Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Football's Back Already? Let's Talk About It.

So here we are on the eve of another NFL season and coming off a largely successful San Diego Chargers season that was a surprise to many. The preseason has been a sea of ups and downs with performances both titillating and abysmal and culminating with the most San Diegan of recent traditions, a blackout. Tomorrow the Packers and Seahawks kick off the year and three days later the rest of the league gets underway. And then a day later the Chargers play because the NFL has really upped its scheduling game over the last five years. Did I mention that final blackout preseason game came against the same team we play on Monday? That’s just inspired dipshittery right there. Anyway, you all knew that already because it’s a thing I’m not great at shutting up about. Once again, all the local diehards will crowd into bars or fire up the barbeques and enjoy some opening day Sunday football, then we’ll all stay up late watching Monday Night football and thinking how nice it would be to have a couple of cocktails or twelve without having to suffer a miserable hangover the following day at work. God forbid we lose! But we’re not going to lose, and I know this because I really feel like that’s the case and feelings are the foundation of the league.

All in all it feels like it was such a quiet offseason. There was a draft. A couple of signings. Nothing overwhelming on the surface. To the casual observer, it might feel like the team was happy with the status quo, and if you watched our defense, that is not a comforting thought. So let’s talk about that defense.

Moves were made and the draft went heavy on defense early. Brandon Flowers, a pro bowler from a division rival came over and really, that’s got to be better than Derek Cox. Right? He’s a little short. As is Weddle. As is the rookie CB we drafted in the first round whose name looks like it should be easy to pronounce but nobody knows for sure how to say it. That’s a lot of short guys in our secondary, and that can be worrisome. But the pass rush might be pretty solid this year with the return of Freeney and Corey Liuget looking like a beast out there all preseason. If the pass rush is there, it will help our tiny little secondary do their jobs and everything should be fine then. Unless the other teams then decide to run the ball on us, which is always an option in the NFL even if the league would rather teams just throw the ball as much as possible. We are thin in the middle and teams were running all the way through to our secondary like our front seven were just a bunch of broken turnstiles. Manti Te’o, who is a guy I’ve stuck up for in the past, looks so lost out there that it’s hard to believe he’s going to amount to much before drifting off into NFL journeyman status. Injuries are going to force us to plug rookie NT Ryan Carrethers into the line pretty regularly and you kind of just have to hope for the miraculous and wholly unexpected return of Jamal Williams there. Our man Pagano doesn’t resort much to trickery and the aggressiveness he does occasionally show is not particularly well hidden, so it could be another long year for this team on that side of the ball.

As for the offense, the news is better. It’s hard to imagine Philip Rivers regressing much from his outstanding season last year unless that line gets pounded with injuries early on *knocks on wood til my knuckles bleed*. Keenan Allen in his second year will benefit greatly from the return of Malcolm Floyd, who when healthy will draw coverage consistently. Ladarius Green continues to improve and is looking like a worthy heir apparent to Antonio Gates, who himself continues to put up nice numbers even if he is no longer defining the position or jousting with the big young guys owning the  TE slot these days. My biggest concern continues to be Mathews, who I’ll admit looked very good last year after a pretty slow start no one wants to acknowledge. And let’s not forget, the season only ends after 16 games if you don’t make the post season, which the Bolts did, but Mathews didn’t. So there is still the question of health when it comes to our so called “bell cow.” This, of course, is the reason we brought in Donald Brown, who had something of a breakout year with the Colts last season. Brown, in my opinion, may just be the most underrated pick-up in all of football this past off season. As great as Rivers was last year, the offense withered in the postseason when it became one dimensional behind Ronnie Brown and Danny Woodhead. Donald Brown is far more capable of taking over the role of feature back if need be than anyone else who’s been on this squad for a while now. And let’s not forget the Washington game. McCoy can claim until he’s blue in the face that he trusts Ryan Mathews with the ball, but I don’t buy it one bit. Donald Brown has a pretty solid history of ball handling inside the red zone, and I would not be surprised to see Mathews relegated largely to between the 20s running at some point in the season.
As for coaching, a lot has been made of the loss of Whisenhunt and that cannot be denied. But Frank Reich was there last year, and more importantly, so was McCoy. McCoy is an OC by trade, and while Whisenhunt was undoubtedly the architect of the offense last year, I’d be surprised to find that McCoy didn’t have his fingerprints all over it. Isn’t that why he got the job in the first place?

I have a great deal of hope for this team. It’s a good team. Better than last year’s playoff team, if you ask me. The schedule, though. It’s hard to deny the difficulty of that schedule. It starts strong and ends stronger, and to overcome it will be a true test of this program Tom Telesco has put together. But relying on the ease of one’s opponents is not the sort of thing one should necessarily hope for. It may be nice to waltz into the postseason a la New England every year, but to be the best, don’t you have to beat the best, as they say? If this San Diego Chargers team can overcome this schedule-if they can get past Denver and Kansas City in their own division, then who will be more battle tested for the post season?

I’m a homer who lost his way, and after all those years of AJ and Norv it’s nice to say I can finally believe again. Let's keep building. Let's gather some steam and keep up the momentum. I say bring on the NFC West! Bring on Denver! Do your worst! This team will come to play, and I can’t wait. Go Bolts!!!