2012 Record: 7-9
Offensive Line Failures
Cris Collinsworth proved himself a worthy heir to The Amazing Criswell on October 7, when he predicted that hobbled left tackle Jared Gaither was about to give up a costly sack.
Seconds later, New Orleans' Martez Wilson blew by Gaither and forced Philip Rivers to fumble, giving the Saints their first win of the season.
Gaither played only four games, and was relegated to injured reserve. Undrafted rookie Mike Harris had to cover Rivers' blindside, which goes a long way in explaining why the QB was sacked 49 times in 2012.
That's 11 more times than he'd ever been sacked in a season before.
The Chargers were also tied for second-lowest yards-per-rush in the NFL with Dallas, a 3.6 average. Ryan Mathews and Jackie Battle struggled behind underpowered blocking. Guards Tyronne Green and Louis Vasquez were not retained at the end of the season.
Rusty Gate on Third Down
In all, the Chargers' defense wasn't what you'd call terrible. They had 38 sacks and 14 interceptions, essentially making them a mid-level group, and they allowed only 3.8 YPA rushing (fifth best). But there's one glaring statistic that helped do them in.
San Diego's defense had the fourth worst third down percentage in 2012, allowing 42.1 percent of attempts to convert. Despite being in the middle of the league in terms of opportunities (foes had 214 attempts), opponents converted 90 times.
In eight games in 2012, the Chargers allowed 40 percent of third down conversions, and in seven of them, opponents topped 50 percent conversions. In games in which the Chargers give up 50 percent or more of their third downs, the team's record is 2-5.
2013 Projected Wins: 7
Top 3 Rookies
-DJ Fluker, T (1/11): Probably the best lineman on the team by default. Gargantuan blocker stops defensive ends dead in their tracks, and paves running lanes with ease.
-Manti Te'o, LB (2/38): When you look past the bizarre catfishing scandal, you have a quality run-stopper with an alpha-male "lead through actions and words" attitude.
-Keenan Allen, WR (3/76): Great hands enable him to catch passes in space over the middle, but lacks elite speed, and may be hampered by an October knee injury.
Two of the biggest moves came in the month of May for San Diego, and both are quite necessary. Max Starks joins the ailing offensive line after nine seasons in Pittsburgh, while aging bull-rusher Dwight Freeney signs for two years, after Melvin Ingram went down with an ACL tear during spring workouts.
Prior to Starks' signing, the offensive line was looking as bleak as a year ago. Well-traveled veteran Chad Rinehart replaces Green at left guard, and it seemed as though former Eagle King Dunlap would play left tackle, but Starks will likely claim that spot.
Derek Cox comes in to help bolster the secondary, coming off a career year in Jacksonville with 60 tackles and 4 picks. To add unpredictability to the offense, multi-use running back Danny Woodhead signs, after a career-high 446 receiving yards in 2012 with New England.
Potential Starting Lineup
QB - Philip Rivers
RB - Ryan Mathews
FB - LeRon McClain
WR - Malcom Floyd
WR - Danario Alexander
TE - Antonio Gates
LT - Max Starks
LG - Chad Rinehart
C - Nick Hardwick
RG - Jeromey Clary
RT - DJ Fluker
DE - Corey Liuget
NT - Cam Thomas
DE - Kendall Reyes
OLB - Jarret Johnson
ILB - Manti Te'o
ILB - Donald Butler
OLB - Dwight Freeney
CB - Derek Cox
CB - Shareece Wright
FS - Eric Weddle
SS - Marcus Gilchrist
K - Nick Novak
P - Mike Scifres
LS - Mike Windt
2013 at a Glance
The era of AJ Smith letting prime running backs go while the Chargers repeatedly bumped their noggins against the glass ceiling is over.
Replacing Smith as general manager is Tom Telesco, who spent 15 seasons in Indianapolis in various roles, the final six years as Director of Player Personnel.
After Norv Turner got the ax, one-time division rival Mike McCoy took over as head coach.
Joined at John Fox's hip for well over a decade, McCoy brings him to with San Diego his innate ability to get the most out of any quarterback, whether it's Jake Delhomme, Kyle Orton, Tim Tebow, and even NFL cornerstone Peyton Manning.
Part of McCoy's successes in Denver have hinged upon variety in the playbook, particularly with running the ball out of what appears to be a passing formation. Makes sense why Woodhead was a sensible pick-up. Rivers may think he's been reunited with Darren Sproles at some point.
McCoy also favors double tight end sets, both as extensions of the line, and in the slot.
After dynamic Antonio Gates, and pickup from Dallas, John Phillips, there are three rookie tight ends on the roster that went undrafted. Knowing McCoy, he's applying situational schemes to some unexpected players, and is fixing to surprise defenses with his lab results.
But the Chargers still have questions on the line, which is where McCoy's other specialty comes in: quick release plays.
Manning was among the best in the league at getting the pass away quickly in 2012. Rivers, in he face of shaky protection, will be given plenty of timing pattern crosses and bubble screens to compensate.
Ken Whisenhunt takes over as offensive coordinator, and he'll look to duplicate his best days as Arizona's head coach. This would include stack formations at receiver, as well as stretching defenses horizontally and vertically on the same play to keep defenders guessing.
The higher-ups on the defensive staff are largely unchanged from last season, save for Ron Milus replacing Ron Meeks as secondary coach.
Aside from the third-down conundrum leading to a number of costly losses, the team was good at stopping the run, and held their own in creating pressure.
But the team's taking a risk by sticking perennial backup Cam Thomas in at nose tackle. Interior presence is a key to any 3-4, and Thomas, with just 5 career starts in 3 seasons, is taking on lots of responsibility.
If the Chargers were a tree, they'd have pretty foliage in spots, but an ugly trunk. What they have in demonstrated brilliance is undone by their deficient fundamentals (offensive line, defensive stops), but McCoy's capable of rewiring at least the offensive failures.
Norv Turner's overly conservative approach, along with AJ Smith's mismangement, were weighing a generally good team down. 2013 won't so much be a rebuilding year for San Diego, but rather a journey into finding their best voice. They'll win as much as they lose.