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Through the Looking Glass: 1993 San Diego Chargers

Natrone Means
Natrone Means

So now that the season's ended, we need something to occupy our time. My thing during the regular season was posting DVOA updates and analysis. I figured, since the database goes back over a decade, why don't we start looking at some historical San Diego teams to see how good (or bad) they really were? We'll start with recently added 1993, the first year available in Football Outsiders' database.

For those of your who read Richard's daily "Serious Business" link wrap-up, you'll have seen what FO said about how the Chargers and AFC West stacked up in the 1993 season. Let's give a brief rundown about the 1993 Chargers and their situation, so we know what was going on.

1993 was Bobby Ross's second year as head coach, where he and the team attempted to follow up on an amazing 1992 year. The Chargers' quarterback situation that year was somewhat unstable. Stan Humphries was the guy, but he only started 10 games and appeared in 12 due to injury. This was also Marion Butts's last year with the Chargers.

So first things first. The Chargers finished 8-8 that year and missed the playoffs. This was good enough for fourth place in the division (ahead of only the Seahawks), behind three other teams that made the playoffs. The Chiefs won the division at 11-5 and were followed up by the Raiders (10-6) and the Broncos (9-7) who made the post-season as wild cards.

Seems like a down year for San Diego, right? In actuality, DVOA tells us that the 1993 Chargers were pretty good. They just had the misfortune to play in a very strong division and lose a ton of close games. The Chargers ranked 4th in overall DVOA and 3rd in weighted DVOA. That's damn good. By comparison, only the Chiefs were better in the AFC West (3rd total, 5th weighted)--the Broncos were #6 and Raiders were #11. The Chargers were #5 on offense and #11 on defense.

Unfortunately, the 1993 Chargers suffered from the same curse as the 2008 Chargers--a bunch of losses by a score or less, only this time 8-8 wasn't good enough to make the playoffs. They lost five games by seven points or less, and three by four points or less. In contrast, the division-winning Chiefs WON five games by a score or less. Sometimes, them's the breaks. The Chiefs went on to lose in the AFC Championship to the Buffalo Bills (who only ranked 12th in total DVOA and a mediocre 18th in weighted) who then proceeded to lose their fourth straight Super Bowl.

In individual achievements, Humphries was less than mediocre that year, ranking 21st in DYAR and 23rd in DVOA for QBs. Given that he missed numerous games, one has to think that injury is what lead to his poor performance in 1993. Marion Butts and Natrone Means each ranked in the top ten of both DYAR and DVOA for running backs, and together lead a rushing attack that was 7th best in the NFL. The highest ranked San Diego wide receiver was Anthony Miller, who came in 17th in DYAR and 32nd in DVOA. No San Diego tight end produced a positive DVOA or DYAR.

What's interesting is despite these numbers, the Chargers still had a great offense that year, coming in at 5th overall, and 3rd in weighted DVOA. Definitely a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps if the indomitable Stan the Man had been healthy the entire year, a couple of those close losses would have turned into wins, and the Chargers could have made another Super Bowl run. 1993 appears to be another year of wasted opportunity by the San Diego Chargers, who were very good but just couldn't catch a break.