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AFC Roundtable: Chargers 2019 recap with Bolts From The Blue

Los Angeles Chargers v New York Jets Photo by Al Pereira/Getty Images

Throughout the offseason, I will be running through a series of Q&As with our fellow SB Nation blogs across the AFC, checking up on the state of affairs for the Jets’ conference rivals.

We continue with a team potentially facing its first quarterback change in over a decade — the Los Angeles Chargers. Michael Peterson of Bolts From The Blue was able to answer a few questions regarding Los Angeles’ 2019 campaign.

1. Philip Rivers had one of his roughest seasons from a numbers standpoint, as his 88.5 passer rating was the worst of his career versus league average. Are the numbers lying, or did the 38-year old Rivers truly begin to show signs of decline? With Rivers hitting unrestricted free agency, what is the future of the quarterback position in L.A.?

Unfortunately for the entire Chargers fan base, the numbers were telling the truth. But i’ll preface this entire point with this: it was not just Rivers’ fault for his major regression, but he certainly was the main proponent in it.

Unlike Drew Brees and Tom Brady, both multiple years his elder, Rivers has done close to nothing in terms of longevity. He hasn’t committed to a program like TB12 or really strived to preserve his body as well as the other “greats”. Throughout this season, I had more than enough flashbacks to Peyton Manning in 2015 when he barely made it through the season before winning Super Bowl 50 over the Carolina Panthers. His arm strength was almost gone at that point but he was still smart enough to know how to adapt and still complete passes when he needed to. Rivers’ arm was noticeably shot and it was obvious he didn’t have the strength to push the ball downfield or hit those out routes to the field on the opposite hash.

Number 17 has also been notorious for playing “hero ball” when he finds himself playing from behind too often. This happened in 2015 and ‘16 when the team went 4-12 and 5-11, respectively. Instead of using timeouts and marching down the field like a normal team, Rivers shrugs those ideas off and would rather throw the ball up into double coverage and shoot for the big play. Even worse, he would normally target Travis Benjamin, who is no taller than 5-foot-10.

As much as I would rather pass on the QBs in this draft not named Joe Burrow, I believe the Chargers are going to go after their future. There’s a small chance that Tua Tagovailoa from Alabama is there at six but chances are it’ll be Justin Herbert from Oregon. I would much rather invest in the offensive line or a blue-chip defensive prospect to help alleviate the pressure off of a new quarterback that will have the weight of the world on his shoulders as they try to replace Rivers. In the end, Tyrod Taylor is more than capable enough as a stop-gap who already has years of experience playing under Anthony Lynn.

2. The Chargers tied an NFL record with nine losses by seven points or less, becoming just the sixth team in history with that many such losses in one season. Consistently coming up short down the stretch had been an issue for the Chargers long before 2019, but what were the main reasons for the team’s struggles to close out games this season?

For starters, I didn’t realize they made history in that aspect. All the blown games have become such a normal occurrence around here that I barely batted an eye. But the Chargers are no strangers to making history in the worst way possible. If you take the script from both 2018 and 2019 and compare them, you’ll see that the only difference between them going 12-4 and 5-11 is that they just found a way to win those close games.

Now, why did they fail to close out so many games in 2019 as opposed to the year prior? I have to point the finger at Philip Rivers once again. In ‘18, he was composed and safe with the football in his hands. It also helped that the team’s worst injury that entire season was tight end Hunter Henry going down in OTAs. Rivers felt comfortable behind a healthy offensive line and had all his weapons apart from one. He knew they could make things happen when they needed. It was just a different world in ‘19. He lost Tyrell Williams, his trusted LT was gone, and his veteran center missed the last 3/4 of the season. There were so many other injuries on the other side of the ball that it just became too much for him and I think he checked out subconsciously well before the season got completely out of hand.

3. Tom Telesco and the Chargers had an unusually conventional approach to the 2019 Draft, using all seven of their own selections without adding or trading away a single pick. Was that strategy received particularly positively or negatively by the fanbase? How would you summarize the class’ performance in 2019?

I think most fans were happy with them maximizing the amount of picks they had and were content with which positions they decided to invest in. However, especially in hindsight, there were a number of players that the Chargers could have picked instead that could have been more of a “plug-and-play” option as opposed to a “project”.

The most egregious pick was probably the selection of left tackle Trey Pipkins out of Division II Sioux Falls while West Virginia’s Yodney Cajuste and Oklahoma’s Bobby Evans were still on the board. The fault of this pick was only amplified by Russell Okung’s injury because it forced Pipkins and a former undrafted tackle to play way more than they ever should have in such a pivotal year for Rivers.

Otherwise, the picks were just fine and exactly what the team needed. The pick of defensive tackle Jerry Tillery was a must as the team is desperate for an interior pass rush. The selection of free safety Nasir Adderley in the second was HUGE because he was originally expected to be a lock for the first round and the Chargers nabbed him at 60. The fourth-round selection of linebacker Drue Tranquill wound-up being the best pick of the draft as they Chargers likely found their next special teams ace and/or their new starting middle linebacker for the foreseeable future. The final three picks of quarterback Easton Stick, linebacker Emeke Egbule, and defensive tackle Cortez Broughton were all good picks for depth purposes. Stick is a proven winner and has the skill-set Lynn likes to have in a quarterback while Egbule and Broughton were both versatile pieces that were needed at thin position groups.

4. Melvin Gordon is set for unrestricted free agency, while Austin Ekeler will hit restricted free agency. How do you see the Chargers handling this position?

I’ll try and make this answer much shorter. The Chargers should let Melvin Gordon walk and sign Ekeler to a fair deal while utilizing Justin Jackson (who is a stud in his own right) and another rookie or capable third-string back while they focus their money and attention to other more important positions on the offense, like offensive line and a third wide receiver.

5. If you could add one offensive and one defensive player from any point in Jets history to the current iteration of the Chargers, who would you choose?

This is a great question. I think the two players I would want the most for the Chargers would be Darelle Revis on the defensive side and Kevin Mawae on offense. Pairing Revis Hayward while he’s still in his prime would be phenomenal while Mawae’s personality and aggressive mentality being added to the offensive line would do nothing but elevate every other starter. I think both these guys would come in and instantly instill a whole new mindset for their side of the ball and everyone would be clamoring to pick their brains or simply be around their greatness.

6. The Chargers have now played three seasons in the Los Angeles area and are set to move into a new stadium with the Rams in 2020. Of course, the team infamously played in front of extremely road-heavy crowds throughout their stay in Carson. Will the team be able to fill up the new 70K+ seat stadium with its own fans? Overall, how much of a following has the team been able to cultivate in L.A, and how many fans from San Diego have stuck with them since the move? Do you see the team ever moving back to San Diego or elsewhere?

Some may not expect it, but I can see the Chargers being able to put way more fans in SoFi Stadium than at Dignity Health Sports Park simply because of the lower ticket price. When the lowest ticket price is still around 200 dollars, even die-hard fans are going to think twice before pulling the trigger. As far as the amount of new fans they’ve been able to cultivate, they’ve done...alright. What a lot of people don’t realize is that Los Angeles is full of transplants from around the country and those LA natives who were there before the move were already Rams or Raiders fans. It’s an incredibly tough draw but the Chargers are still a ways away from being one of the “popular” teams in their own city.

It’d be super interesting, but I don’t think the Chargers are going anywhere anytime soon. The Spanos family has already made the commitment to LA and it would take a miracle from God to make Dean Spanos agree to move the team somewhere else.

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