True, the San Diego Chargers missed the NFL playoffs for the first time in the last five years, but was the season really that bad? A 9-7 record isn’t the worst thing in the world and there were a lot of positives with the team last season. With a bit of fine tuning and some luck they could easily turn things around in 2011.
They helped themselves out in the draft by taking defensive lineman Corey Liuget out of Illinois with the 18th pick overall. Liuget’s good enough to put some pressure on the team’s current defensive tackles and could end up making the team as a starter. The former Illini star could also help stopping the run and provide a pass rush; freeing up the Chargers’ outside linebackers.
Liuget was a bit of a surprise to some fans as a lot of experts figured the team would go for a linebacker such as UCLA’s Akeem Ayers or they would convert Cameron Jordan to an upright pass rusher from a down lineman. But the addition of Liuget fills in a defensive hole which hurt them last season.
When looking at the stats, which many people say are for losers, last year’s Chargers looked pretty good. They led the league in yards per game and had the best defense in yards per game. They were also tops in pass defense and number two in the league with 47 sacks.
The special teams struggled a little though, as the team saw five of their kicks blocked and they gave up four returns that ended up in touchdowns. The Chargers on the other hand didn’t have any returns and blocks all season. In addition, their opposition scored on every single field goal attempt against them. Steve Crosby, the club’s special teams coach, paid the price for that as he was let go two days after the season ended.
The Chargers’ opponents had more total yards than them in only five games and they lost three of them. But in their first five losses of the season they turned the ball over 14 times. San Diego’s opponents also had more rushing yards in six of their seven losses and this was another sore point on the season, especially at home against Oakland when they only rushed for 21 yards against the Raiders 251.
Next season, the Chargers have nine games scheduled against teams with 1,000-yard running backs, as well as the New York Jets, (number four in rushing). In fact, half of their games are against last year’s top-10 rushing teams.
Jacques Cesaire and Luis Castillo started at defensive tackle for San Diego last season, but Cesaire and Travis Johnson are set to become free agents once the lockout has ended. This means Liuget might be able to step in right away if either of them decide to leave.
As far as linebackers go, starters Kevin Burnett, Antwan Applewhite, and Stephen Cooper are also going to be free agents along with James Holt, Brandon Siler, and Antwan Barnes. They don’t look too bad on the outside with Pro Bowler Shaun Phillips along with Larry English and Jyles Tucker. However, they need an experienced inside linebacker.
The University of Michigan’s Jonas Mouton was drafted and he led his team in tackles for loss and tackles while playing in the Wolverines 4-3 defense. But in all likliehood, Liuget will be the only draftee who could start for San Diego this season while the others will be depended on to improve the special teams unit. If they can do that, look for the Chargers to improve on last season and be back in the playoffs this year.Follow paulmbanks