I like Pro Football Reference, a lot. I spend large chunks of my day digging through their ever-expanding stats and ratings, for current seasons and past ones, and often find out something relating to the San Diego Chargers that I can write about on this site. Today is one of those days.
Let's start with the MoV (Margin of Victory) and Point Differential stats, which are essentially the same stat presented in different ways (like total yards and average yards per attempt). The 2011 Chargers have given up 12 more points than they've scored, giving them a point differential of -12 and and MoV of -1.3 (or the result of dividing -12 by 9). The last time the Chargers finished with a negative stat for either of these categories was 2003, when the team finished 4-12 (which eventually landed them Shawne Merriman, Philip Rivers and Nate Kaeding).
Since 2004, the Chargers have never had a point differential lower than +92 nor a MoV lower than 5.8. For the Chargers to get to those figured this season, they'll need to outscore their next 7 opponents by an average of 14.8 points per game. No small task.
So is it the fault of the Chargers' offense or defense that their MoV is in the red? Well, both actually. The 2011 Bolts are currently ranked 13th in offensive points. The last time they were ranked lower than 5th in scoring offense? You guessed it, 2003. The 2011 defense is ranked 26th(!) in points allowed. The last time they were ranked lower than 15th in points allowed? You get the idea (The answer was 2003).
Is it diminishing talent? Is it Antonio Gates' foot? Is it Rivers' decline? Why isn't the team as good as it was when Norv first took over? The equation is a lot simpler than most Charger fans are making it out to be. The team that Norv took over had a Hall of Fame Running Back and an elite QB. Marty's Chargers didn't do much of anything until Rivers was drafted and Drew Brees turned into a future Hall of Famer himself. If this team is going to win with their office, they need elite talent at both RB and QB. Unfortunately, they haven't had that since 2007.
Norv took over in 2007 and took the team to the AFC Championship game against the undefeated Patriots team, and almost won with his elite QB playing on one knee, his Hall of Fame RB sitting on the sidelines and his best defensive player irreparably injured. That's essentially what he was brought here for. "Here's elite talent at multiple positions on both sides of the ball, now win with them!" is probably what A.J. Smith said to him.
Let's assume Philip Rivers is injured and will eventually return to the player that he was. That means you have an elite QB. The QB makes the receivers, so I won't even mention Vincent Jackson or Antonio Gates right now. Especially when El Capitan proved last year that he can throw to anybody. What he needs is a running game or, more precisely, an elite RB to help him on offense and a few elite defenders on the other side of the ball as well.
So how does this team return to glory? Well, it might be time for A.J. to go after free agents. Philip Rivers' peak is now, and Smith can't really afford to miss it (plus, he'll need to prove his worth as a GM quickly). The 2012 draft should be looked at for depth and long-term solutions, but 2012 free agent class should be looked at to fix the 2012 Chargers team (and Smith planned for this by clearing lots of cap space for next season). So, who's out there?
Pass Rushers: Anthony Spencer, Mario Williams
Strong Safeties: LaRon Landry, Tyvon Branch, Michael Griffin
Cornerbacks: Cortland Finnegan, Brent Grimes
Obviously the Chargers have more holes than those three, but getting a group like Landry, Finnegan and Spencer would go a long way towards improving a team that has lost too much talent and now sits as one of the least-talented in the league.