By Christopher DiMarino
This is another entry in a set of early looks at the teams the Pittsburgh Steelers will play in the 2012-13 season. The goal is to acclimate the average Pittsburgh Steelers fan to the offseason changes each team has made. This will make the in-depth analysis in the week before the game more familiar and understandable.
Who: San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers
What: Week 14 Regular Season Matchup
Where: Heinz Field
When: 1:00 EST Sunday December 9th, 2012
Key Free Agent Additions and Losses:
|Key Free Agent Additions and Losses|
|Position||Name||2011 Team||2012 Team||Role|
|QB||Charlie Whitehurst||Seattle Seahawks||San Diego Chargers||1st String Backup|
|QB||Kevin O\'Connell||New York Jets||San Diego Chargers||2nd String Backup|
|FB||Le\'Ron McClain||Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||Starter|
|WR||Roscoe Parrish||Buffalo Bills||San Diego Chargers||1st String Backup|
|WR||Eddie Royal||Denver Broncos||San Diego Chargers||Starter|
|WR||Robert Meacham||New Orleans Saints||San Diego Chargers||1st String Backup|
|WR||Michael Spurlock||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Diego Chargers||2nd String Backup|
|TE||Dante Rosario||Denver Broncos||San Diego Chargers||Depth|
|OT||Phil Trautwein||New Orleans Saints||San Diego Chargers||Depth|
|OT||Mario Henderson||Oakland Raiders||San Diego Chargers||Depth|
|G||Rex Hadnot||Arizona Cardinals||San Diego Chargers||Starter|
|DT||Aubrayo Franklin||New Orleans Saints||San Diego Chargers||Starter|
|OLB/DE||Jarret Johnson||Baltimore Ravens||San Diego Chargers||Starter|
|MLB||Demorrio Williams||Kansas City Chiefs||San Diego Chargers||1st String Backup|
|S||Atari Bigby||Seattle Seahawks||San Diego Chargers||1st String Backup|
|FS||Corey Lynch||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||San Diego Chargers||1st String Backup|
|P||Robert Malone||Detroit Lions||San Diego Chargers||Depth|
|RB||Mike Tolbert||San Diego Chargers||Carolina Panthers||Split Starter|
|WR||Bryan Walters||San Diego Chargers||Minnesota Vikings||3rd String Backup|
|WR||Cameron Kenney||San Diego Chargers||Seattle Seahawks||Depth|
|WR||Vincent Jackson||San Diego Chargers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Starter|
|OT||Hutch Eckerson||San Diego Chargers||New Orleans Saints||Depth|
|DE||Everette Brown||San Diego Chargers||Detroit Lions||Depth|
|MLB||Nate Triplett||San Diego Chargers||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Depth|
|CB||Dante Hughes||San Diego Chargers||New York Giants||1st String Backup|
|S||Steve Gregory||San Diego Chargers||New England Patriots||Starter|
|P||Ricky Schmitt||San Diego Chargers||Arizona Cardinals||Depth|
|QB||Billy Volek||San Diego Chargers||CUT||1st String Backup|
|WR||Patrick Crayton||San Diego Chargers||UFA||1st String Backup|
|OT||Marcus McNeill||San Diego Chargers||CUT||Starter/Injury|
|G||Tony Moll||San Diego Chargers||UFA||1st String Backup|
|G||Kris Dielman||San Diego Chargers||Retired||Starter|
|C||Scott Mruczkowski||San Diego Chargers||UFA||1st String Backup|
|DE/DT||Tommie Harris||San Diego Chargers||UFA||1st String Backup|
|OLB||Travis LaBoy||San Diego Chargers||Released||Starter|
|MLB||Na\'il Diggs||San Diego Chargers||UFA||2nd String Backup|
|MLB||Stephen Cooper||San Diego Chargers||UFA||1st String Backup|
|S||DeAndre McDaniel||San Diego Chargers||CUT||Depth|
|S||Paul Oliver||San Diego Chargers||UFA||1st String Backup|
|SS||Bob Sanders||San Diego Chargers||UFA||Starter/Injury|
Considering they didn\'t fire Norv Turner, San Diego certainly didn\'t have trouble finding scapegoats. Let me try to break down all of this free agency action:
- San Diego will be without 7 starters from 2011.
