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The G-L Review: State of the Union Address (Part 1)

It’s been a long and tumultuous season. Here’s my first recap—most of them decently biased opinions on all things Chargers.

NFL: NFLPA Collegiate Bowl Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

I’m glad I didn’t have access to the Internet on Saturday, December 24th. “Why?” you may ask.

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Yeah...that happened. Luckily, I did not have to suffer through that game live.

I finally got to a spot where I could connect to WiFi about four days after the Week 16 tilt. Let’s just say that it was not worth googling the first thing I thought of.

Now, there’s multiple takeaways and repercussions for and from this game. Did it help the tank? Yes, sir. Did McCoy finally get canned? Thankfully, yes. (Side note on that—if John Spanos and Tom Telesco were truly waffling over firing McCoy, it’s kind of scary that it took a loss to the 0-14 Browns to sway the dudes in charge to reach their final decision.)

But even if we do take this level-headed approach—because yes, you can still be a fan of a team by rooting for them to lose—there’s still an incredibly sad underlining here.

The Chargers lost to the Cleveland Browns.

If the team continues on its current downward spiral, pretty soon, Chargers fans are going to start showing up to games like this:

NFL: San Diego Chargers at Cleveland Browns Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

That is, of course, if the team even stays in San Diego. A move to Los Angeles would just mean that there would be no fans in the stadium at all—more on that later.

(AUTHOR'S NOTE: wrote this introduction in early January, though I do feel the general sentiment holds true.)

The Chargers finished the 2016 season 5-11, which means that the team will be picking seventh overall come draft time. This is the first time the Bolts have had consecutive Top Ten draft picks since the 2001 and 2002 season, where the fifth overall pick was used to select Ladanian Tomlinson and Quentin Jammer, respectively. While there is just a slight talent gap between those two guys, it’s pretty clear that NFL teams have a good chance of picking franchise cornerstones when picking this high in the draft. Through just twelve games of work, Joey Bosa seems to have proven that logic correct.

So where does that leave the Chargers after another lost season, as the team gets labeled with the likes of the Jaguars and Browns? Well, one could look at the talent stocked on IR; along with a shiny new head coach, a return to the playoffs is not unimaginable. But the rise of the Raiders, uncertainty regarding the recent move, and the suspect offensive line leave a lot to be desired heading into 2017.

With the roller-coaster ride mercifully coming to a complete stop, here are my complete thoughts on the 2016 San Diego Chargers and the future of the franchise.

On the Move to Los Angeles

Well...that happened.

The obvious thing that’s bringing hordes of sympathetic fans to our glorious website. The thing that went on and on for what felt like an eternity. The thing that revealed the true incompetence of Chargers ownership.

The thing that spawned the shortest-lived logo of all time. Not fact-checked, but it sure feels like it.

I was working on this very article right after season’s end, but unfortunately, I was not able to get it done before s**t hit the fan. Back in that innocent time--about three weeks ago—I wrote something along these lines:

I’m willing to bet money that the Chargers stay in San Diego. With all the positive press trending between the team and America’s Finest City, Los Angeles must be completely out of the question.

The guy with the power to make a decision on the Chargers’ stadium was always Dean Spanos. All the local guys reporting on real progress being made...well, in the end, they got blindsided just like the rest of us.

Yes, a lot of this has been covered already. Even though it’s arguably the biggest and most relevant team news, I’ll save some space by skipping some of the same ideas I addressed here.

But the truth of the matter is that the NFL left Los Angeles twenty years ago for a reason. The city does not love football. They never worshiped the Rams and Raiders the same way in which Wisconsin natives bleed green-and-gold.

I know it’s a popular talking point to say how Kroenke’s return has been a huge flop, but it’s not like he barged into California without historical precedent. We’re quick to forget how just five months ago, the Rams set the record for preseason attendance.

Nevertheless, even with the palace currently being built in Inglewood, there’s not a whole lot of optimism for the Rams continued success in The City of Angels. Sure, whenever they play well, they will draw crowds. But in such a fair-weather city, if the Rams continue to lose in such boring and stale fashion, they’ll be just as much of an afterthought as they were in St. Louis.

