Every year the Chargers are chosen by ESPN to run away with the division, make it to the Super Bowl, and have a surprise appearance by Jesus. They claim that every year they are going to “put it all together” and that they are “more motivated than ever” yet somehow every year, they underachieve. Quite frankly, it’s getting old. Now that we have a good football team in Kansas City I find it even more insane that ESPN thinks that it is a give me, especially since the Chiefs have added some key pieces this offseason. Yes, the Chargers have won the division more often than not in recent years, but that is mainly I part of the lack of competition they had within the division. It makes zero sense to me why they continue to preach the gospel of San Diego year after year. Here is the full “five things you should know about the Chargers” article from ESPN if you are interested. We will look at each “thing” and then answer the question of whether it is a valid point (or not) and why.
1. Rivers is refreshed: This season ought to be easy for Philip Rivers. Last year, top receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and tight and Antonio Gates were on the field together for about a quarter of a game. Jackson held out much of the season. Floyd and Gates were hurt late in the season. By the end of the year, Rivers was throwing passes to street free agents. He threw to 17 different receivers. Yet Rivers managed to throw for a career-high 4,710 yards. Imagine what Rivers will do with a healthy receiving base.
Valid? - I don’t know if refreshed is the word… Rivers is an elite quarterback, and having Vincent Jackson back is huge, but to say it is going to be easy for him this year is little over done. The offensive line is a little shaky with starting left tackle Marcus Mcneil missing parts of the preseason with knee surgery. Not to mention, Antonio Gates is another year older, but aside from being more susceptible to injury, I don’t see it effecting him too much.
2. The pass rush is on: KC Joyner, the Football Scientist, expects the Chargers to bring the heat this year. The Chargers had a very respectable 47 sacks last season. They have a chance for a lot more this season. Joyner said the Chargers' 2011 opponents allowed a combined 592 sacks last season. That total ranks as the seventh most in the league. Expect the Chargers to blitz often under aggressive new defensive coordinator Greg Manusky.
Valid? – Not even close. Yes the Chargers like to rush the quarterback and weren’t bad at it last year, however, this isn’t the same defense. They have lost starting linebacker Kevin Burnett, back up middle linebacker Brandon Siler, and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman. That is a lot of lost sacks and run stops. If you add in starting middle linebacker Stephen Cooper's torn bicep that he is going to try and play through (we know how that will go) before deciding whether he should get surgery or wait, you are in trouble. Last year was San Diego’s defense at its finest, and with a new defensive coordinator and new personnel, it is hard to be too eager this soon about the Chargers D.
3. Tolbert will be a horse: Just because the Chargers plan to use second-year running back Ryan Mathews a lot, don't think sturdy tailback Mike Tolbert will be forgotten. The Chargers love this guy, and Mathews and Tolbert will both get a lot of carries. In fact, if Mathews' durability issues continue or if he is slow to develop, I could see Tolbert getting most of the carries. Coach Norv Turner completely trusts Tolbert and loves how hard he runs. Tolbert is a plus player in every facet of the Chargers' offense.
Valid? – I agree with ESPN on this one, Mike Tolbert is a horse. He is very underrated and probably deserves to be the number one back on the team after last seasons performance.
4. Liuget is legit: It's not often that the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL adds a potentially dominant front-three player. That's exactly what the Chargers have done. They took Illinois defensive end Corey Liuget with the No. 18 pick. Liuget has been explosive, and he has been a playmaker in camp. He often gets into the offensive backfield. He is a humble player who is willing to learn. The Chargers can't wait to unleash him in their starting lineup, giving them a playmaker to pair next to standout nose tackle Antonio Garay.
Valid? – I haven’t seen much of the guy, so I would be out of my element to say much about him. However, I do know that they aren’t starting Liuget, but instead the solid but never flashy Jacque Cesaire at end, which should say at least a little bit. While I don't doubt he will be good in time, I would be shocked to see a backup defensive lineman go all Ndamukong Sue in his first year.
5. Spikes and Sanders are on a mission: The Chargers added veteran safety Bob Sanders and veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes to their defense. For Sanders, it's a chance to show he can still be the player who won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award in 2007. He has played a total of nine games in the past three seasons because of injury. He has been healthy this summer, and he looks like the old Sanders. This is Spikes' 14th NFL season. He has never been to the postseason. Spikes knows this year is his best chance, and his play this summer has been inspired.
Valid? – They may be on a mission, but that doesn’t mean they are good at it. Here is a fun fact: Bob Sanders has played a total of nine games in the past three seasons. He has only played more than six games in a season twice in his seven year career. It is a relatively safe bet to say that even if Bob Sanders stays healthy all year (which is very unlikely) he will be very rusty and a far less aggressive player. As for Takeo Spikes, he has no problem staying healthy, but he will turn 35 this year and isn’t even close to the same player he used to be. Don’t believe me? 2010 was the first time in his 13 year NFL career that Spikes didn’t record a single sack in all 15 games he played. So while I won’t argue that he is inspired, if you even try to talk me into believing that Spikes is an upgrade or spark at linebacker, I would call you delusional.