I'm going to be breaking down the Chargers 2014 schedule, piece by piece. I'll be giving some insight into the opponents using stats from Football Outsiders and ProFootballFocus as well as general NFL knowledge that Chargers fans might not be familiar with. This is part 1 and will be addressing the first quarter of our season.
For reference, here are the Chargers 2013 rankings according to FootballOutsiders:
- #31 pass defense,#31 rush defense, #32 overall
- #2 pass offense, #12 rush offense, #2 overall
Week 1: SEP 8 7:20PM AT CARDINALS (MNF)
- #5 pass defense, #1 run defense, #2 overall
- #15 pass offense, #25 rush offense, #20 overall
The Cardinals are an extremely talented team that narrowly missed the playoffs last year while finishing 10-6. They were the only team in the last two seasons to beat the Seahawks in Seattle and it wasn’t a fluke. This team is stacked on both offense and defense and their defense played up to the level they’re capable of last year on their way to a #2 team defense finish. The offense underachieved last year but with their #1 draft pick from last year, Johnathon Cooper, coming back from a season long injury (that he ironically suffered against the Chargers last preseason) and an improved Andre Ellington carrying the ball, they have high hopes as well.
While this defense was absolutely dominant last year, there are some changes to it. For one, their jack-of-all-trades safety Tyrann Mathieu, is recovering from offseason surgery and isn't expected to be ready for week 1. Perhaps more importantly though, their two stalwart inside linebackers from last year, Karlos Dansby (signed with CLE in free agency) and Daryl Washington (suspended for the year for substance abuse), wont be on the field. This leaves last years second round pick Kevin Minter, who played a single snap last year, and 11 year NFL veteran Larry Foote as the incumbents, neither of which can compare to the Dansby or Washington. Expect our pair of mismatch nightmare tight ends in Antonio Gates and Ladarius Green to feast on these LBs.
- Matchup that worries me: Cardinals DBs vs our WRs
While our tight ends should have fun against the depleted ILBs of the Cardinals, the Chargers’ receivers won't have as much breathing room in this matchup. Arizona already featured one of the top game’s top corners in Patrick Peterson and this offseason have added former Charger Antonio Cromartie to shore up the CB2 spot. They also drafted hard hitting safety Deone"The Louisville Slugger" Buchanon in the first round of this year’s draft. With Peterson, who was the third least targeted cornerback in the league last year following Keenan Allen across the field and the larger Antionio Cromartie blanketing Malcolm Floyd, this game seems like a tough way for the Chargers WRs to start 2014.
Week 2 SEP 14 1:05PM VS SEAHAWKS
- #1 pass defense, #7 rush defense, #1 overall
- #8 pass offense, #7 rush offense, #7 overall
After playing the #2 defense from last year in week 1, the Chargers welcome the Superbowl Champion Seahawks and their #1 defense to town in week 2 for the 2014 home opener. As you can see, they boasted the league’s #1 defense last year and honestly, it wasn't even close. With the best cornerback (Richard Sherman) and two of the best safeties (Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor) in the league as well as an underrated CB2 (Byron Maxwell), the Legion of Boom sets the standard for defensive backfields in the NFL. Along with the DBs, the Seahawks have athletic and smart linebackers in KJ Wright, Bobby Wagner, and Superbowl MVP Malcom Smith. Their offense was also a big factor in their success last season and should be even more effective this year with a healthy Percy Harvin and all pro LT Russel Okung back from a season long IR stint. This team is young but experienced, fast but big, and smart but agressive. The Chargers will be challenged early and often throughout this game.
Red Bryant was one of the anchors of the Seahwaks defensive line in 2013 and now he has a Jaguar on the side of his helmet. Chris Clemons also joined Bryant in JAX and while not much of a factor in run defense, he did provide much needed relief to Micheal Bennet and Bruce Irvin at DE to keep them fresh on early downs. Also, in all three of the Seahawks losses last year (SF, IND, ARI), they were beat in the trenches. Their D line, while above average against the run, is built to get after the quarterback. That wears out the players late in the game so if the Chargers can build some long, power running drives with Ryan Mathews and Donald Brown in this game and keep it close, there might be opportunities for the offense to capitalize at the end of the game.
- Matchup that worries me: Russel Wilson vs John Pagano
To be honest, there are quite a few in this game. Percy Harvin vs Shareece Wright is scary knowing Shareece’s struggles against speedy recievers but I think the one matchup that worries me the most in this game is Russel Wilson vs our defense. Last year, accroding to PFF, Wilson finished as the #1 QB against blitzes and the #3 against pressure. He also managed to get himself the most average time to throw at 3.05 seconds. Yes, our pass rush should be improved this year and our DBs seem to be trending up too but his scrambling around and buying time approach to playing quarterback is always a huge issue for this defense as Micheal Vick, Jake Locker, and Terrelle Pryor proved last year. Russel is a much better player than those three and has better weapons. Pagano must come prepared for this matchup.
