Wrapping Up 2010 With An Eye On 2011

In a relatively meaningless outing on the road against the Denver Broncos Sunday, the Chargers concluded what was by all accounts a disappointing 2010 campaign. Despite some remarkable statistical achievements by Philip Rivers early in the season and ridiculously good numbers both offensively and defensively as a whole, gaffs on special teams as well as various injuries ultimately cost the Bolts an opportunity at the postseason.

Starting with the good from this past year, the defense was perhaps the most promising aspect of this club in 2010. The biggest standout on that defense may have been a relative unknown coming into the season, but safety Eric Weddle certainly announced himself among the league’s upper echelon roving the defensive backfield. Many felt Weddle deserved some Pro Bowl consideration this season, but now at least he is on the radar. Weddle’s success continued in the week 17 tilt with the Broncos where he was again among the team’s leaders in tackles and hauled in an interception as well. He is a key component to this Chargers’ defense and needs to be given long-term commitment from team management this offseason.

An area of concern moving into the offseason has to be the offensive line which despite some streaky good play this year largely under whelmed in 2010. Problems in pass protection were evident from week one of the season and that culminated this past week with five sacks allowed including two in the opening series of the game. In addition to the sacks, the Broncos also hit the Bolts’ quarterback seven times in the game. Rivers eclipsed the 300 yard plateau on six occasions this season in spite of the persistent duress that he dealt with on a play-by-play basis.

It was only fitting that Sunday’s finale to a wacky season featured yet another special teams mishap when kicker Nate Kaeding was left mano e mano with Broncos’ kick returner Cassius Vaughn midway through the fourth quarter. Kaeding went for an unorthodox faux-soccer slide tackle attempt in hopes of bringing Vaughn to the ground, but failed miserably and gave Vaughn a clear path to the end zone.

Head Coach Norv Turner was a huge supporter of special teams coach Steve Crosby at midseason, but perhaps the threat of a pink slip caused him to change his tone at the season’s end. Crosby was given notice that his contract with the team would not be renewed next season after San Diego’s horrific showing in the game’s third phase all year long. With the return for a touchdown on Sunday, the Bolts surrendered four returns for a score on the year and five blocked punts. Better late than never?

One player had a watchful eye on him from many Bolts’ fans this past week and that was rookie running back Ryan Mathews who shouldered a hefty workload against the Broncos. The jury is still out on the 12th overall selection of the 2010 NFL Draft who the Bolts traded up sixteen spots to get. These mixed results were acknowledged by Mathews himself after the game as he said: I'm extremely hard on myself. It was a nice day, but in all honesty, the fumbles spoil it. If we didn't recover them, it could have really changed the game. I can't put the ball on the ground, especially if I'm going to get that many carries. Now it's about how I deal with it in the offseason and how hard I work on protecting the football."

Fumblitis had struck the rookie earlier in the season as he fumbled once in each of his first two games, but yesterday certainly justified those concerns. Two fumbles in the first half of the game in Denver make Mathews a bit of a liability as a ball carrier with an uncertainty surrounding his ability to protect the pigskin. His season total finished with five fumbles on just 132 carries which averages out to one fumble every 26.4 carries or 3.7 percent of his touches. In comparison, much is made of Adrian Peterson’s fumble issues with the Minnesota Vikings and his fumble rate is right around 2.0 percent which is much better than Mathews’ at this point.

Unfortunately that isn’t the only concern with the rookie however as another disturbing trend has emerged with him during his first NFL season. It’s normally a great thing to be compared to Barry Sanders, but too many times Sanders carried the ball for three or fewer yards before getting stuffed near the line of scrimmage. 17 of Mathews’ 26 carries on Sunday went for three or fewer yards as well with the bulk of his 120 yards on the ground coming from just 9 totes. Although Mathews looks fantastic on those highlight reel runs (much like Sanders did), a certain consistency level needs to develop on a play to play basis for him to become a reliable threat on each and every down.

9-7 is a winning season by the numbers, but this year is definitely classified as a disappointment for the Bolts. Watching the Kansas City Chiefs get crushed by the Oakland Raiders just made matters worse from a fan’s perspective. This team failed so badly in week 16 at the Cincinnati Bengals, but a victory there would have gotten them into the playoffs in hindsight. There are no do-overs in the NFL and this Chargers team has a whole offseason now to think about that.

Now it’s up to you. What do you feel was the brightest spot in the 2010 season for the Bolts, Philip Rivers, the defense? Is the release of Steve Crosby now that the season has come to an end just an attempt to save face by Norv Turner? Can Ryan Mathews become a consistent every down back for the Chargers or are they looking at some serious issues with his fumble concerns? Is it possible that a return to mediocrity is just what this team needed as a wake up call looking forward to next year? Please leave your input in the comments section below!

January 4, 2011

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