Where does this all leave good ‘ole Dean and his bumbling franchise? Well, for starters, he sure has his work cut out for him.

Debate all you want on whether Dean made a smart business decision based on the financials alone. Just take my thoughts for what it’s worth because basic economic principles tell us that inflation—and therefore the economy as a whole—are largely products of consumer expectations. If people have confidence and think we’re doing well, they’ll invest in the economy. In turn, the economy will do well.

The spending of money is based on nothing more than, you guessed it, feeling. Just because a franchise in Los Angeles holds more supposed value due to large swaths of corporate money does not mean it can thrive without adequate fan support.

The only card Dean Spanos has to play is the winning one—literally. Because if his team does not win, the franchise will be swept away and ignored in a city so cruel that it spawned an award-winning musical about broken dreams.

On the Chargers’ Now-Previous Coaching Regime and Subsequent Hirings

NFL: New Orleans Saints at San Diego Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

To me, 2016 was The Year. The roster looked pretty solid all around, with the only real question marks found at the two safety positions. Injuries seemed manageable coming into the regular season as well, with the only casualties being depth guys like Brandon Oliver, Stevie Johnson, and Jeff Cumberland.

The main reason for my optimism, though, was the return of Ken Whisenhunt and his fast-paced, screen-happy offense last seen in 2013. Frank Reich was clearly in over his head as an offensive coordinator, and he failed in establishing a running game two years in a row. I thought Whisenhunt could help Gordon get back on track, which would, in turn, churn out another career year for Philip Rivers.

Well, those playoff aspirations went out the door when Keenan Allen tore his ACL, which I wrote about right after the Chargers’ Week 1 tilt against the Chiefs. My sentiment back in September can pretty much be summed up with this quote:

The Chargers looked absolutely dominant right up until Allen got hurt. Does that mean much of anything? Well, given the fact that people were labeling Carson Wentz as the next Andrew Luck four weeks into the season, I would have to answer the previous question with a resounding No.

It’s easy to lament the coaching staff, chalk up this game as just the premier example of fantastic first-half play followed up by nauseating second halves. I think this proves that the team came into the season mainly dependent on Allen to carry the offense along with Rivers. The fact that the offense never fully recuperated falls on Whisenhunt’s shoulders, sure, but an absence of adjustments just feels like a McCoy staple to me.

NFL: New Orleans Saints at San Diego Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

For everyone calling for Whisenhunt’s head, I say, Relax. While he contributed to the pitfalls of this season, I think many are quick to forget that he was not part of the 4-12 team. There are not many coordinators out there with resumes as impressive as Whisenhunt’s, and I think giving him another season to prove his worth is the smart move, especially after the firing of McCoy.

That being said, I do not support the Spanos family forcing its current assistants onto the next Head Coach.

You cannot expect any coach in his right mind to come to a franchise where he does not even have control over his coaching staff. Well, any decent coach, that is. I’m sure Jeff Fisher and his dog are desperate enough to win any job that they possibly can.

Which gets me to my next point: regardless of if the Spanos clan wanted to keep the offensive staff intact, the bottom line on the defensive side of the ball is that Pagano needed to be shown the door.

It’s easy to say that his defenses are finally accumulating enough talent to become a powerhouse, but the reality is that his best piece of work after five years as a defensive coordinator has not been much better than mediocre.

Football Outsiders, which ranks defenses by Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, or DVOA, had the Bolts as the tenth-best team in the league this past season. Sure, that figure instills confidence in the unit, especially after the rush defense jumped from 31st in 2015 to 15th in 2016. However, not including this year’s ranking, Pagano has led his defenses (counting backward) to finish 25th, 21st, 28th, and 18th.

You can argue with me all you want that Pagano has not had the personnel to warrant top-placed finishes. Nonetheless, is that truly a reason to keep him? In other words, has he really shown something these past five years that say, “Wow, we really need to keep this guy!”

Maybe he has sometimes, albeit in small and inconsistent flashes. But I would make the argument that the pure talent that flowed into Chargers Park this season—Joey Bosa, Casey Hayward, and Jatavis Brown, to name a few—overcame Pagano’s shortcomings to improve the overall unit.