- San Diego signed 5 players who started for various teams in 2011.
- The two major losses were Mike Tolbert and Vincent Jackson. Travis LaBoy was mediocre, Kris Dielman retired and Marcus McNeill still hasn\'t landed a job because of injury concerns.
- Bob Sanders is likely done in the NFL, playing only 10 games since 2007.
- While they released several defensive players, only safety Steve Gregory (4th most tackles on the team) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (3 sacks) jumped out on the stats sheet.
- There are big changes at wide receiver. After losing Jackson and Patrick Crayton, the Chargers signed four new wide receivers. Philip Rivers might be in for a big year if he gets comfortable with this new set of receivers. Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown are still on the roster and combined for well over 1000 yards, but just 3 touchdowns last season.
- Adding Le\'Ron McClain will fill some of the void left behind by Tolbert. While McClain is good out of the backfield, Tolbert\'s 54 receptions will be a tall task for him to match as his career high is 21 in 2010. I always felt Tolbert was very valuable as a 3rd down back, and while McClain is good in that situation as well, I don\'t think he\'ll be able to contribute like Tolbert did.
- Adding Jarret Johnson was a good move. While he is 30, he can help this defense get back to pressuring the quarterback. Aubrayo Franklin and Demorrio Williams will offer some much needed depth as well.
2012 Draft Analysis:
|2012 Draft Recap|
|DE/OLB||Melvin Ingram||1.18(18th)||South Carolina||6\'1||264|
|G||Johnnie Troutman||5.14(149th)||Penn St.||6\'4||325|
|RB||Edwin Baker||7.43(250th)||Michigan St.||5\'8||204|
- Considering rumors indicating that San Diego was trying to trade up to take safety Mark Barron, they still managed to have a good draft:
- While signing Johnson to start opposite Shaun Phillips was a solid move, he is a space holder for Melvin Ingram. The South Carolina product is undersized but has the tools to wreak havoc. He compiled 19 sacks in his final two college seasons and many believe that his consistent motor will bring him success in the NFL. The only knock against him is his height (only 6\'1) and his short arms (31.5").
- San Diego made another great pick in the 2nd round taking Kendall Reyes. I think he can really thrive as a 3-4 defensive end.
- Brandon Taylor is a big time prospect that has the skills to start Week 1. Not bad for a 3rd round pick. The Chargers have a glaring need at safety opposite Eric Weddle, and his only competition seems to be Atari Bigby.
- In the 4th round, San Diego made another smart choice by choosing the future replacement to Antonio Gates. Tight end Ladarius Green has the highly sought after mix of height and speed. He comes from a small school, but he can be molded to fit this offense in endless ways.
Turner is entering his 6th season as the head coach of the San Diego Chargers. He has been a mainstay in the NFL for over 25 years. Unfortunately, he is still considered to be one of the least reliable playoff coaches in the NFL. He has been a head coach for 14 total seasons, has been 50% in the playoffs and has never brought a team to the Super Bowl. Critics have been calling for his head for the past few years and the rationale behind this curtain call is that he has had extremely talented rosters but his teams fail to make an impact in the playoffs. Many consider this season his last chance, but those people have probably thought that for the last few seasons as well. One lingering fact is that he has never let his Charger teams finish with a losing record, but the bar has been set higher than that this year.
Hal Hunter is now the offensive coordinator for the Chargers. He was promoted to this position this year, and replaces Clarence Shelmon, who retired. Hunter was previously the offensive Line coach for 6 years and coached at the college level for over 20 years before taking his position with the Chargers.
John Pagano is the new defensive coordinator in 2012. He has been with the organization for a while, acting as the linebackers coach since 2005. He is the brother of Indianapolis Colts head coach Chuck Pagano and clearly shares his defensive pedigree. Pagano replaces Greg Manusky, who joined John\'s brother Chuck to run the defense in Indianapolis.
