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?
28 Mar 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that there are 12 "starters" for each unit rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
After six fairly successful years, Norv Turner’s act in San Diego finally ran its course. Fair or unfair, there had always been questions about the efficacy of Turner’s motivational skills. But what couldn’t be questioned was the efficacy of Turner’s scheme –- until last season. New head coach Mike McCoy inherits all the problems that propagated Turner’s 2012 downfall. The offensive line is weak and in limbo. The run game lacks sustainability. The receiving corps is not as dangerous as it used to be. The question is whether the Chargers have a quarterback good enough to compensate for these things.
QB: Philip Rivers, Charlie Whitehurst
RB: Ryan Mathews, Ronnie Brown, Danny Woodhead, Le'Ron McClain (FB); Lost: Jackie Battle
Rivers is as good as any quarterback in the league when it comes to diagnosing blitzes before the snap. However, when he diagnoses an aggressive blitz, he tends to panic. That was painfully apparent last season when he got stuck behind an untrustworthy offensive line. His mechanics, downfield accuracy and decision-making all suffered. (Especially on throws with pocket movement or plays that left him outside the numbers.) Consequently, he was more turnover-prone. These issues must be rectified if Rivers is to regain his star form.
Mathews is a fluid, agile runner who shows inconsistent toughness and durability. More problematic are his continued mental problems in pass protection. Those will likely land him behind Brown, or even the smaller-but-shiftier Woodhead, in most three-receiver sets or on passing downs. That’s not what you want with a runner who is better suited to operate out of single-back sets.
WR: Malcom Floyd, Danario Alexander, Vincent Brown, Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem
TE: Antonio Gates, John Phillips, Ladarius Green; Lost: Randy McMichael
Floyd is an adequate No. 1 who gets off the line extremely well for his size. He poses matchup problems downfield. Surprisingly, Alexander became Rivers’ favorite target last season after joining the team at midseason. If he can stay healthy, he’s a good No. 2. The big question is: what can the Chargers get from Brown? He’s shown flashes but is still largely unknown after missing most of last season with an ankle injury. As long as he’s healthy (which he should be), he can give San Diego some of the underneath movement skills that Royal hasn’t provided, as well as some of the field-stretching dimension that the disappointing Meachem was supposed to offer. At tight end, Gates isn’t what he once was, but he’s still the guy most defenses build their game plans around.
LT: Mike Harris LG: Chad Rinehart C: Nick Hardwick RG: Johnnie Troutman RT: King Dunlap
Backups: Kevin Haslam, Rich Ohrnberger; Lost: Louis Vasquez, Tyronne Greene, Rex Hadnot, Jeromey Clary, Jared Gaither
Jared Gaither recently got cut, which wasn't surprising. He burned bridges last year with the way he handled his injury. Harris is not even close to the answer in that spot. He's too limited in pass protection and not particularly athletic. Troutman is young and untested. Hardwick is smart and serviceable, but must be surrounded by good players. Rinehart, while respectable in the run game, doesn’t quite qualify as a starter. He’s better as a utility backup. Dunlap, at 6-foot-10, struggles to play with proper leverage and mechanics. His predecessor, Jeromey Clary, was never great, but at least coaches knew what they’d get with him. Though he's still on the roster, he's a likely cap casualty sometime in the next few weeks.
In defensive coordinator John Pagano’s perfect world, his men would line up and play some variation of a single-high base scheme on first and second down with a variety of coverages based on the opponent. On third down, he’d dip into his deep bag of blitzes. Pagano wasn’t able to play this way in 2012. That was due in small part to an underachieving pass rush and in large part to the struggles of cornerbacks Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer. It’s too bad –- aside from the weakness on the outside, San Diego had a very solid defense. New bosses Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco recognized this, which is why they chose to retain Pagano and his mixed 3-4.
DE: Corey Liuget, Kendall Reyes, Logan Harrell, Damik Scaife; Lost: Vaughn Martin
DT: Cam Thomas; Lost: Aubrayo Franklin, Antonio Garay
Liuget was quietly disruptive throughout 2012 and should emerge as a Pro Bowl caliber five-technique in 2013. Reyes, a second-round pick a year ago, has an equally bright future. He uses his hands extremely well; the key for him is making more of a down-to-down impact, which should happen as he builds experience. Depth on the outside is a major concern. Inside, it’s nonexistent. Thomas is a solid clogger, but he needs to stay fresh by being part of a rotation.
OLB: Melvin Ingram, Jarrett Johnson, Larry English; Lost: Shaun Phillips, Antwan Barnes
ILB: Donald Butler, Jonas Mouton, Andrew Gakchar; Lost: Demorrio Williams, Takeo Spikes
Phillips is a tough loss, but Ingram is on track to be the headlining front seven attacker that former general manager A.J. Smith envisioned when he drafted him in the first round last year. It’s just a matter of time until his numbers reflect his terrific multidimensional athleticism. Johnson isn’t a dynamic pass-rusher, but he’s as staunch an edge-setter as there is in the NFL. The Chargers need to back him up with a speedster who is more durable and imaginative than the disappointing English. Inside, Mouton looked good in very limited action last season. The past few years Butler, when healthy, has shown Pro Bowl-caliber agility and instincts.
CB: Marcus Gilchrist, Derek Cox, Shareece Wright, Johnny Patrick; Lost: Antoine Cason, Quentin Jammer
S: Eric Weddle, Brandon Taylor, Darrell Stuckey; Lost: Corey Lynch, Atari Bigby
Gilchrist and Wright are both young and, hopefully, on the rise. But neither is a sure thing. What is sure –- or close to sure –- is that Gilchrist is best served in the slot. Which means the Chargers need at least one more outside corner to shore up their sub-packages. And that’s only if Wright and Cox –- one of the more inconsistent players you’ll ever see –- can produce. Weddle has blossomed into a top-tier safety since getting a top-tier safety contract in 2011. He’s smart and versatile. His ability to play in space allows whoever is at strong safety to play more aggressively in the box.
K: Nick Novak, P: Mike Scifres
Scifres is still known for his tremendous playoff performance against the Colts ... but that was five years ago. Novak is known for once having taken a leak on the sideline.
26 comments, Last at 11 Apr 2013, 10:12am by Mr Shush