Now settled in LA, Chargers eye Super Bowl contention
CARSON, Calif. (AP) — The tumult and uncertainty of the Los Angeles Chargers‘ relocation season is finally a memory.
Now it’s time to find out whether the Chargers truly left their San Diego identity back in San Diego.
A franchise with one Super Bowl appearance in its entire history and one playoff victory in the past decade has one of its most promising teams in many years. Coach Anthony Lynn’s second roster is stacked with talent, fully settled in Orange County and reaping the benefits of coaching staff continuity.
Everything is in place for the Chargers to make a playoff run, perhaps even a Super Bowl surge. But after years of unfulfilled potential and catastrophic injury setbacks, even the Chargers themselves are waiting to see how the season develops before pronouncing themselves contenders.
“It’s interesting, because it’s been a while,” quarterback Philip Rivers said of external expectations of success. “I’ve been on some teams here that had those expectations, and we went out and did it year after year there for a while. It’s been a long time, though. There aren’t many guys that have been through that on this team.”
The Chargers know what they’ve got, however. It’s tough to identify many weak spots on their roster, and they have everything from a favorable schedule to a wide-open AFC West working in their favor.
They’ve also got Lynn, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley in charge for the second straight season, making them the only team in the division with that much coaching continuity.
“I can say I definitely feel a little bit more comfortable, knowing what to expect,” Lynn said. “We’re not moving, and not living out of boxes. We’re definitely more comfortable, but the expectations have not changed. Not one bit.”
Los Angeles is loaded with skill-position talent, including Rivers throwing to Pro Bowl receiver Keenan Allen and several strong targets in the NFL’s best passing offense of 2017. Workhorse running back Melvin Gordon is healthy, and the offensive line got a boost with the addition of hard-nosed center Mike Pouncey.
The Chargers have had other outstanding rosters in the past quarter-century, but none of them made it to the Super Bowl. This team clearly has a shot, but don’t expect many Bolts to get that far ahead of themselves.
“We’re not thinking that far down the line,” said Rivers, entering his 13th consecutive season as the Chargers’ starter. “That kind of stuff doesn’t always help. We’re focused on Week 1 against Kansas City, and we’ll go from there.”
The Chargers could have one of the NFL’s top defenses led by Bosa and Ingram. The elite pass-rushing duo has combined for 41 1/2 sacks over the last two seasons, and there’s little reason to think those two won’t continue tormenting quarterbacks all year. Ingram has looked particularly sharp in preseason games, while Bosa has been slowed by injury. Bradley said the duo’s presence changes every offense faced by the Chargers because opponents must game-plan around the threat.
OLDER MAN RIVERS
Rivers turns 37 during the season, but he still isn’t close to retirement. He also remains one of the NFL’s most consistent passers, racking up at least 4,000 yards and 27 touchdown passes in eight of the past nine seasons. Rivers expertly commanded the Bolts’ offense during their late-season surge for nine wins in 12 games, and he benefited from an offensive line that barely allowed him to be touched. Tackles Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale are back to keep Rivers upright.
STOP THE RUN
The Chargers’ greatest defensive flaws were exposed by strong rushing games last season, and it’s still not clear whether they’ve shored up their stoutness against the run. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget also will miss the first four games under suspension, but Darius Philon will attempt to keep the middle strong. Los Angeles could use a strong season from linebackers Denzel Perryman and rookie Uchenna Nwosu, who will play a key role in their run-stopping efforts.
Williams barely played last season after an injury kept him out of training camp, but the No. 7 overall pick has been a revelation in August. Using his size and speed to full advantage, Williams has embarrassed defensive backs and even held his own against Casey Hayward, the Chargers’ Pro Bowl cornerback. Williams could be poised for a breakout season in a receiving group that’s already stacked with talent.
The Chargers used four kickers last season and lost at least two games that likely could have gone their way with a made field goal. Caleb Sturgis and Roberto Aguayo have been competing for the job throughout camp, and the winner’s early-season performance will be heavily scrutinized as a bellwether for the Bolts’ future.