sort of weapon Rivers has been wishing for the past few years.

Rivers’ other primary weapons remain the same; Antonio Gates and Keenan Allen will dominate the targets. Gates had a resurgence last year, hauling in 12 touchdowns. Given his injury history, however, that was likely a fluke. But even if Gates regresses, the athletic Ladarius Green can easily step in and become an intermediate threat. Allen, meanwhile, saw his yardage drop from 1,046 to 783 in 2014. Allen dealt with some injuries, so he should be able to rebound, especially given that he’s expected to see more action in the slot with Eddie Royal no longer on the team. Stevie Johnson, signed this off-season, has a shot. However, the most intriguing player is Dontrelle Inman, a 6-foot-3 receiver who came out of nowhere to catch 12 passes for 158 yards in the final two games of the year.

2015 Season Outlook: While the Chargers made some major changes on offense, they didn’t really do much on the defensive side of the ball. Eight of the 11 starters will be returning, and the three who left were among some of the worst players in the opening lineup.

Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney, corner back Shareece Wright and safety Marcus Gilchrist are all gone, but they won’t be missed. Freeney registered just 3.5 sacks in 2014 and wasn’t going to improve as a 35-year-old. San Diego didn’t obtain anyone this off-season to replace him, but that’s because the front office spent last year’s second-rounder on Jeremiah Attaochu, a promising pass-rusher out of Georgia Tech. Attaochu collected a pair of sacks in limited action as a rookie. He’ll line up across from Melvin Ingram, a talented but injury-prone player who has never lived up to his potential because he hasn’t been able to stay on the field.

The Chargers didn’t surrender or score any touchdowns on special teams, but they were out gained on punt returns and were equal to the opposition on kickoffs. They signed return specialist Jacoby Jones to perhaps change that. Nick Novak hit 90 and 91.9 percent of his field goals in 2012 and 2013, respectively, but was just at an 84.6-percent clip in 2014. On the bright side, he did drill 3-of-4 tries from 50-plus. Punter Mike Scifres is great at pinning the opposition inside its own 20, but he was just 18th in net yardage last year.

2015 Record: 8-8

The Chargers are behind the Broncos in terms of division standings, the things is they will be in wild card contention like always. If Rivers and this offense can get hot they can carry this team into the postseason. Rivers is determined to prove he is elite and finally get the monkey off his back and get a Super Bowl ring, the biggest question is this defense. Can they get pressure on opposing QB’s? Can they create turnovers? Can they get off the field on third down? The answers to these questions can be the overall reason this team makes or misses the playoffs.

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