Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Catching Lightning In A Bottle

The key for the Chargers in 2011 will be this guy, Vincent Jackson.
   The NFL lockout lasted 132 brutal-days; but personally, I enjoyed the fact that every time I checked my phone today I was bombarded with ESPN alerts about a new recent signing or trade. It actually made me wish for another lockout (but I can wait 10 years). And as a Chargers fan, the day was extra-special.

The "Pre-Free Agency" 2012 Super Bowl Odds pinned the Packers and Patriots as early favorites, both at 7 to 1, following right behind them are my Chargers at 10 to 1 odds. Most online books have taken down these numbers and will repost the updated figures once teams' rosters are more definite. But after just one day of free agency I think San Diego should be the perennial favorites in the NFL, or at least the AFC. New England's RB situation is still murky and the only significant change in there roster is that everyone is one year older.

Last season San Diego had the best overall defense (ranking #1 in defending the pass and #4 against the ground attack); now imagine how dominate they will be after adding inside linebacker Takeo Spikes and veteran safety Bob Sanders. Sanders brings over a lot of honors and achievements, most of which were accumulated during the 2007 season. In 07 he won AP Defensive Player of the Year and earned his second Pro Bowl and All-Pro selections, while capping off the career-year with a Super Bowl ring. But since that season, Sanders has been burdened by injury, only playing 9 games over the last 3 seasons (6 in 2008, 2 in 2009, and 1 last year). If he can return to pre-injury form, it will be tough for teams to throw on the Chargers. Especially since the second half of this duo, Eric Weddle, just inked a brand new $40 million deal ($19 mill guaranteed); keeping him in San Diego for the next 5 seasons. Yes, he now makes more money than Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu combined; but that's how things work in the NFL. Weddle was garnering a lot of interest from the Texans, Jaguars, and Cowboys, which added pressure onto the front office to lock up their secondary. The loss of Cromartie last season was thought to be devastating but Quentin Jammer, and his 10 year-18 interception experience, helped lessen the blow.

Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes are absolute monsters in the 3-4 set, let's just hope Larry English can get rid of that "bust" label and actually start contributing. Teams will have to pick their poison when deciding between pass vs. run but I think they'll minimize their risk and chose the latter. But running against Castillo and Cesaire on the ends is like running into a wall, a bad idea. A lot of their core guys on defense are "old" but the team is in win-now-mode, year after year we have seen the Chargers dominate in the regular season (and the stat book) but seem flustered come playoff time. Philip Rivers is a stud at QB, had a MVP-caliber year in 2010 and is only looking to get better. The most exciting thing is now he has a healthy Antonio Gates and (hopefully) Vincent Jackson for a full season, despite the imminent loss of WR Malcom Floyd, I think this #2 rank passing game will be just fine. Looking for the team to work on their one weakness: the run game, where they rank 15th. The maturation of Ryan Matthews and mixing in of the speedy Darren Sproles should be enough to keep defenses honest and allow Rivers to air it out. When it comes down to it: adding veterans means adding experience, so I'll take the tradeoff and worry about rebuilding after we raise the Lombardi Trophy.

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