To summarize: Ken Whisenhunt has had two years to make his case for a position at offensive coordinator, and he’s a clear 1-for-2. On the other hand, after five years on the job, John Pagano is maybe 1-for-5, assuming we’re being generous.

SIDE NOTE: The way in which the Chargers notified Pagano of his firing—as in, never actually let him know—is flat-out terrible. The man rebounded in signing on with the Raiders, but in a sequence of botched moves by the Chargers, nothing depicts the ownership as a bunch of bumbling nincompoops more than this “decision”.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Regarding how I wanted the head coaching position to shake out, look no further than Dave Toub.

Now, I cannot claim that I know everything there is to know about every candidate. I do not put as much sleuthing into the coaching search as someone like Garret Sisti, who can describe to you in length where Sean McDermott has coached, along with what street McDermott lives on and what his Social Security number is.

However, I read an unhealthy amount of sports media, and from the endless amount of praise being heaped onto Dave Toub, I thought he should be the guy.

Toub has been coaching in the NFL since before I was born, and his special teams have consistently been among the tops in the league since he became the Special Teams Coordinator for the Bears in 2004. I’ll paraphrase a popular cliche by stating how Special Teams coaches get to work with both offensive and defensive players, which makes them a better candidate for the top job than many people think.

Nevertheless, it seems like the Chargers—and many other teams—did not want to do the unthinkable and hire a Special Teams guy, no matter how successful he was. Or maybe the Chargers were just too impatient for Andy Reid’s inevitable Divisional-Round loss, and wanted to strike while their figurative iron was hot?

Yes, I’m being overly critical of the Chargers. However, the beginning of the Anthony Lynn regime did not go over well with me because it just felt like they needed to even out the news cycle, thus deciding to go with the only guy in shouting distance of the office.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers Kickoff Ceremony Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

If you don’t remember, Lynn’s hiring was announced the same day that Dean Spanos swapped San Diego for Los Angeles. And I don’t want to take anything away from the guy because he does bring some of the gruff, hold-you-accountable qualities not seen since Schottenheimer skipped town. But rumors of not wanting to part with the offensive staff, along with hiring the guy without a ton of experience or real market demand? Not a great way to set up your franchise for the second-biggest market in the country, Dean.

At the current moment, I’m completely neutral on Mr. Lynn. His hiring of Gus Bradley and retaining of Ken Whisenhunt shows his lack of an ego and his multiple appearances in front of the media have been quite refreshing when compared to his predecessor.

When it comes to his experience and pedigree, I do not think that his lack of coordinating history is as troublesome as many seem to believe. After all, he landed an assistant position with the Broncos the season after he retired from playing the running back position in 1999. Since then, he’s served as the running backs coach for five different teams; also, he served as the assistant head coach for Rex Ryan’s Bills before being promoted to offensive coordinator and eventually interim head coach.

But again, I feel like management left something on the table after interviewing with Toub and Patricia. And if that’s the biggest fault I have with Mr. Anthony Lynn, then it means that I’m totally open to seeing what he’s got when his debut season rolls around.

SIDE NOTE: I had a whole subsection about my final thoughts on the Mike McCoy regime in San Diego. However, it was a little too big, so I’ve decided to make it into an entirely separate post.

On the Aging of Philip Rivers

NFL: Pro Bowl Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve seen this story too many times. A very talented quarterback puts up fantastic numbers well into his thirties, and one season, he wakes up and cannot throw a pass further than twenty yards.

Yeah, okay, maybe Brady is still the dream-crushing, robotic assassin-warlock that he’s always been. But as the horrendous sports-blogging cliche goes, Father Time is undefeated. Just ask Peyton Manning and Brett Favre.

Philip Rivers is not there...yet. While he has shown clear signs of aging—both physically and mentally—I still do not think there are ten better quarterbacks in the league, and most teams would be happy to have him charging into battle wearing their colors.

So then, what the hell happened this year? Rivers inexcusably led the league in interceptions. He incontrovertibly had one of the worst seasons of his career, falling right behind his disastrous 2012 campaign. He looked lost some games, like an old man who could not run ten yards downfield if his life depended on it.

