Five questions: San Diego Chargers

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Since Peyton Manning joined the Broncos in 2012, Denver has dominated the AFC West, rolling to a combined 26-6 regular season record. The Broncos have fattened up on their divisional foes, winning 12-of-13 against West competition.

The only AFC West club to defeat the Broncos in this span? The Chargers, who won at Denver last December — a victory San Diego had to have to make the postseason.

The Broncos would win the third and decisive game in the series in the divisional round, prevailing by seven at home. Overall, the Broncos are 4-1 against the Chargers under Manning, outscoring the Chargers 137-111 — a point differential of 5.2 per game.

In short, the Broncos have clearly been the better club. But the Chargers are at least in the ball game against Denver. By contrast, the Raiders have been outscored 134-54 by Denver since Manning switched teams. The Chiefs have been somewhat competitive against the Chargers, with losses of seven and eight points to Denver in the last two years. However, Kansas City suffered some key losses in free agency, while Denver bolstered its defense.

So when it comes to keeping Denver honest in the AFC West, it might be a one-team operation this season.

As you ponder how the Chargers stack up with the Broncos, here’s five other questions about San Diego:

1. What impact will tight end Ladarius Green have on the passing game?

The 24-year-old Green showed potential last season, averaging 22.1 yards per catch. Green has seam-stretching ability — he was timed at 4.52 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine two years ago — and he could earn a much bigger role the San Diego offense this season. If he continues to develop, he’ll be a worthy heir apparent to future Hall of Famer Antonio Gates, who continues to be Rivers’ security blanket.

Consider the matchup problems the Chargers can cause in the passing game. On the outside, teams have to deal with standout second-year receiver Keenan Allen and 6-foot-5 big-play threat Malcom Floyd. Meanwhile, the speedy Green and physical, savvy Gates are tough covers in the middle of the field. And all three of the Chargers’ primary tailbacks (Danny Woodhead, Ryan Mathews, Donald Brown) can catch the ball out of the backfield, with Woodhead especially strong in this area.

2. Will the Chargers again win the third-down battle?

The Chargers were materially better on third downs than the opposition a season ago. On offense, San Diego converted a league-high 49.0 percent on third down (101-of-206) — about 11 percent higher than the league average. The Chargers’ defense, meanwhile, was slightly below average on third downs, holding opponents to an 38.9 percent conversion rate (70-of-180). Now just think: if only the Chargers’ defense can get a little better getting third-down stops.

3. What kind of impact will cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Jason Verrett have on the Chargers’ defense?

A good starter for Kansas City for several seasons, Flowers comes to San Diego with something to prove. Despite being named to the Pro Bowl a season ago, the Chiefs parted ways with the 28-year-old corner in June. In a league where teams routinely play five or more defensive backs, Flowers’ departure was an eye-opener.

Still, Flowers’ quickness, experience and ball skills should give the San Diego secondary a big lift. Verrett, the club’s first-round pick, will also get a chance to help right off the bat.

The Chargers made the postseason in 2013 despite surrendering the second-most passing yards per play and allowing opponents to complete 66.4 percent of their throws. If San Diego makes it tougher on opposing passing games, it will bolster the club’s chances of a return trip to the postseason.

4. Can quarterback Philip Rivers build on his 2013 success?

In a new offense playing behind an improved offensive line, Rivers came alive in 2013, throwing for 4,478 and 32 TDs and completing 69.5 percent of his throws. Rivers has a special feel for the passing game, and his arm strength is more than adequate. He has a deep pass catching corps, and he’s always been willing to spread the ball around. In his second season in coach Mike McCoy’s offense, it’s quite possible Rivers will be as efficient in 2014.

5. Can the Chargers get on a roll early?

After grabbing the AFC’s last playoff spot on the season’s final day in 2013, perhaps the Chargers can make life easier on themselves this December.

A 6-3 record entering the Week 10 bye is a reasonable goal for San Diego. The Chargers draw the Bills (Sept. 21), Raiders (Oct. 12) and Dolphins (Nov. 2) on the road in the first nine weeks, with home contests against the Jaguars (Sept. 28), Jets (Oct. 5) and Chiefs (Oct. 19). The Chargers’ best game could be too much for all of those clubs to handle.

While matchups against Seattle (Sept. 14) and at Denver (Oct. 23) loom as tall orders, San Diego proved a season ago that it could compete against top competition.

13 responses to “Five questions: San Diego Chargers

  1. A lot of it comes down to the CBs. Last year was the worst corner play for the Bolts in probably 25 years. If they can cover, and Freeney, Ingram, and Liuget can stay healthy and Attaochu can develop over the year, they should generate pressure up front.

    Gotta think the offense will be better with Whiz moving on. He made so many weird calls which stalled the offense in crucial situations last year.

    Figure on 11-5 with no significant injuries.

  2. Do they still have the Notre Dame kid with the imaginary girlfriend? That dude has done nothing notable. Well. Except for the imaginary girlfriend.

  3. .
    A typical Charger 6 game stretch :

    Beat Seattle, New England and Denver on the road, Lost to Jacksonville, Tampa and Buffalo at home.

  4. I hope someone at PFT will write a post about Aikman’s in-game commentary that San Diego “better be careful” with the Spanos family in their stadium saga. It came off as very short-sighted when you take a moment to consider the enormous taxpayer burden of these billion-dollar new stadiums. The comments were very uncharacteristic of Aikman, who I find normally very measured and fair. If the people of San Diego don’t approve financing for a new stadium, it is their choice to avoid the financial burden, and they shouldn’t be scolded by an independently wealthy ex-player who works for the league and thus has a severe conflict of interest in the matter.

  5. You haters can make all the Manti Te’o cracks, all the “empty trophy case” taunts (which isn’t exactly accurate because even though we haven’t won a Super Bowl, we do have an AFC Championship [1994] and an AFL Championship to our name), you can bring up “Sh”Eli and “his significant victories” until the cows come home.

    It doesn’t change the fact that Manti Te’o played 15 games (13 regular, 2 postseason) in the NFL with a fractured bone in his foot and still led the Chargers defense in TFL.

    It doesn’t change the fact that Rivers has taken the Chargers to the playoffs more than any QB in the history of the Chargers franchise and the closest he has ever come to a Super Bowl was the AFC Championship loss to the Patriots, where played on a torn ACL and MCL.

    It doesn’t change the fact that Eli and his two rings are 0-3 against Rivers’ Chargers.

    All fact-checking aside, as long as Rivers and the offense around him play smart, competitive and decisive football for 16 games and there are strides on the defensive side of the ball on a consistent level, they will be in good shape this year.

  6. Question #5 – Can the Chokers get on a roll early? Week six is a guaranteed loss.
    Raiders haven’t had a winning season in a decade. THAT’S 10 YEARS!! Eight games is the most your team has won in the last 10 years. Do you get how pathetic that is? Work on that before you comment on the Chargers. Too funny.

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