2018 Season Recap: Los Angeles Chargers

2018 SEASON RECAP: LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

Division: AFC West

2018 Record: 12-4 (4-2 in division play, 2nd in division)

Introduction

If you expected my face to look any different from last year, think again. Why is my face like this all the time? Look at the team I'm writing up for. Interpret it how you will because you'd probably be right. Also life. Life makes my face look like this.

Its fine tho, I have a new daddy now anyways.

More to the point, we've come to that time of year again folks - the new (league) year, free agency has already begun and the first days were a doozy. Now that we've crossed into the 2019 league year, there's no better time to recap the 2018 year for the Chargers. As always, I'm /u/milkchococurry and I'll be your guide to the 2018 Chargers season. I think this my third year on the docket for the Chargers and tbh I'm too lazy to check now so we're just gonna go with it.

In a nutshell, the 2018 Chargers largely picked up exactly where the 2017 team left off, and they continued to improve on their way to the team's first postseason appearance since 2013. Head coach Anthony Lynn's ground game philosophy continued to develop as the backfield of Melvin Gordon and company improved on their 2017 campaign. Philip Rivers continues to be the maestro of a prolific passing offense and Keenan Allen continued to cement himself as one of the game's best. Mike Williams' emergence could not have come at a better time with Hunter Henry being lost for the season, and Williams made the league take some notice. The defense was up to their usual dominant selves for the most part, even with the significant absence of Joey Bosa. Melvin Ingram dominated offensive gameplans and the secondary continues to impress. Speaking of, have y'all heard of this one rookie safety, Derwin James? That kid can play. Special teams saw marked improvements with an infusion of young and old, as the Chargers acquired both rookie kicker Michael Badgley and longtime vet punter Donnie Jones. Badgley in particular had a phenomenal season, one of the best seasons for a Chargers kicker that I've seen in a very long time.

This Chargers squad showed a lot of growth and moxie throughout the 2018 season. In the end, small talent gaps, gameplanning and execution on all three phases most of the time are still works in progress, but the team is absolutely headed in the right direction. In this writeup I'll break down the results of the 2018 season and provide a primer on what to expect heading into 2019.

2018 Statistics

Data provided by Pro-Football-Reference

General Numbers
Overall Record 12-4
Home Record 5-3
Away Record 7-1
Division Record 4-2
Conference Record 9-3

Offense

Offense Numbers (League Rank)
Points Scored 428 (6th)
Total Yards 5962 (11th)
Total Passing Yards 4089 (10th)
Total Passing TDs 32 (8th)
Net Yds Gained/Pass Attempt 7.5 (5th)
Total Rushing Yards 1873 (15th)
Total Rushing TDs 16 (7th)
Rush Yards Per Attempt 4.7 (7th)
% of Scoring Drives 42.4 (5th)
Avg Drive Starting Position Own 28.7 (14th)
Avg Time Per Drive 2:53 (6th)
Avg Plays Per Drive 5.77 (21st)
Net Yards Per Drive 34.9 (7th)
Avg Points Scored Per Drive 2.40 (5th)
Total Off. Turnovers 15 (4th best)
% of Drives with a Turnover 10.0 (9th best)
Interceptions 12 (12th best)
Fumbles Lost 7 (8th best)

Defense

Defense Numbers (League Rank)
Points Allowed 329 (8th)
Total Yards Allowed 5339 (9th)
Total Passing Yards Allowed 3646 (9th)
Total Passing TDs Allowed 23 (12th)
Net Yds Gained/Pass Attempt Allowed 6.2 (11th)
Total Rushing Yards Allowed 1693 (9th)
Total Rushing TDs Allowed 11 (6th)
Rush Yards Per Attempt Allowed 4.3 (12th)
% of Scoring Drives Allowed 33.7 (10th best)
Avg Drive Starting Position Own 29.1 (23rd)
Avg Time Per Drive 2:46 (21st)
Avg Plays Per Drive 6.0 (27th)
Net Yards Per Drive 31.5 (18th)
Avg Points Scored Per Drive 1.82 (8th best)
Total Def. Turnovers 20 (16th)
% of Drives with a Turnover 11.8 (16th)
Defensive Interceptions 13 (15th)
Fumbles Recovered 7 (19th)
Defensive TDs 1

Special Teams

Special Teams Numbers
FG % 82.8 (24/29)
FG % 20-29 yds 100 (8/8)
FG % 30-39 yds 100 (7/7)
FG % 40-49 yds 72.7 (8/11)
FG % 50+ yds 33.3 (1/3)
XP % 83.7 (36/43)
Total Times Punted 61
Total Punt Yards 2643
Longest Punt 66 yds
Punt Yd Avg 43.3

2018 Draft Recap

Round Overall Player Position School
1 17 Derwin James S Florida State
2 48 Uchenna Nwosu LB Southern California
3 84 Justin Jones DT NC State
4 119 Kyzir White LB West Virginia
5 155 Scott Quessenberry C UCLA
6 191 Dylan Cantrell WR Texas Tech
7 251 Justin Jackson RB Northwestern

2018 Draft Picks

Round Overall
1 28
2 60
3 91
4 130
5 166
6 200
7 242

Free Agents

This year, I have the new opportunity to add FA signings and departures since this writeup is happening during free agency. In this scenario, I'll only point out the signings that have occurred so far, meaning there won't be any analysis/breakdown/opinion on the incoming 2019 players.

