A year ago at this time, the Chargers had neither a coach or a general manager, and they had just finished a season in which they finished six games behind first-place Denver.
Now, they are less than 48 hours away from a wild-card game at Cincinnati with a first-year head coach (Mike McCoy) and G.M. (Tom Telesco).
It would be premature to point to the Chargers as a must-follow blueprint for teams making front-office and head-coaching changes. After all, the Chargers (9-7) were the last team to make the postseason, and they finished behind Denver (13-3) and Kansas City (11-5) in the AFC West. Moreover, the Chargers’ new regime wouldn’t be the first to start fast and fade thereafter.
Nevertheless, the Chargers are a fine example of a club that found a way to mesh the talent already on hand with some savvy acquisitions in free agency and in the draft.
Consider the Chargers’ offense. Quarterback Philip Rivers, tailback Ryan Mathews and tight end Antonio Gates were all on hand when McCoy arrived, and they have fared well in a new system. Then, the Chargers added three more key contributors before the season, signing running back Danny Woodhead in free agency and adding offensive tackle D.J. Fluker and wide receiver Keenan Allen in the draft.
Add it all up, and the result has been a San Diego attack that’s better at converting third downs than any another team (49.0 percent), one that ranks fifth in yards per game and per play.
The Chargers’ defense? Well, it’s a work-in-progress, to say the least. No playoff team is allowing more yards per play than San Diego (6.1). Certainly, the Chargers have some work to do on this side of the ball. Injuries have been an issue at outside linebacker, where Melvin Ingram (ACL) and Dwight Freeney (quadriceps) have both missed extended time. Freeney, whom the Colts signed in May after Ingram was injured, is out for the season, while Ingram returned only in December. Moreover, the Chargers haven’t quite gotten as much as expected out of ex-Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, a key free-agent signing who’s been benched.
All things considered, though, the Chargers are in good shape for a franchise that underwent such drastic change a less than a year ago. McCoy and Telesco utilized some foundation pieces already in place and added to the structure, and it has worked out splendidly in Year One. The Chargers’ resourcefulness has served them well, and it’s certainly not a bad sign for their future.