The San Diego Chargers offense thrived in 2013. After years of Norv Turner’s “Air Coryell” offense, the Chargers turned to Mike McCoy, Ken Whisenhunt and Frank Reich to turn things around. We’ll take a glance at the starting players at each position to determine their over/under for the 2014 season.
QUARTERBACK: Philip Rivers – 2013 stats: 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns, 69.5 completion rate
Will Philip Rivers have over/under 32 touchdowns? Did you hear?! Philip Rivers has been fixed!..I don’t know what is worse: hearing that Rivers could no longer throw a football for an entire offseason, or the fact that the Chargers’ national TV representation is equivalent to that of Blue’s Clues (P.S., Blue’s Clues ended in 2006). All in all, 2013 was a revelation for el Capitan. He threw for over 4,000 yards for the fifth time in his career and led the Chargers back to the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Rivers’ interceptions dropped after throwing a combined 35 in 2011-12 (47 total turnovers), big thanks to a restructured offensive line who allowed just 30 sacks (one year removed from being sacked a second-most 49 times). Not only that, but he led all quarterbacks with a 69.5 completion rate, big thanks to a change of scheme which used a n0-huddle attack involving 3-step drops. In the final seven games, Rivers threw for 1,787 yards and 14 touchdowns against four interceptions (104.9 QB Rating). The Chargers won five out of those seven games, winning four in a row to close out the season. There has only been two other times Rivers surpassed 30 touchdowns, but look for him to carry over his performance into the 2014 season. Plus, I love when Rivers proves experts wrong..
Oh by the way, Dan Hanzus ate his words and picked the Chargers to win week 5. Bolo ties for everyone.
RUNNING BACK: Ryan Mathews – 2013 stats: 285 Attempts, 1255 yards, 6 touchdowns
Will Ryan Mathews have over/under 1,500 yards? Mathews must have been tired of the words “injury-prone” and “bust” hanging over his head. Those were common labels majority of analysts/fans had placed on him before last season. 2013 marked the first year he had played in all 16 games (started 14), amassing a career-high 1,255 yards. He tallied six 100-yard games, second most behind Eagles’ LeSean McCoy (7). Mathews had cracked 1,000 yards his sophomore year, and recorded seven touchdowns his rookie year; so it wasn’t like his potential evaded him. Former Colts running back Donald Brown signed a three-year, $10.4 million contract with the Chargers in free agency, and it still has versatile, change-of-pace back Danny Woodhead locked down for another year (don’t forget about 2014 sixth-rounder Marion Grice, too). In March, Tom Telesco confirmed Mathews would remain as “the bell cow,” stating he will be the No. 1 back and the Brown signing was merely a depth move. The Chargers could form a deadly running back trio, something the team has been missing since the Tomlinson/Turner/Sproles days; but it could be at the cost of limiting attempts for Mathews, who is in the final year of his contract.
WIDE RECEIVER: Keenan Allen – 2013 stats: 71 receptions, 1046 yards, 8 touchdowns
Will Keenan Keenan Allen have over/under 8 touchdowns? 2013 third-round gem Keenan Allen flourished in his rookie year. He moved up the depth chart as injuries started to dismantle what was a strong wide receiver core. Allen began to build a rapport with Rivers, going over 1,000 yards and hauling in eight touchdowns. Allen had two or more catches in every game he played in besides week 3, where he had one catch for -4 yards in a loss to the Titans. Five of Allen’s eight touchdowns came in the final four games as he was easily able to create separation from defenders. Even though cornerbacks now know the name “Keenan Allen,” I don’t expect his production to dip. With Malcom Floyd returning at full health (given he starts as the No. 2 receiver right away), Allen won’t be the only wideout that needs to be accounted for.
In 2013, Allen was targeted 19 times (21.8 percent) in the red zone, second most on the team behind Woodhead. He caught seven passes for 64 yards with six of them going for touchdowns (85.7 percent). As long as the Chargers are consistent in the red zone, Allen should account for more touchdowns as Rivers will continue to look for him in scoring positions.
TIGHT END: Antonio Gates – 2013 stats: 77 receptions, 872, 4 touchdowns
Will Antonio Gates have over/under 77 receptions? The future Hall of Famer is getting up there in age, but that does not diminish his value to the Chargers. You know Gates is still effective when he causes double-teams. Over the last several years, he has been Rivers’ most reliable target and safety cushion. Yes, his touchdowns have decreased from over the years (a significant drop-off in 2013, as he had 10 in 2010, and 14 combined from 2011-12), but he still led the Chargers in receptions in 2013. His 872 yards were also his most since 2009 (1,157). The downside for Gates is up-and-coming tight end Ladarius Green.
Green showed he can be a terror to cover with his 6-foot-6 frame. And don’t forget about his blazing speed, as he was exceptional in gaining yards after the catch (22.1 Y/R). Green ranked No. 1 in DVOA; in other words, he was the No. 1 ranked tight end with the most value per play. Mike McCoy said he regretted not playing him more, which is a tell-tale sign Green is on the rise. Unfortunately for Gates, I truly believe Green will emerge as Rivers’ No. 2 or 3 passing option behind Allen and possibly Floyd.