Players whos names are bolded are players that I strongly feel like the team will attempt to re-sign. In my personal opinion, many of these players have cases to return to the team, but I can only project what the business side of the NFL may do for the fates of these players.

Data courtesy of OverTheCap, Spotrac and the Chargers.com FA Tracker

Free Agent Signings

Name Position Previous Team Contract Details
Jaylen Watkins DB Chargers 1 yr/$805k
Denzel Perryman ILB Chargers 2 yr/$12.05M
Thomas Davis OLB Panthers 2 yr/$10.5M
Brandon Mebane DT Chargers 2 yr/$9.3M
Tyrod Taylor QB Browns 2 yr/$11M
Adrian Phillips S Chargers 1 yr/ -
Isaac Rochell DL Chargers 1 yr/$645k
Geremy Davis WR Chargers -

Free Agent Departures

Name Position New Team Contract Details
Tyrell Williams WR Raiders 4 yr/$44M
Jason Verrett CB 49ers 1 yr/$3.6M
Darius Philon DT Cardinals 2 yr/$10M

Unrestricted Free Agents

Name Position Previous Contract Average/Year
Jahleel Addae S $5.625M
Corey Liuget DT $5.76M
Antonio Gates TE $2.5M
Damion Square DT $2M
Donnie Jones P $1.015M
Geno Smith QB $1M
Hayes Pullard ILB $705k
Kyle Emanuel OLB $624,643

Restricted Free Agents

Name Position Previous Contract Average/Year
Trevor Williams CB $630k

Exclusive Rights Free Agents

Name Position Previous Contract Average/Year
Artavis Scott WR $363k
Cole Toner C $555k

Weekly Game Recaps

Back in my previous Offseason Review post, I predicted that the Chargers and Chiefs would split the series with the home teams winning the contests (looks like I got the reverse of what happened, which I'll get to in a bit). I expected Mahomes to show some rookie/young QB mistakes in the early part of the season before he settled in, because I hadn't totally bought into his hype yet. Not only did I get that very wrong, I forgot about Tyreek Hill. Hill kills us all the time and he did it again this time around. Undrafted rookie wideout JJ Jones also was tasked to return punts early in the season...and it didn't go too great. Actually most of this game was bad, then we remembered how to offense a little bit in the 4th, but it was too little, too late.

The Chargers came to Buffalo looking for a fast start against the Bills and got exactly that. The defense got 4 sacks and Melvin Gordon got a hat trick in the first half alone. Mike Williams also scored his first NFL touchdown early in the game. Buffalo adjusted at the half and their offense, led by rookie QB Josh Allen, became more daring and open, which both benefitted (14 of the Bills' 20 points came in the second half) and hurt them (Allen threw two interceptions, the latter of which set up the game-sealing FG for the Chargers).

The first actual Battle For LA(TM) went about the way you'd expect. Both offenses had their moments and it was a pretty exciting game, and in the end, the Chargers did not do enough. Much of the loss can be blamed on costly mistakes, which can even come on the heels of a great play. Case in point, Derwin James had a fabulous endzone interception on Jared Goff but immediately ran out of bounds at the 1 yard line, one of his few major rookie mistakes. When the Chargers offense couldn't get out of the endzone, the punt was blocked and the Rams added six points. Despite the presence of individual performers like Mike Williams getting two TDs, playing the Rams at the state the Chargers were in required a near flawless gameplan and execution from the whole team, and the team came up short.

This game started fabulously with Rivers throwing an immediate pick-six to Antone Exum. From there, we fought an uphill battle with a 49ers team in the midst of figuring out what to do without Jimmy Garoppolo. Down 17-6 with 5 minutes left in the first half, the Chargers exploded with 20 straight points, in part from the strong showing from Melvin Gordon. CJ Beathard played a solid overall game filling in for Garoppolo and George Kittle had an impressive high-YAC catch-and-run TD in the third quarter to keep the 49ers' hopes alive, but Beathard's last interception (made by DL Isaac Rochell) at the end of the game gave the Chargers the narrow victory.

The first touchdown of the game was what broke it wide open. Philip Rivers bobbled a shotgun snap and and tossed it out to Austin Ekeler, beating the Oakland blitz for a 44 yard TD run. The Ekeler score would begin a run of 19 straight points scored by the Chargers. The Chargers run defense had bottled up Matt Breida the prior week and proceeded to bottle up Marshawn Lynch in this game. A couple of extra Raiders turnovers kept the game out of reach as the Chargers came away with the victory.

Mind you, the Browns still had Hue Jackson as head coach at this time, but the Browns were a kind of lurking threat for the Chargers in past seasons. Not the case this time around, as the Chargers thoroughly dominated every facet of the game. Melvin Gordon got another hat trick, the defense was stellar and the game was over after three quarters. This game also marked Michael Badgley's first start with the Chargers, and he had a nice debut, kicking one FG and going 5/5 on XPs.

Melvin Gordon never graced the Wembley pitch in uniform, as he was a late scratch, but Philip Rivers was more the willing to show off for the London crowd. The first play from scrimmage for the Chargers offense was a 75 yard TD to Tyrell Williams. Both sides kept the game close throughout and the Chargers got the victory by stopping a 2-point conversion attempt by the Titans at the end of regulation.

