It may be time for the Chargers to think about the offseason and the future. If last week’s loss against the Ravens was any indication, this team is in need of a huge lift. The problem: it just may be too little, too late.
The choice to play for the future is never easy. At 4-7, second in the NFC West, they are not mathematically out of the playoff hunt, but realistically it was over last week. This season, however, was more optimistic than previous coach Norv Turner teams.
The reasoning behind this statement is simple – there was less talent on paper for the Chargers in 2012. Instead of a bona-fide number one wide receiver like Vincent Jackson, they got a combination of Malcolm Floyd and Eddie Royal. The old reliable was still there in Antonio Gates and there was plenty of optimism for Ryan Matthews, but he was hurt to begin the year. The offensive line was raw, unreliable, and a weak spot. And last, but not least, the pass rush (a definite strength in Charger teams of the past) was not exactly a bright spot in the defense. In fact, nothing on the Chargers’ defense, besides the run prevention was solid. The lack of pressure in the front seven and an aging secondary was going to be a problem all year. This year was built to be an excuse year for Turner and unfortunately, for those who were sympathetic to his defense, it may be his last.
The entire offense took a step backward in 2012. QB Philip Rivers, 30, carried a career 94+ QB rating coming into the season, and was expected to have a bounce back year. Instead, he’s sitting on an 88 QB rating and a mediocre 18/14 TD-to-INT ratio. With just five games left, Rivers is already at a career-high fumble total and is nearing the 20 INT marks he set last year. As mentioned, his wide receiver corps left a lot to be desired, but Rivers was the franchise – he needed to step into the leadership role. With his struggles, the stagnant offense was put under the microscope. Top and reliable target Antonio Gates was never put on track and as a result, he’s having the worst year to date. To put all the blame on Rivers is unfair. Matthews’ injury and expected output definitely put the team back.
But, now that the season is effectively over (and with the Bengals this week, it may just be 4-8), it’s time to focus on what may come. Instead of overloading efforts for Floyd or Robert Meachem, the Chargers can create new plays to focus on Royal and emerging talent, but fragile, Danario Alexander. Also, on offense, cut out Ronnie Brown and just feature Matthews. If he’s expected to carry the load, allow the running back to be the focal point of the offense. If the season has been any indication, Rivers should just try to focus back on fundamentals and develop new relationships similar to the one he has with Gates.