San Diego had a successful first campaign under new coach Mike McCoy, improving to a 9-7 record and making the postseason for the first time since 2009. Much of this was down to the stellar play of Philip Rivers at quarterback and the emergence of Keenan Allen as a genuine threat at wide receiver in his rookie year. Four consecutive wins to end the regular season, including a hard fought win at Denver and a tense overtime win over the Chiefs to secure the last playoff berth were fooled up by a relatively comfortable win at Cincinnati as the Chargers advanced to the top eight teams in the league. Ultimately Peyton Manning and the Broncos proved too tough to beat again, but McCoy will be looking to kick on again in 2014. The incredibly tough schedule with three playoff teams in the division and the NFC West to play too will make that difficult, but if Rivers can continue to perform to a high level then the Chargers stand a chance.
Rivers had a sensational season that, but for Manning’s heroics in Denver, would have lead to much more focus and attention. With 4478 yards, 32 scores and just 11 picks his passer rating of 105.5 places him amongst the elite passers in the league. Ryan Matthews return as a featured back was another key factor in the offence, with 1255 yards and six scores offering a genuine alternative to the passing game. Danny Woodhead’s insertion as a third down back was also important as his 76 catches helped to keep many drives alive. Allen’s rookie year was superb, with 71 grabs leading to 1046 yards and eight scores. He was ably supported by Antonio Gates who hauled in 77 passes for 872 yards and four touchdowns, but the Chargers will look for more production from receivers opposite Allen in 2014 to give the passing game more balance. The loss of coordinator Ken Wisenhunt to Tennessee will be tough to take and how the team responds to an altered scheme will shape their season.
With the defence ranked 23rd in allowing 366.5 yards per game and 11th in points allowed (21.8 per game) there are improvements to be made on the defensive side of the ball. Eric Weddle’s 115 tackles and two picks ensured a spot in the Pro Bowl, but the lack of other play makers in the secondary is a concern. With just 35 sacks across the team, pressurising the opposition’s passing game needs to be improved for 2014. Corey Liguet, with 5.5, Kendall Reyes (5) and Thomas Keiser (4.5) lead the team in terms of sacks, but these numbers will need to be higher next time around. Defensive improvement is vital to give Rivers and co a better chance of winning games next season.
Kick return duties were shared between several players, with none managing any numbers of note. Allen and Eddie Royal shared punt returns, with Allen’s 8.3 yards on average leading the pair. Nick Novak hit an impressive 34 of 37 Field Goals and was perfect on 11 kicks of 40 yards and over. Punter Mike Scifres achieved a NET of 40 yards per punt.
Mike McCoy had a very impressive first year in San Diego. His ability to get the best out of his players and galvanise the team into that winning run shows that he knows how to keep his team motivated. If he can absorb the loss of Wisenhunt and maintain the form shown over the latter half of 2013, the Chargers can be a major factor in the AFC West in 2014. Easier said than done, but with Rivers and Allen there is a big chance of success.
DRAFT/FREE AGENCY NEEDS
With few high profile departures in the offseason the additions of Donald Brown at running back, Brandon Ghee in the secondary and Kavell Connor at linebacker were the biggest arrivals. All are more squad players though and there remains the need to inject some quality at other positions on the roster.
As stated above, expect the Chargers to focus on playmakers on defence in the forthcoming draft. Help in the secondary is required, especially at cornerback, and the defensive line would benefit from an upgrade if possible. Rivers would also enjoy another weapon at wide receiver and the success of Allen in 2013 proves that talented starters are available further down the rounds. The Chargers will be hoping to strike gold again in the later parts of the 2014 draft to unearth another gem who can impact hugely on their campaign this time around.