Philip Rivers' 200th consecutive start went much like his 199th, with the defense coming in at the very end with the game on the line. The Chargers started to pull away in the 2nd quarter, holding a 19-10 lead at the half, and Desmond King seemingly all but ended it with a pick-six with 6:44 left in the 4th. Seattle would not falter, and after putting together a drive ending in a Nick Vannett TD with 1:50 to go, the Seahawks quickly got the ball back and moved fast downfield. The final play for the Seahawks was a world-be 6 yard TD pass intended for David Moore, but Jahleel Addae got just enough of it for the pass to fall incomplete.

Amid the smoke from the Butte County wildfires, the Chargers had a tough start at the Oakland Coliseum. The offense was stagnant in the first quarter and the Raiders had successfully run a fake punt for a 42 yard gain. However, the Raiders were only up 3-0 when Melvin Ingram strip-sacked Derek Carr, and the Chargers took over from there. Melvin Gordon had the biggest offensive highlight of the game, netting a YAC-filled 66 yard TD reception on the opening drive of the second half.

Coming into this one, the Chargers had won six straight games and the Broncos had lost six of their last seven games. Denver out-executed the Chargers when it mattered, and that was even without the 14 penalties. Denver still had to work a bit for the win though, needing to pull off a last-minute drive to get in position for the game winner from Brandon McManus. In more positive news for the Chargers, Joey Bosa returned to action this week after being sidelined for the whole season to this point with injury. I remember projecting a trap game like this last offseason, though I expected it to come against the Cardinals. Speaking of which...

...the Cards had a spooky look going very early in the game, as Arizona led 10-0 by the end of the first quarter. That was clearly enough motivation for the Chargers, as they turned the remaining three quarters into a clinic. Philip Rivers had a career day, tying one NFL record (consecutive completions, 25) and breaking two more (consecutive completions to start a game, 25, and highest completion percentage, 96.6%).

This win was by no means perfect. The controversies from certain calls and non-calls are (mostly) warranted. But I'll be damned if that wasn't an inspired comeback from the Chargers, who looked pretty outmatched in the first half and entered halftime trailing 23-7. Execution improved and timely plays in the second half buoyed the Chargers comeback, including a 73 yard punt return for a TD by Desmond King. Rookie RB Justin Jackson had a bit of a coming out game in relief of an injured Melvin Gordon, introducing himself to the country by getting 63 yards and a TD on 8 carries. The 16 point deficit is the largest deficit that a visiting team against the Steelers has come back from to win.

This also ended up being a prime trap game. The Bengals were now without Andy Dalton for the remainder of the season and falling out of the playoff picture. What better time for that Bengals defense to flex its muscles? The Chargers started fast, scoring TDs on their first two drives, but then the offense slowed down, pinned back by Cincy's defense. Kicker Mike Badgley added to his now-stellar resume, knocking in four FGs, including a Chargers record 59 yarder to end the first half. The Bengals never let the game get too far away from them but were unable to close the gap.

This was the game of the season. Primetime matchup with significant playoff implications. If the Chiefs won, they would lock up the division. If the Chargers got it, everything was still on the table. The Chargers needed this win badly, and very early in the contest, it looked grim. The Chiefs took a 14-0 lead in the 1st quarter, but the Chargers closed in after that, entering the 4th quarter down a TD. The 4th quarter offense kicked in and the Chargers opted to settle the game with a 2-point conversion with seconds to go. Mike Williams was already the player of the game for the Chargers, netting 3 of the team's 4 TDs, but standing all alone at the back of the endzone to get the game-winning points was a masterpiece. With that win, the Chargers clinched a playoff berth for the first time in five seasons.

This one was closer and farther than the score really indicates. It was closer because the game was basically a one-possession contest until there was 2:40 left in the contest, and it was farther because the Ravens defense utterly manhandled the Chargers offense. It was the first game since 2014 that the Chargers were held to under 200 passing yards, and the Chargers' only TD of the game was set up with the defense forcing and recovering a Kenneth Dixon fumble very early in the 3rd quarter. Ravens TE Mark Andrews found a gap in the defense and took a short pass 66 yards for a TD. Down 16-10, the Chargers were still in this mess of a contest and moving the ball until Antonio Gates was stripped by Pat Onwuasor. The fumble was recovered by Tavon Young and returned for a TD, sealing the deal and showing the Chargers that there was a team out there that could really be a problem down the line.

Entering the game, the Chargers still had a chance at the AFC West crown, contingent on a win and a Chiefs loss. The latter condition was out of their hands but it meant the starters were a full go for the game against the reeling Broncos. For the expectations that the Chargers had at this point, even with the Baltimore loss, this game was underwhelming for the Chargers offense. The defense had a much better time harassing the Broncos offense, with LB Kyle Emanuel getting a TD off a fumble and Casey Hayward intercepting a pass on a 2-point conversion attempt and returning it all the way back to give the Chargers 2 points. Even though the win would end up not mattering in terms of playoff positioning, it was something the Chargers could look at and build off of as the playoffs approached. Could have been a lot worse.