Last Year\'s Stats:
|2011 Team Stats|
|Fumbles Lost (2011)||8||10||13||26||10|
|Sacks Allowed (2011)||30||8||42||23||37|
|Avg Time of Possession||31:39:00||6||32:33:00||2||30:00:00|
|Fumbles Recovered (2011)||4||30||4||30||10|
|Punt Return Avg For||8.5||22||10.5||13||9.9|
|Punt Return Avg Against||13.2||29||8.4||12||9.9|
|Kick Return Avg For||25.6||6||25.1||8||23.8|
|Kick Return Avg Against||25.5||25||23.7||16||23.8|
|Field Goals Made||80.00%||20||74.19%||31||82.89%|
|3rd Down % Offense||48.82%||2||45.92%||4||38.00%|
|3rd Down % Defense||49.23%||32||38.91%||19||38.00%|
|4th Down % Offense||36.36%||21||37.50%||19||43.26%|
|4th Down % Defense||11.11%||2||61.54%||28||43.26%|
|Red Zone % Offense||53.70%||10||50.94%||18||52.18%|
|Red Zone % Defense||59.18%||29||54.84%||17||52.18%|
Despite many complaints from around the league and finishing with only an 8-8 record, San Diego easily had one of the best offenses in the NFL. This unit finished top 10 in every category except rushing yards and interceptions. This offense will look different with the changes at wide receiver, but regardless, this is a big year for Rivers. He needs to bounce back and limit his turnovers or else he runs the risk of losing his standing as a top quarterback. Ryan Matthews should be able to make a bigger impact in his 3rd season, but his health is always a concern.
San Diego\'s defense had an off year in 2011. They ranked just below average in most categories and had a tough time stopping the run. The Chargers also didn\'t generate many sacks, which is a huge part of this defense. San Diego clearly added the pieces to help this defense bounce back in 2012, but the key piece to keep an eye on is Quentin Jammer. He is entering the last year of his contract and at 33, he could be in for a huge season or a big drop off.
San Diego was not a good special teams club. Richard Goodman was the primary kick returner and averaged 27.5 yards per return. He was the only good thing about the Chargers special teams unit. Crayton was the primary punt returner, but this role is now open after his departure. Efficiency was another rough spot for the Chargers. Despite ranking 2nd in 3rd down offense and 4th down defense, there were few other bright spots. The -7 turnover differential was bad, but their 3rd down defense might have been their biggest issue, worst in the NFL.
San Diego is a team that I\'ve always admired. I think the whole Eli Manning and Rivers draft debacle might have swayed me this way. When you think about it, what San Diego did is pretty impressive. They went from a team that a quarterback refused to play for to a perennial playoff contender. Ironically enough, the issue the team has struggled with is not performing when it counts. The offense always seems capable of marching the field with ease and the defense can apply pressure and generate turnovers. Yet, they constantly seem outmatched in playoff games.
I think this is a bigger season for San Diego than most people think. Turner is still on the hot seat and it will be interesting to see how the first year offensive and defensive coordinators do. This is also a big year for Rivers and Matthews as well. Rivers has to prove that he can be elite again, and Matthews needs to take the next step and become the explosive player he\'s been billed as. On defense, Jammer is nearing the end, but this unit is just beginning to rebuild. The Chargers added a few good veterans and had an equally solid draft. However, Shaun Phillips and Antonio Garay are also both over 30 and more than ever this defense has become a mix of old and very young.
I think there are a few keys for the Chargers in 2012. The new arsenal of wide receivers need to hit the ground running and help Rivers get back to his normal self. There will be some identity issues now that Jackson is gone, but I think that Floyd can step into that role. The offensive line needs to rebound and the running game needs to take the next step. If this offense has enough things go right, then it will cover any faults the defense has. But with the sudden influx of young players, a steady face at defensive coordinator is what this defense needs the most. So the bottom line is, San Diego has to decide if the Turner era is going to continue or end. This team is poised to make a new extended run at a Super Bowl, so firing a coach later rather than sooner will only increase the collateral damage.
Veiled dominance. Since the beginning of the new millennium, the Steelers have played the Chargers 7 times. Pittsburgh claimed 6 of those 7 matches, but that\'s not the interesting point. San Diego scored over 20 points in all but one of those games. That is a lot of points to score against the Steelers. Even more surprising is that the Steelers averaged almost 28 points a game against the Chargers during this span. So while the Steelers own a heavy margin in the win category, the odds are that this game will become a shootout. If the Steelers offense isn\'t up to the task, this might be a very tough game.
Follow me on twitter @chrisdimarino