It wasn't long ago that Philip Rivers was viewed as the most talented quarterback from the 2004 class. He just didn't have the jewelry to prove it. As time has progressed Rivers has been fine, but his performance has mirrored that of the Chargers, mired in mediocrity. The front office has made wholesale changes, prompting questions about whether Rivers could be next.
An offensive-minded coaching staff will give Rivers plenty of schematic support -- but it's hard to tell whether that will be enough with big questions about the talent around him.
Three Steps to Success
1. Rivers needs to be near-perfect
There is a link between the team's successes and struggles and how well Rivers takes care of the football. In years where he's finished with single-digit interceptions, the Chargers have done well. Unless he plays near-perfect football the offense struggles. It's a testament to how important Rivers is and highlights his need for help.
2. Can Dwight Freeney turn back the clock?
Signed as a free agent, Freeney has plenty left in the tank. He'll be asked to be the team's primary pass rusher as the Chargers contend with Melvin Ingram's injury. The was supposed to be the year 2012's first round pick took a step forward, but that plan is now on hold. Freeney is coming off his worst season since 2007 after the Colts transitioned to a 3-4 defense. He's playing in 3-4 again with the Chargers.
3. The secondary needs to be the Chargers' ace in the hole
Issues with the pass rush can be mitigated by the strengths the team has at cornerback and safety. Eric Weddle is the team's best defender, but the big play to acquire Derek Cox could be the difference. He's a ball-hawking defender who can generate turnovers quickly, and punishing the quarterbacks in the division could be the key to making a run at Denver.
Three Feats Toward Failure
1. Where is the run game?
Acquiring Danny Woodhead will give Philip Rivers another weapon, but Ryan Mathews needs to carry the load in 2013. He's admitted the need to take a step forward. The former first-round pick understands the pressure's on him. The Chargers don't have a real safety net at the position.
2. Relying on Danario Alexander is a risk
Last season was Alexander's breakout, but there are concerns about turning him into a primary offensive option. There's no guarantee he can have sustained success, or match the 7 touchdowns he scored in 2012. The team has Keenan Allen waiting in the wings, if needed. Allen, a rookie, is still recovering from injury and shouldn't be pushed. On an offense that relies on Malcom Floyd to be the #1 option, Alexander will need to be more than a traditional #2.
3. The offensive line needs to learn on the job
The Chargers did a great job recognizing their primary weakness, and addressing it quickly -- but when there are three new starters on a line it can be an issue. D.J. Fluker wont get any time to slowly be integrated into the line, and will be as integral as the rest of the starters. Purely from a talent perspective they made an upgrade, but chemistry doesn't happen overnight. That could be a problem.
The Chargers have talent, but lack chemistry. The offense has a lot of new moving parts, and with a new coaching staff it could take time to come together. This team needs to start strong in order to keep in step with the Broncos, and that is difficult for a first-time head coach.
There is a lot of experience on Mike McCoy's staff. It's still a very tenuous position to be in. The clock's ticking for Philip Rivers. Whether or not he'll be in his prime could be the difference between taking that step or not.
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