The Chargers began their playoff stretch against the Ravens, eager to return the favor from Week 16. In all honesty, the Ravens did more to hamper themselves for much of the game, as Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense turned the ball over multiple times early. The Chargers built a 23-3 lead into the 4th quarter off of those turnovers and five Badgley field goals, then the Ravens offense woke up. Two quick Ravens passing touchdowns slashed the Chargers' lead to six, but on the final drive, Uchenna Nwosu swatted the ball out of Jackson's hands to seal the deal.

There have been games between the Patriots and Chargers where the game was...more competitive. With the exception of the early touchdown pass to Keenan Allen on a busted coverage, the Chargers' offense was completely manhandled by the Patriots defense, while the Chargers defense had no answer for the Patriots offense (schematically the Chargers were somewhat limited due to the LB position being slammed with injuries but there were also things that should have been adjusted for before the contest and just weren't). Patriots RB Sony Michel had a career game, rushing for 129 yards and made three trips to the endzone. New England only let off the gas pedal when their lead was insurmountably large with not enough time left on the clock. The last touchdown went to Antonio Gates from 8 yards out, which could be the final reception of his Hall of Fame career.

Additions Review

In this section, I'll quickly break down the performance of the most important additions the Chargers made last season. At the end of each player review, I will assign them a grade as well as a brief word on 2019 expectations. The breakdowns will be separated into Free Agency and Draft sections.

Free Agency

Mike Pouncey

Mike Pouncey was a welcome addition to the offensive line this past season. Pouncey played all 16 games this season and stabilized a previously weak center position. His contract was a pretty sizable cost that may end up being problematic if his hip issue that troubled him in Miami resurfaces here with the Chargers. In addition, Pouncey only signed a 2 year deal so the upcoming season is a contract year for him. Ideally he continues to maintain his level of play and the Chargers can continue to extend him on short contracts with decent value.

2018 Grade: B+

Virgil Green

Having let Sean McGrath go in FA last offseason, the Chargers turned to Virgil Green to fill a need at blocking TE. The hope was that Green and Hunter Henry would form a strong duo between a good blocking TE and one of the rising pass-catching TEs in the league. With that plan being delayed for a season, Green had to shoulder some of the receiving load for the Chargers (19 receptions, 201 yards, 1 TD) and was an adequate blocker.

2018 Grade: B

Geno Smith

Having a backup QB is a necessity in this league and the Chargers needed to find one after moving on from Kellen Clemens after 2017. Cardale Jones, who the Chargers acquired in a trade with Buffalo during the 2017 preseason, has been largely stashed away on the PS as a project, and last offseason Jones and Geno Smith battled for the QB2 spot. Geno likely won the job due to his better decision-making in the pocket and slighltly stronger familiarity with Coach Lynn's scheme (recall that Geno and Coach Lynn were both on the Jets at the same time). Geno was signed out of necessity and we really never had to see him play, so its good that we were prepared but I also can't really grade a player who barely played.

2018 Grade: N/A

Caleb Sturgis

Much was expected from Sturgis last offseason and the hope was that he'd continue his improving trend at kicking and stick with the Chargers for the long term. Instead he struggled like all the other prior kickers and lost his job to Michael Badgley.

2018 Grade: D+

Jaylen Watkins

Watkins tore his ACL in the second preseason game of 2018 and was lost for the season. We re-signed Watkins recently. That's really all I have and that isn't enough to evaluate anything. I expect him to be a depth piece and swing option at safety to spell Adrian Phillips or as an addition in extra DB packages.

2018 Grade: N/A

2018 Draft

Derwin James

Derwin James was easily the best draft pick the Chargers made in 2018 and potentially one of the best picks of the entire draft. James finished the season as the team's leading tackler with 105 total tackles and contributed to the pass rush with 3.5 sacks to his name. His 3 interceptions are tied for the team lead (Desmond King). He played coverage and in the box, did pretty much anything you could ask for on defense and got a Pro Bowl nod out of it. If that's not value, idk what is.

2018 Grade: A

Uchenna Nwosu

The USC product generated 27 pressure and 3.5 sacks in limited action as a depth/rotation player at the LEO position. This was pretty much the expectation for Nwosu, being a project edge rusher and coverage linebacker. I personally don't know if I could say his play last season took him a developmental step forward but I can definitely attest to his already present ability to stick his nose in opposing backfields. The game-sealing strip-sack on Lamar Jackson in the WC game is easily the best example.

2018 Grade: B

Justin Jones

Jones saw significant action as part of the interior DL rotation and had his moments, notably stepping up in place of Mebane to start the Wild Card game against Baltimore and dominating at the line. However, these moments were not a super regular occurrence and its clear that Jones still has a ways to go, but for where he was at and what we needed him to accomplish this season, he did enough to be considered solid in my mind.

2018 Grade: B

Kyzir White

White is a hybrid LB/S type player who we moved to LB full time after drafting him, similar to what we did with Jatavis Brown. White made an impact early, making six total tackles in Week 1 against KC and recording his first interception against Buffalo the following week. He also didn't see the field very much last season, only playing in 3 games due to injury, so its hard to give him a grade. He has some good stuff going for him so I hope to see him make some plays on the field next season.

2018 Grade: N/A

Scott Quessenberry

Quessenberry was active for 15 games last season but did not make a single start. His action was largely limited to special teams blocking, which makes it a bit tougher to grade performance given the sample size.

