As each NFL team is officially eliminated from postseason contention, the Eye on Football crew will whip up a review of that team's 2012 season. Today, we look at the Chargers. For more of our End of the Road series, click here.
What Went Wrong
More of the same -- Philip Rivers took a step backward, the offensive was a disaster, the skill-position talent continued to deteriorate and the Chargers managed to lose games that they should have won.
Rivers is a major concern. Once one of the elite (or arguably elite, sigh) quarterbacks in the NFL, the 31-year-old has 49 turnovers the last two years, including 15 fumbles and 15 interceptions in 2012. Oy. His yards per attempt dropped for the third straight season (now down to 6.7), as did his passing yards per game (a pedestrian 235 per) and -- barring back-to-back 700-yard games to close out the year -- his yardage total will drop as well. Rivers is a good bet to miss 4,000 passing yards for the first time since 2007.
But for as bad as Rivers has been the last two years, there's good reason to believe it's not his fault. The offensive line is absolutely horrible (UDFA rookie Mike Harris started numerous games at left tackle when oft-injured Jared Gaither lived up to his reputation). Ryan Mathews broke more clavicles (two) than he had rushing touchdowns (one). Robert Meachem had fewer receiving yards than Mathews and Ronnie Brown. The results have been horrific on the offensive end, with the Chargers ranking 28th in yardage and 21st in points scored in the NFL.
San Diego's defense hasn't been that bad, landing middle-of-the-road when it comes to points-per-game given up and yards-per game as well. But you turn the ball over as much as they did, and it's hard to stop the other team from scoring.
The biggest issue might be the need for a fresh outlook: Norv Turner and A.J. Smith simply aren't working anymore. Turner got another year, but the Chargers' hot 3-1 start couldn't be maintained. His run in San Diego is up, and it's likely that Smith is out as well.
What Went Right
Danario Alexander was a revelation late in the year, leading the team in touchdowns despite starting just five games. The defense has pieces, with Corey Liuget, Eric Weddle, Melvin Ingram and Donald Butler all playing quite well, among others.
The issue is that a lot of the early draft picks aren't paying off, and that puts San Diego behind the eight ball. Not many things went the way the Chargers wanted.
It would be a stunner if Smith and Turner managed to save their jobs. It's all but assumed they're out, a formality at this point. And it's hard to blame Dean Spanos for making a move.
A once dominant offensive line is in tatters at this point and desperately needs to be rebuilt. LaDainian Tomlinson/Michael Turner/Darren Sproles were replaced by Mathews/Curtis Brinkley/Brown. Vincent Jackson was replaced by Meachem and Eddie Royal. Antonio Gates was replaced by 32-year-old, plagued-by-plantar-fasciitis Antonio Gates.
You can't let skill-position talent walk in free agency and not replace it through the draft. (Or, at least, not replace it with quality talent.) Smith had a phenomenal run in San Diego, but he has been missing left and right on draft picks lately. Turner's an all-time coordinator, but there are legit questions as to how he fares as a head coach, even if Rivers and the team has his back.
Lots of people like to chatter about moving Rivers this offseason, but I don't get it. He has an enormous contract through 2015, and he's a franchise quarterback when there's skill around him.
You could argue that bringing in a stud tackle to protect Rivers in the draft would immediately turn around the fortunes of San Diego: they really weren't that far from being in the wild-card hunt this year.
Rob Rang and Dane Brugler of NFLDraftScout.com both have the Bolts grabbing Jake Matthews from Texas A&M, which is quite the sensible move. Gaither didn't pan out, and it's clear that rolling with Harris isn't going to make this team a winner.
The (likely) new regime in San Diego won't be that far off from returning the Chargers to being competitive. A strong 2013 draft that produces a few impact players could make them an AFC West contender quickly. But they've got to hit on the players in the draft first.
2013 Will Be ...
Fresh-faced. Expect major change for San Diego this offseason. Norv has all but conceded that he won't be back, and it's hard to imagine Smith retaining his gig even if the team finishes 7-9. Fans are beyond unhappy (apathy is worse than anger in the NFL), the product on the field has slipped dramatically and the franchise, frankly, just needs some fresh blood to turn things around.
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