In looking back at this season, I see a whole lot more reasons than excuses. Rivers’ right arm has not magically atrophied; when it does, though, every scout and draft pundit that faulted him for his awkward sidearm delivery will come back roaring—you can count on that.

Touchdowns are not a sole measurement of success. For example, Blake Bortles threw 35 touchdowns in 2015, only to follow that up with 23 touchdowns to 16 interceptions.

But Rivers’ mark of 33 touchdowns this season falls just one short of his career record. Along with his fourth straight season passing for over 4,000 yards, #17 has proven that he can still sling it with the best of ‘em.

So let’s start with a major complaint about Rivers: he’s completely immobile. This is undeniably true. I don’t think any Chargers fan who’s watched a sliver of #17 could argue the opposite side.

However, we forget that he’s been an absolute pocket QB for his entire career. It’s just a comparison game; when we see young, mobile quarterbacks succeed, we immediately yearn for our own Marcus Mariota, Cam Newton, or Dak Prescott. In reality, though, how often does College QB X Who Put Up Video Game Numbers really pan out in the NFL? How often do those guys stay healthy?

He’s been playing his game the same way since 2006, and he’s done a pretty solid job. No player is without flaws; in Rivers’ instance, you gotta take the (very, very) good with the bad.

Besides, criticizing Rivers’ inability to extend plays when under immense pressure—an all too familiar sight—is a direct criticism of Tom Telesco. If you’re gonna sign your franchise guy to a huge contract, and you know that the only thing he needs in order to cook is a clean pocket, you better believe conventional wisdom dictates a primary focus on your offensive line.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers-Head Coach Anthony Lynn Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

About that offensive line: take stock in PFF grading all you want, but the last time Rivers had a “mediocre” offensive line was 2013, when the group received the Number 18 spot in the league. If you remember correctly, that campaign ended up with El Capitan taking home the Comeback Player of the Year Award, as well as a solid playoff run.

Since then, the offensive line has ranked 29th (2014), 32nd (2015), and 31st, respectively.

Sure, I’ll entertain the argument that great quarterbacks carry their teams no matter how terrible the offensive line plays. Here’s my rebuttal: what the hell do you think Rivers has done the last three years!?!?

It’s a common refrain that the Chargers would not win a game without #17 commanding the huddle. So, let’s take a completely good-to-average quarterback—say, Andy Dalton. How many games does the Red Rifle win behind that group of big uglies over the last three years? Throwing to Dontrelle Inman, an aging Antonio Gates, and Tyrell Williams? With an inconsistent running game and defense, as well as Mike McCoy at the helm?

Does Dalton post a record better than Rivers’ 18-30? I doubt it. And, in my opinion, most NFL GMs would look back on drafting Andy Dalton as a definite hit, not a miss.

Yes, Rivers tried to play hero ball much too often, and it rarely worked. Nevertheless, I would argue that if he did play it safe this past season, the Bolts would not have been in any of those games in the first place. Besides, harping on his horrific fourth quarter play while absolving Mike McCoy and Ken Whisenhunt of blame is just pure blasphemy.

2016 just felt a whole lot like 2012. Rivers lost his way with a bad team and even worse coaching. Remember last time around, though? McCoy and Wiz were given credit for “fixing” #17 when he had a career year in 2013, as most people left him for dead after the prior season. The same exact thing is happening now, with Anthony Lynn heading the new staff tasked with “fixing” Rivers.

Philip Rivers cannot carry a team to the playoffs all by himself; the only quarterbacks really capable of doing so, in my opinion, both wear #12. However, he’s proven time and time again that with just mediocre complimentary pieces, Mr. Rivers can turn the Chargers’ offense into a juggernaut.

Going into 2017...well, me personally? I’m willing to give Phil the benefit of the doubt.

For another year, at least.

Still to Come:

  • Tom Telesco had a great draft, and yet he’s still in over his head
  • Was Brandon Mebane accurate in claiming the Chargers defense holds as much talent as the Seahawks?
  • Why the Prestige is Christopher Nolan’s Best Film
  • And More!