2018 Grade: N/A

Dylan Cantrell

Cantrell was supposed to be the big-bodied wildcard WR steal of the 2018 draft. Instead he was brought up to the active roster before week 14 and has zero stats whatsoever. I just don't have enough to make a conclusion on his rookie season simply because he has nothing to show for it.

2018 Grade: N/A

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson had a lot of good qualities being the workhorse record-setter over at Northwestern and I expected him to make the roster outright. I was surprised when he didn't, but when he got his chances, he showed some flashes. Jackson's stats aren't anything to write home about (50 carries, 206 yards, 4.1 ypc, 2 TDs) but had two strong games in relief (Wks 12-13).

2018 Grade: B

Coaching Staff Review

Head Coach

Like I said in the intro, the 2018 Chargers largely carried the momentum of the strong finish of the 2017 team and its indicative of the positive changes that Anthony Lynn brought to this team for the past two seasons. The run game emphasis that I've harped on before took to a new level in 2018 as every running back on the roster, and especially Melvin Gordon, rose to the occasion. Gordon, who previously had never broken 4 yards per carry in a season, averaged 5.1 yards per carry in 2018. Austin Ekeler averaged 5.2, and that two headed monster combined for 20 total TDs (rushing and receiving).

Coach Lynn continued his upward trend in coaching by being pretty willing to try new things or to change plans when things don't go as expected. As an example, Lynn adopted different defensive personnel strategies during the season, whether out of schematic advantage or plain necessity (both ended up occurring). This method isn't foolproof and can certainly backfire if countered in kind (see: divisional round game @ Patriots), but Lynn is being flexible with how things are run and that's a sign of growth that we saw burgeoning back in 2017. This doesn't mean he's a legend at this (at the moment, he isn't), but its most certainly gotten better.

Back when Lynn was hired, one of my big sticking points was how many different coaches he worked under and the pedigrees they all had. Many of them had championship pedigrees and Lynn claims to have learned things from every single one of them. What I hope he does in the coming years is that he takes those experiences and molds them together with his experiences as a head coach. I'd like to see what improvements and changes he makes to get this team farther in 2019.


My writeup for the rest of the assistant coaches has hit a fun snag this year. In previous years, the team would see some changes in the staff, the website would do a full staff writeup and I'd copy and paste that. Because its efficient.

This time, no new coaches were added and two assistants from last year (Assistant Defensive Line coach Eric Henderson and Defensive Assistant Marquice Williams) have departed. Neither of the departed assistants have been replaced and the website didn't do a writeup, so I actually have to write this section now. Dammit.

OFFENSE

Offensive Coordinator: Ken Whisenhunt – “Whiz” returns for his fifth season as Offensive Coordinator, including his fourth straight since 2016. Last season, the Chargers ranked tenth in passing yards and 15th in rushing yards, the latter being a marked improvement over the 2017 numbers.

Wide Receivers Coach: Phil McGeoghan – McGeoghan enters his second year with the Chargers as WRs coach. He spent four seasons with the Miami Dolphins from 2012-15, with his first three as the assistant wide receivers coach before being elevated to WR coach in 2015. His promotion coincided with Jarvis Landry’s breakout season in which he set a then-franchise record with 110 receptions along with 1,157 receiving yards. McGeoghan spent the 2017 season as the wide receivers coach in Buffalo after a one-year stint at East Carolina.

Offensive Line Coach: Pat Meyer – Meyer enters his third year as Chargers OL coach. *He coached a line that surrendered the fewest sacks in the NFL in 2017 (18). The team also had an offensive lineman make the Pro Bowl for the second straight year in Mike Pouncey (Okung was a Pro Bowler in 2017).

Running Backs Coach: Alfredo Roberts – Roberts also enters his third season with the Chargers coaching running backs. Under his tutelage, Melvin Gordon totaled 1,105 yards on the ground in 2017 and the 2018 rushing attack produced a total of 16 TDs on the ground, 7th in the league.

Tight Ends Coach: Rip Scherer – Scherer enters his second year with the Chargers after the veteran coach joined the team from UCLA prior to last season. Scherer was the associate head coach under Jim Mora where he coached the tight ends for two seasons. Scherer, who has over 35 years of coaching experience, returns to the NFL as he previously served as the quarterbacks coach for the Carolina Panthers and the Cleveland Browns.

Quarterbacks Coach: Shane Steichen – Steichen embarks on his fourth season coaching QBs, and his eighth overall with the franchise. He played a pivotal role in the Bolts' strong passing offense.

Assistant Offensive Line Coach: Mark Ridgley – 2019 will be Ridgely’s eighth with the Bolts. He spent his first four seasons as a special assistant in an administrative capacity and assisting with the running backs. He was promoted to quality control coach for the offense in 2016 and served as an offensive assistant in 2017.

Quality Control – Offense: Dan Shamash – This marks Shamash’s third season in this role for the Chargers. He previously spent 2014-16 with the Jacksonville Jaguars as a quality control coach on defense.

DEFENSE

Defensive Coordinator: Gus Bradley – In his second season as DC, Bradley maintained the positive gains made by the defense as the Chargers allowed 20.6 points per game, good for eighth in the league. The Chargers ranked ninth in the NFL against the pass and the run and ranked tenth in the red zone.

Defensive Backs Coach: Ron Milus – The Chargers have had a Pro Bowler in the secondary all six years Milus has coached the position, including Derwin James this past season. In 2018, the Bolts came away with 13 total picks, 9 coming from defensive backs.

