That's The First Quarter, Chargers Fans

With the first quarter of the Chargers’ season complete (already?!?), it’s a good time to step back and evaluate where they stand compared to pre-season expectations.

Preseason expectation: The Chargers will get off to a fast start because of the continuity within the organization following the lockout.

While 3-1 is the team’s best start under Norv Turner, the “fast start” tag is at least worth questioning. Mistake filled performances in their first four games left most observers unimpressed, but 3-1 is 3-1, good enough for first place in the division.

What has become more apparent is that the continuity often cited as a positive in regard to the Chargers is a bit of a mirage. A new defensive coordinator and a new special teams coach brought with them new terminology and schemes. And while the offense is largely intact compared to the number-one ranked offense from a season ago, the defense has undergone quite a few changes. Gone from the starting lineup are Jacques Cesaire, Stephen Cooper, and Kevin Burnett. Significant additions to the defense this year include Takeo Spikes, Travis LaBoy, Corey Liuget, and Marcus Gilchrist, plus the promotions of Donald Butler and Vaughn Martin. Additionally, the team has already lost the expected services of Bob Sanders and Luis Castillo. Familiarity with the basic defensive system helped, but overall this defense is still a work in progress.

Preseason expectation: Special teams will be much improved with a new coach and an influx of special teams performers.

Under coach Rich Basaccia, it would have been nearly impossible for the Chargers’ special teams to be worse than they were in 2010. So far in 2011, the Chargers have given up just one kick return for a touchdown and no blocked punts or punt returns for TD’s. Still, not imploding at every opportunity is hardly impressive; it’s really the basic expectation. When it comes to being a strength for the team, the Chargers, who rank 22nd in kickoff returns, 27th in punt returns, and have failed to impress on kick/punt coverage, have quite a ways to go.

Preseason expectation: The Chargers will continue to dominate on offense.

In my opinion, this is the most befuddling aspect to the Chargers 3-1 start. With their key offensive pieces in place (minus the chronic injury to Gates), the Chargers offensive unit has had its moments but has failed to dominate any game the way they could last season. At this point in the season in 2010 the Chargers were averaging 28 points a game, compared to roughly 22 points a game this season- that’s the difference of a touchdown per game. And while Philip Rivers was on track to break the record for passing yards in a season last year through the first four games, he has looked like a mere pedestrian at QB in the first four games of 2011. The offensive performance rests on Rivers’ shoulders, so hopefully things continue to improve.

Preseason expectation: The second quarter

The Chargers next four opponents, in order, include the Broncos, Jets, and Chiefs on the road, and the Packers at home. For all the griping about the Chargers’ uninspiring play in the first four weeks of the season, they could easily see themselves at 6-2 at the halfway point of the season. With some lucky bounces they could have beaten the Patriots in week 2 this season; perhaps some of that luck will bounce their way against the high-powered Packers. This offense can hang with the Super Bowl champs, and the defense will have three more games to come together before that showdown.

If the Chargers’ past tells us anything, it tells us that they will only get better with time. Could 7-1 be in their future?

What is your evaluation of the Chargers through the first quarter of the season?

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October 6, 2011

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