Although their season ended recently in the Mile High City with a 24-17 loss to the eventual AFC Champion Denver Broncos, the San Diego Chargers can look back at their 2013-14 campaign with much satisfaction.
Coming into the season, a .500 season would have been optimistic chatter for many Charger fans, this given a new head coach, new general manager, not to mention a number of new players at different positions. As it turns out, the Chargers were able to not only hit the .500 mark, but exceed it. In doing so, they found their way into the AFC playoffs for the first time in four years.
With that in mind, what can the Bolts and their loyal fans expect in the 2014 season? More importantly, what are some needs for this team as it looks towards training camp this summer?
Among the items to address:
1. Defense - Although the Bolts have a Pro-Bowl talent in Eric Weddle (88 solo tackles), while linebacker Donald Butler (71 solo tackles) turned in a solid season, there is still work to be done on the defensive side of the ball. The Chargers finished the regular season with the 23rd best defense in the league, allowing 21.8 points per game and 366.5 yards per game. In order to compete for the AFC title and/or the AFC West crown, those numbers need to improve next season. San Diego has not had a dominant pass rusher since the days of Shawne Merriman and the late Junior Seau. Another concern still remains a secondary that Peyton Manning and others certainly do not seem afraid to test;
2. Offense - The Chargers certainly have some offensive weapons to test defenses around the NFL. San Diego finished the regular season with the fifth-best offense in the league, scoring 24.8 ppg. while averaging 393.3 ypg. QB Philip Rivers was reborn under departed offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt (now head coach of the Titans), finishing with 4,478 yards passing, 32, TD's, and only 11 interceptions. Rivers' QB passer rating was second in the AFC only behind Manning. Rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen was another highlight this past season, finishing with 71 receptions for 1,046 yards, including eight touchdowns. Lastly, much maligned running back Ryan Mathews ended his regular season with a career-high 1,255 yards (285 carries) on the ground (second highest in AFC behind Kansas City's Jamaal Charles). All of these numbers were even more impressive given San Diego's offensive line was banged up at numerous stretches during the season. With questions as to whether or not star center Nick Hardwick will return 100 percent or if at all (suffered concussion late in the season), not to mention an aging Antonio Gates and no dominant rusher behind Mathews, the Chargers can't just stand pat. Worst of all, there is no solid emergency plan in place should Rivers ever go down for a sizable length of time. It certainly could not hurt the Chargers to be thinking of the future and looking to see what quarterbacks are out there in the NFL Draft or through trades/free agency to back up the 10-year vet.
The kicking game appears to be rather solid with Nick Novak (made 34-of-37 field goals, 42-of-42 extra points) and Mike Scifries (56 punts, 43.2 average) likely to return.
In the end, the direction this team appears to be going in allows it to likely compete for the AFC West and beyond, albeit needing to add some parts here and there.
Given the taste of the playoffs this season, both Charger fans and players/management will certainly expect to take another step forward in 2014.