Defensive Line Coach: Giff Smith – Smith coached a pair of players to the 2018 Pro Bowl in Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, who became the first Chargers duo since 2006 to post double-digit sacks in the same season.
Ingram returned to the Pro Bowl this past season under Smith's guidance. Smith enters his fourth season as the team’s defensive line coach.

Linebackers Coach: Richard Smith – Entering his 32st NFL season, 2019 will be Smith's third in charge of the team’s linebackers. Over the years, Smith has earned praise for his work with some of the game’s top linebackers, including Von Miller, Jon Beason, DeMeco Ryans, Julian Peterson, Ken Norton, Jr. and more.

Assistant Defensive Backs: Chris Harris – An eight-year NFL safety where he starred for the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers, 2019 marks Harris’ fourth in this capacity. He began his coaching career as a defensive quality control coach for the Bears, working primarily with the team’s safeties from 2013-14.

Quality Control – Defense: Addison Lynch – Entering his second season with the Chargers, Lynch previously worked at Florida State where he served under former Seminoles Head Coach Jimbo Fisher.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Assistant Head Coach/Special Teams Coordinator: George Stewart – Stewart enters his 31st season as an NFL coach. In 2017, he helped former punter Drew Kaser post the second-best single-season punting average in team history at 48.1, a mark that also ranked third in the league. In 2018, punt returner Desmond King ranked third in the NFL in punt return average while Adrian Phillips was voted into the Pro Bowl as a special teamer.

Assistant Special Teams Coach: Keith Burns – Entering his second season with the Chargers, Burns is the former special teams coordinator for the Washington Redskins, and an assistant special teams coach for the Denver Broncos. He played 13 seasons in the NFL, including 11 for the Broncos, and served as a special teams captain under Mike Shanahan in Denver.

STRENGTH AND CONDITIONING

Head Strength and Conditioning Coach: John Lott – A strength and conditioning coach in the NFL since 1997, 2019 will mark Lott’s third season with the Chargers. Prior to his stint with the Bolts, he spent time with the New York Jets, Cleveland Browns and Arizona Cardinals. Lott is once again joined by Assistant Strength Coach Jonathan Brooks, who is also entering his third season with the Chargers.

Team Review

In this section, I'll be breaking down the performance of each unit and I'll list every player who I think made fairly significant contributions to the 2018 Chargers. Note that you may likely see players who aren't starters on this list.

Offense

  • Quarterback - Philip Rivers

Another year, another fabulous season from Philip Rivers. The vet in his 15th year had one of his most efficient seasons to date, throwing for 4308 yards, 32 TDs and 12 INTs. Rivers' completion percentage (68.3%) and yards gained per pass attempt (8.5 yds/attempt) are the second and third-best marks of his career, respectively. I said this last year too and made it pretty clear in other sections of this post but with Phil playing at the level that he is, as well as being the current Ironman of the league, its so tough for anyone to put a timetable on when a QB of the future is needed. Rivers is the consummate professional, leader and quarterback for the Chargers in the near future and likely beyond.

  • Running Backs - Melvin Gordon, Austin Ekeler

Coach Lynn made it a priority to improve the run game, and in Year 2 the vision started to take shape. Prior to the 2018 season, Melvin Gordon had never averaged 4 or more yards per carry. In 2018 he averaged 5.1 YPC. Austin Ekeler burst onto the scene in 2017 as an UDFA with significant ability and got a bigger share of the workload in 2018, getting 106 carries to Gordon's 175. By the way, Ekeler averaged 5.2 YPC last season. Together, the duo combined for 1439 rushing yards and 13 rushing TDs as well as 894 total receiving yards and 7 receiving TDs. Gordon and Ekeler spearheaded a rushing attack that improved from 24th in the league in yards in 2017 to 15th in 2018, and under Anthony Lynn, this placing can expect to improve in 2019.

  • Wide Receivers/Tight Ends - Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Antonio Gates, Virgil Green

The sky-high expectations for the WR/TE corps took a hit when Hunter Henry was lost for pretty much the whole season with a torn ACL (he would be active for the AFC Divisional Round game in New England). This loss necessitated the re-signing of the venerable, but clearly slowed Antonio Gates, who led the TE group with 333 yards receiving. FA signing Virgil Green had 210 yards and played his role as a blocker. To the WRs, Keenan Allen showed again how dangerous he is when he's healthy, playing in all 16 games and netting 1196 yards and 6 TDs through the air. Mike Williams got to show every last one of us this season why the 7th overall pick was used on him this season, as he used that big, athletic frame he has to haul in 10 receiving TDs, tops on the team. Tyrell played as a strong complement once again this past season, which parlayed into a sizable deal with the Raiders.