Week 3 SEP 21 10:00AM AT BILLS
- #2 pass defense, #19 rush defense, #4 overall
- #27 pass offense, #17 rush offense, #25 overall
Trailing only Seattle in terms of pass defense, this Bills defensive unit is no joke. They have playmakers on all three levels of defense and boast an exceptionally strong front seven in terms of pass rush and coverage. Adding Brandon Spikes to that mix with Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, and the criminally underrated (no pun intended) Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams just fortifies it even more and this defense alone can carry this team and make it competitve. On offense, they get last years rookie QB EJ Manuel back for hopefully a full season and added explosive reviever Sammy Watkins to an already potent offesnive attack with CJ Spiller, Fred Jackson, and Robert Woods. Although they finished third in the AFC East last year, this Bills team should not be taken lightly.
- Matchup I like: Our OLBs vs Bills RT
After stealing away Coach D from Buffalo to be our offensive line coach, there was a marked improvement in our Oline’s success. Inversely, Buffalo’s offensive line took quite a step back. After finishing 7th and 10th in the league in rushing and passing, repectively, in 2012 according to Football Outsiders, those ranks dropped to 16th and 29th in 2013. This year, they drafted Alabama’s Cyrus Kuandjo to try to shore up their line and he is projected to start at RT. This game should be where our new and improved pass rush will get a chance to get after the quarterback and welcome the heavy footed rookie to the NFL.
- Matchup that worries me: Bills front 7 vs our line
In the last 3 years, outside of JJ Watt, no D Lineman in the NFL has been more consistently dominant than Kyle Willams. He’s great against the run and just as explosive against the pass. Combine his talent with Dareus and former #1 overall pick Mario Williams and you get an extremely productive group. They were the third ranked defensive line in the league last year according to Football Outsiders and finished second in the NFL with 57 sacks. Mario Williams’ edge rushing skills against DJ Fluker is enough to worry me but add in the rest of that dominant line and Brandon Spikes coming in through the middle and you get a pass rush that scares me. It is worth mentioning that Philip Rivers finished 2nd in the league last year throwing against pressure (per PFF) but its still a concern with the playmakers they have in coverage.
Week 4 SEP 28 1:05PM VS JAGUARS
- #26 pass defense, #24 rush defense, #28 overall
- #32 pass offense, #31 rush offense, #32 overall
This Jaguars team, by the numbers, doesn't seem very impressive at all. They’re a really raw, young team but are much impoved over the team the Chargers thoroughly dispatched last year (24-6, week 7). They drafted QB Blake Bortles #3 overall this year but its doubtful he’ll see the field this season, especially this early. They also drafted two recievers in the second round who can make plays and round out that wr corps with incumbent Cecil Shorts. While some of it was in garbage time, Chad Henne and these receivers did throw for over 300 yards against our secondary last year. As well as shoring up the weapons on offense, the former Seattle defensive coordinator and current Jaguars head coach Gus Bradley poached Chris Clemons and Red Bryant from the world champs and instantly added some ferocity to his defense. Paul Poslunzny anchors the defense and is an extremely smart player thats always putting his teammates in positon to make plays. These Jags are still a few years away from being a real threat but the Chargers seem to take games off against lesser teams so this matchup is not one to take lightly.
The Jaguars play CB by side of the field instead of moving guys around and Dwayne Gratz is the starter on the left, Hes a young corner and it shows; he had a really inconsistent rookie year last year and especially struggled vs bigger receivers. Against the Cardinals’ combo of 6’2" Larry Fitzgerald and 6’3" Micheal Floyd, Gratz gave up 98 yards in four catches for a -2.0 coverage grade in just 38 snaps (per PFF). Allen, at 6’2", and Floyd, at 6’5", should be able to take advantage of the young corner and Philip Rivers should have no problem getting them the ball, as the JAX game last year was one his best, accuracy wise.
- Matchup that worries me: Jags D line vs our O line
Red Bryant, Sen’Derrick Marks, and Chris Clemons are all above average D lineman. Clemons is an excellent edge rusher and both Marks and Bryant can cause havoc in the backfield after blowing through the interior linemen. Our guard spots are both questionable with only Rinehart a guaranteed starter and barely an average one at that/ Hardwick, while still the anchor of this line, did struggle in run blocking against bigger tackles last year. I don't expect Ryan Mathews to run through this D with ease like he did last year.
This is my first article so any feedback or constructive criticism is welcomed and please let me know if anything I stated is incorrect. I’ll try to post part 2 next week.