San Diego Chargers: The Philip Rivers Show

If you have ever tried to get a sofa up a staircase or tried to fit your own kitchen (please, for the sake of your sanity don’t!!) you will understand, in a very meaningful way, how difficult it is to get large objects into or through tight spaces. Unless, that is, you played the 2015 San Diego Chargers. The Chargers last year seemed very adept at allowing a multitude of very large violent men through both their offensive and defensive lines with relative ease. Moses parted the sea, but everyone parted the Chargers.

Joking aside, that pretty much sums up the Chargers’ issues last year. In fact it’s a miracle that Philip Rivers finished the season at all. With the relentless punishment he seemed to take week in, week out, I assumed it was a matter of time before he ended up seriously hurt.

Of course the loss of Keenan Allen just before the halfway point was a massive body blow to the offense, but warning signals were ringing loud and clear long before that. Add to all that a glaring lack of depth at Receiver and a slow start from Antonio Gates and you end up with RB Danny Woodhead leading the team in catches and yards and leading the NFL in yards after catch, an achievement that deserves more recognition than it received last year.

Rookie first round RB Melvin Gordon seemed also to struggle mightily in all the phases of his game – a problem that is partially down to injuries plaguing the line, but also in equal measure about his struggles to adapt to the speed and physicality of the pro game. In fact the whole RB committee combined to average a miserable 84.9 yards per game at 3.5 yards a carry. It’s my feeling that Philip Rivers deserved the MVP award just for staying alive, let alone carrying that whole damn roster all year.

Grease Lightning

The Chargers free agency was the least interesting thing I have ever experienced (I have sat through all 3 series of Call the Midwife – for love, obviously, and even that was more interesting ). So imagine my surprise when instead of picking any of the other (more suitable) top 6 or 7 picks, they go ahead and select pass rusher Joey Bosa at 3rd Overall. I think the entire universe stopped and scratched their head at that one, especially when run stuffing or the secondary would have been far more logical (more on Bosa in a mo….).

Tight End Hunter Henry was, by contrast, a great value pick and one that I applauded. He gives them a balanced young Tight End who makes them retirement-proof. I also initially applauded the drafting of help at Center, and LB.

However, a closer look at that draft betrays some potential oversights in scouting, for example, selecting a Center who struggled vs. 3-4 defenses in College going to a division that has 3 elite 3-4 defenses in it. But post-draft the pick up of Zach Mettenberger gave me some confidence that it wasn’t all bad and at least they would have a stud pass rusher in there to mix it up a bit….until Bosa’s agent saw the contract that is….

Bolt from the blue

Just a quick (not really) bit of comment on Joey Bosa. For all the rhetoric and vitriol spewed in his direction (I include myself here), I also think that we need to take a look at why Bosa is holding out. The Bosa camp argue that all they want is a contract that is equivalent to the one Bosa would have got had he been picked 3rd by any other team in the NFL.

The Chargers argument is that since the CBA in 2012 they have given top 5 picks a specific type of rookie contract that differs (it’s crappier) from the other 31 teams in the League and that Bosa is getting the same contract every other Chargers 3rd pick would get. In fact team Bosa have even attempted to meet halfway with a proposal that would give San Diego an opportunity to screw Bosa over a little less (but still cheat him enough to save a bit of face).

Mrs Bosa (Joey’s mum) waded in saying “We should’ve done an Eli” and orchestrated a trade away from the Chargers pre-draft. Nice one Mrs Bosa, but not all that helpful. Antonio Gates was equally helpful when quoted as saying Bosa should “Be a man and come to play”. It’s all getting a bit silly.

So from this (admittedly highly simplified) interpretation of events two things are painfully obvious:

One – The Chargers are perfectly willing to stick with their unacceptable offer and risk Bosa not playing this year.

Two – Bosa seems perfectly willing to risk not playing this year.

The bottom line is this. Rightly or wrongly, Bosa has missed out on the most important 2 months of an NFL player’s career. Even if he returned today, he is an entire training camp behind everyone else at a time when a player most needs one. He is woefully underprepared for the start of his NFL career and it could write off his entire season, write off any chance of significant defensive improvement for the team and essentially render that 3rd pick meaningless.

As this saga progresses I become more irritated and more bemused by the Chargers and their clinging to precedent for precedents sake.  Especially when it’s a precedent that appears designed to short-change young talent, that makes them look cheap and nasty in comparison to the rest of the League. It also continues Spanos’ record as owner of having had 17 of his last 28 first round picks miss portions of camp because of contract related holdouts.

Lots of rookies have their signing bonus deferred, but to have more than half deferred until the next fiscal year and the requested offset language from the Chargers makes it look as though they want to squeeze Bosa purely to manage cap room.

Having said that Bosa has no leverage at all here, and I think he and his people could have managed this situation a lot better. Bosa will come back, it’s just a case of how much collateral damage has been done in the locker room. Joey is going to have as hard a road to the NFL as anyone this year and has a lot to prove.

Electric Shock Therapy

The Chargers are in a division that has 3 truly elite pass rushing teams. All of who are capable of winning games purely with Defense. The Chargers have to find a way to deal with that this year on the Offensive line. Also they need a vast improvement on the ground from Gordon and Woodhead so they can control games.

Defensively they need Joey Bosa to hit the ground running. They need to create pressure, and they need to solidify a very leaky run defense too. The impact Bosa has this year will give us an indication of whether the defense can do enough to keep them in games. However when your hopes seem to rest on a Rookie who has missed a significant amount of camp already and is likely to miss at least 2-3 preseason games, this does not bode well. Factor in that in the first pre-season game of this year the Chargers conceded 288 yards rushing vs Tennessee and already even in mid-August my alarm bells are ringing loud and clear.

Offensively the picture is vastly improved however. Travis Benjamin adds speed at the WR2 position (a commodity sorely lacking last year) and Rookie TE Hunter Henry could form an interesting 1-2 with Antonio Gates. Even the offensive line should be improved with key guys returning from injury.

The real pressure is on Melvin Gordon though. His success or failure could be the real difference maker for them, because if they can run the ball effectively then the offense can carry the defense. If they cant then Rivers is going to be hunted like a dog by pass rushers all year long.

Nevertheless, the Chargers still have too many question marks over them to have a realistic shot at playoffs, for me they are a 6-10 or 7-9 team at best. They need to start to improve and build this year so that they can make the most of the very finite time they have left with Philip Rivers next year and beyond because, right now, without him they would be utterly doomed.

My prediction: 6-10