  • Offensive Line - Russell Okung, Dan Feeney, Mike Pouncey, Michael Schofield, Sam Tevi

The addition of Mike Pouncey to the middle of the offensive line was a very big boost to the unit's performance in 2018. Pouncey and Russell Okung provided solid play for most of the season and provided veteran leadership to the otherwise very young O-linemen. Michael Schofield, initially claimed off waivers from the Broncos early in the 2017 season, re-upped with the Chargers and found a home at RG. While he was nothing spectacular, he wasn't all that bad either. The big problems with the OL check in at LG and RT. Dan Feeney has unfortunately struggled again this season, and Sam Tevi is a massive concern to me. I understand Tevi at least, he was meant to be a developmental player and while he's very athletic and does have some skill, he screams backup to me. Feeney has been more of a surprise, allowing the most pressures of any guard this season (Tevi allowed the third-most for any tackle). As I state in the FA/Draft Needs section, tackle should likely be addressed first because Forrest Lamp is still a present in-house option, though his limited action over the first two years of his career doesn't instill too much confidence. I'm definitely on the impatient side and its unfair to blame Lamp for the unfortunate injury that canceled his rookie season, but if he and Feeney don't get it together, they might not stick around after 2020.

Defense

  • Defensive Line - Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, Brandon Mebane, Corey Liuget, Damion Square, Darius Philon, Isaac Rochell, Justin Jones

Joey Bosa emerged as one of the league's fast rising edge rushers in 2017, but a foot injury kept him sidelined until Week 11. Bosa still managed to collect 5.5 sacks in 7 games, which doesn't seem to deviate much from his 2017 pace. Melvin Ingram had a very solid year, racking up 7 sacks and leading the defense with 16 QB hits. The interior D-line did their part as a unit to finish in the top 10 for both rushing yards and rushing scores allowed. Longtime vet Brandon Mebane was an anchor for the unit and played through some serious literal heartbreak, as his infant daughter Makenna passed away during the season due to a heart defect. Mebane will continue to be that anchor for two more years due to his recent re-signing. Corey Liuget had a rough year, starting it off being suspended for the first four games due to a PED violation, tearing a quad tendon in Week 11 which ended his season and the Chargers declined his option. He'd make a good low-cost bargain for a team looking for interior line depth, which still could be the Chargers considering that both Square and Philon are FAs as well. Philon in particular is a candidate for a decent payday this offseason. Rochell and Jones are both still developing young players that rounded out the major depth on the DL.

  • Linebackers - Denzel Perryman, Jatavis Brown, Kyle Emanuel, Kyzir White, Uchenna Nwosu

The linebacker unit was a position in some state of flux for much of the season. Kyzir White flashed but was lost early in the season, and key run-stuffer Denzel Perryman was lost with an LCL injury in Week 10. The oft-injured Perryman is seen by the team as a crucial enough component to retain, which explains his recent extension with the Chargers (imo this was a very good thing for the team to do). Kyle Emanuel and Uchenna Nwosu both played all 16 games, and Jatavis Brown played in 15 games. Brown, a key coverage contributor and owner of 97 total tackles on the season (second-most on the defense) was lost for the playoffs following an ankle injury in Week 17. Various other depth players saw action at LB like special teamer Nick Dzubnar, returning journeyman Hayes Pullard and even one of our DBs (Adrian Phillips).

  • Defensive Backs - Derwin James, Casey Hayward, Trevor Williams, Desmond King, Adrian Phillips, Jahleel Addae, Michael Davis

Derwin James is the clear headliner of a defensive backfield that was responsible for the 9th best pass defense in the league last season. James led the defense with 105 total tackles and led all DBs with 3.5 sacks. DB/LB Adrian Phillips netted 94 total tackles, good for third most on the defense. James and Desmond King also netted 3 INTs each, tied for most on the defense. Speaking of King, he had a spectacular season as the nickel CB, with PFF grading him out as the top slot corner in the league and 2nd-best corner. While 2018 was not as impressive as 2017 was for Casey Hayward, he still played like one of the league's better corners and will see no change in his status as CB1. Trevor Williams and Michael Davis provided support and depth at the CB2 spot and Jahleel Addae was a solid veteran presence and contributor.

Special Teams

  • Michael Badgley, Donnie Jones, Mike Windt (rip Caleb Sturgis and Drew Kaser)

Given how poorly the special teams unit performed in 2017, significant changes had to be made for 2018 not to become a repeat. The Chargers attempted to address the kicker position by acquiring Caleb Sturgis on a 2 year deal. To that point, Sturgis was a young and seemingly improving kicker with the Eagles, with his FG percentage rising with each year until 2017, where he was hurt and fully replaced by Jake Elliott. Unfortunately, this did not translate with the Chargers. Sturgis made only 69.2% of his FGs and was even worse on XPs (60%). The first victim of his struggles was Drew Kaser. After numerous kickers had come and gone, the coaching staff believed that the bigger constant here was the holder (which was Kaser) who could be botching the kicks. Kaser was replaced with longtime vet Donnie Jones, who had held for Sturgis with the Eagles in the past. Still didn't help. Rookie Mike Badgley was brought in to replace Sturgis and, to put it simply, was a breath of fresh air. In 10 games, Badgley made 93.8% of his FGs, 96.2% of his XPs and set a number of Chargers team records in the process. Jones is an iffy bet to return to the team, coming out of retirement to do so, but whoever the punter is next year better keep this thing going with Badgley.

Free Agency/Draft Targets

In this section, I'll break down the positions that I feel like the Chargers should target this offseason, whether in free agency or in the draft.

Major Needs

Interior DL

This need was covered slightly with the re-signing of Brandon Mebane, but Mebane himself won't account for the current severe lack of depth in the interior. Most of the interior DL we had last year (Corey Liuget, Darius Philon, Damion Square) are free agents, save for Mebane and Justin Jones. Ideally we'd re-sign two of them but its unlikely we'd get more than one of them back, and Liuget and Philon are very likely to be courted by other teams. Factor in Mebane's age and the interior DL has nearly no long-term solutions. The Chargers will have to address this in FA and the draft in some way.

