07 Nov 2007
No, this is not a link to some wacko writer trying to drum up controversy to fuel talk radio. This is a long-form extra point where I argue that laying the blame for the Chargers struggles solely at the feet of Norv Turner is unfair.
I think I can safely say that nobody on the staff here at Football Outsiders thinks that Norv Turner was a good choice to be the head coach of the Chargers. Still, the Chargers' struggles this season are too easily being explained solely based on the change in head coaches. The simple truth is that teams that win 14 games, as the Chargers did last year, are likely to regress the next season no matter who is coach.
Last year, three teams won at least 13 games: San Diego, Baltimore, and Chicago. Two kept their head coach. This year, the three teams are a combined 11-13, and not one has a winning record. They rank 13th, 20th, and 27th respectively in DVOA. Norv's team, by the way, ranks the highest.
Between 1996 and 2005, nine teams won 14 games. The next season, they averaged nine wins per team. Only three teams won more than 10 games (2003 Patriots, 2005 Steelers, and 2006 Colts). The Chargers were far from assured of continued dominance had Schottenheimer remained.
Furthermore, the Chargers have hardly been a consistent juggernaut under Marty. Just two years ago, they were 9-7. In Marty's five years in San Diego, they only made the playoffs two times.
The Chargers played the third easiest schedule of opposing teams last season. Counting the playoffs, they were 0-2 against the only two teams they played who finished the season in the top 10 in DVOA. This year, they are 0-3 against teams currently in the top 10 in DVOA. They are 4-1 against non top-10 teams with all their wins coming by double digits. This is clearly a team capable of pounding inferior opponents.
Also, the Chargers were clearly showing some downward trends at the end of last season, at least in their passing game. In the season's final six games, Rivers completed less than 50 percent of his passes three times including woeful performances against Kansas City and Seattle. Through 10 games, he had 15 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. The final six games, he had 7 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Norv Turner's job is to fix that, but it seems far from certain that Rivers would be lighting up opposing defenses if Schottenheimer was still coach, particularly with two new starting receivers.
Obviously, I've cherry-picked stats to some extent numbers to help state my case. Furthermore, I think firing Marty was a dumb decision and hiring Turner was even worse. Still, the Chargers were due to come back to earth this season for a number of reasons. To lay all the blame on coaching changes is way too simplistic. They may limp into the playoffs with a 9-7 record, but were Marty still their coach, I'd be shocked if they were better than 11-5 and would bet that they would finish 10-6.
45 comments, Last at 08 Nov 2007, 10:54am by Pete
Possibly the closest Super Bowl matchup in history also poses the question: how much does it mean when certain aspects of an NFL team improve dramatically in the second half of the season?