OT

Russell Okung has done a solid job anchoring the left tackle spot, but right tackle is a pretty big area of concern. That spot has been manned largely by Sam Tevi, who usurped the spot away from an injured Joe Barksdale early in the season (Barksdale was released near the end of the regular season). Tevi is the kind of player I'd love to have as a reserve swing tackle, but he's rough to watch as a starter. Ideally, right tackle can be addressed this offseason, likely through the draft.

P

You think I'm kidding here but I'm really not. The most ideal situation at the moment is Donnie Jones returning to the team, but (and I'm betting this is because I'm used to seeing a long-term punter like Mike Scifres) I really would like to look farther into the future. With what's happened with Kaser, I now get that holding for FG kicks is a super important facet of being an employable punter. You don't have to hold to be a good punter, but pretty much every holder is a punter. Donnie is on record talking about the importance of focusing on learning how to hold, but is there a young punter on the market (FA or draft) who gets that as well as being a heckuva punter?

Needs That Should Be Considered

Interior OL

I'm sure enough people have looked at the OL's performance this past season and probably noticed how much former third-rounder Dan Feeney struggled (note: it wasn't good). Its totally fair that a replacement should be considered. The reason why that need is not higher is because other options are already on the roster, namely Forrest Lamp. Lamp was limited in his action this year, presmably making up for missed time adjusting to the pros and whatnot. I'm personally very confident that Lamp can push for the starting spot at left guard (whether or not that's realistic is really up to him) and the mere fact that he's available as an option is why I think that's less of an issue that needs additional personnel to address.

LB

This was initially going to be a need that really needed to be addressed but now falls down a peg with the Thomas Davis signing. We now have two hybrid linebackers in Kyzir White and Jatavis Brown, a thumper in Denzel Perryman, a skilled vet in Davis, a pass rusher and cover guy in Uchenna Nwosu, and special teamer Nick Dzubnar. What I'd like to see is extra depth, especially behind Perryman to provide schematic (and inevitably injury) flexibility.

S

I'll be honest, I was prepping to light into every Chargers fan who seriously thought the safety position remotely resembled a serious need, and then Jahleel Addae was released. I do remember thinking his contract seemed large given his production when he signed it (4 yr/$22.5M signed before 2017) but Addae was improving to some degree so I accepted it. Seems like he just didn't improve enough to warrant the 2019-2020 part of the deal, which appears to be the bulk of the contract value. Anyways, the safety depth chart currently has Derwin James and the recently re-signed Adrian Phillips as the likely current starters, with Jaylen Watkins and Rayshawn Jenkins in reserve. I mean, we can work with this, but I'm not sure if I want to work with just that setup.

We're Talking About This Anyway, Aren't We?

QB

Philip Rivers is not getting any younger. He's currently 37 and actually won't turn 38 until December. Rivers is the kind of guy who would try his damnedest to play until he's 45 and/or his arm falls off and I honestly wouldn't bet against him on that, but logic does have to come in when thinking about a replacement. The hard part that the logic tries to solve is "when is the right time to find one?" It shouldn't be that hard of a question but it is because this is Rivers we're talking about. He's the NFL's current Ironman with 208 consecutive starts (regular season only), which for perspective, has him currently tied with Peyton Manning at 3rd and only two games behind Eli Manning at 2nd. The recent signing of Tyrod Taylor throws some cold water on the possibility of QB being a draft target, but I highly doubt that we're bringing in Tyrod as the heir apparent. Call it a hunch. So then when is the right time to really think about a replacement for Phil? To me, searching now or any time in the near future just feels premature.

2019 Opponents

Home: Broncos, Chiefs [Mexico City], Raiders, Colts, Packers, Steelers, Texans, Vikings

Away: Broncos, Chiefs, Raiders, Bears, Dolphins, Jaguars, Lions, Titans

Final Thoughts

As I was working on this write-up over the weekend, I got word of the news that general manager Tom Telesco received a contract extension at the conclusion of the 2018 season. Telesco hasn't been mentioned anywhere else in this piece but the job he's done with this team has been pretty impressive. Obviously he hasn't hit on everything (actually he's missed on quite a bit in his tenure as GM) but the upward direction the team is currently in is in no small part due to his contributions to adding personnel. The Chargers' 2019 chances rest on him and the full staff (coaches and scouts) to come up with a plan to add more talent through FA and the draft. This team went farther than they should have last year, and now is the time for the Chargers to really begin to put up if they want to be seen as legitimate challengers for the AFC crown.

Shoutouts

  • To /u/therealDoctorKay for running the show this year and trusting me to have my shit together (you'll learn in time how bad of an idea that is).
  • To the caffeine IV drip that I have on at all times, so I can actually finish this long whatever-this-is and go about my days in a semi-alert manner.
  • To the /r/nfl mods, for showing me that being good at my job doesn't matter as long as the league pays us. wink wink nudge nudge
  • To all of you readers here on /r/nfl. For the love of all that is holy, go outside.

I'll do my best to answer any questions that any of you guys have, though I have a particularly busy today and won't get to them until later. Thanks for reading, and I'll see you around!