Houston (CBS Houston) – The Texans will open up their season tonight against the San Diego Chargers. Unfamiliar with the boys from Ron Burgundy’s borough? Here is what you need to know.
No More Norv
From 2006 through 2010, you could easily argue that the San Diego Chargers were the NFL’s most talented team. Yet they perennially under-achieved. Why? Because of the guys under the headset.
Marty Schottenheimer had had his best season with the Chargers in 2006, where San Diego went 14-2 behind LaDainian Tomlinson’s legs (1,815 yards rushing, 28 TDs, 508 yards receiving, 3 TDs, oh yeah…and 2 TD passes. Those stats are real.) and Shawne Merriman’s 17 sacks (in just 12 games). The end result? Arguably the biggest choke-job in the AFC this century, a 24-21 loss to an underwhelming Patriots team. Schottenheimer was fired after the game.
Norv Turner was hired as replacement, and was effective his first three seasons despite slow starts:
– 11-5 in 2007 after a 1-3 start (AFC West Champs), lost to Patriots in AFC Championship
– 8-8 in 2008 after a 2-3 start (AFC West Champs), lost to Steelers in Divisional Round
– 13-3 in 2009 after a 1-3 start (AFC West Champs), lost to Jets in Divisional Round.
After that? Underachievement City.
– 2010: 9-7, missed the playoffs after 2-5 start.
– 2011: 8-8, missed the playoffs after 4-1 start.
– 2012: 7-9, missed the playoffs after 3-1 start (with stretch of 7 losses in 9 games)
Also, THIS happened last season. Bucket Kicked.
Only 4 years too late, Norv Turner was fired as head coach along with G.M. A.J. Smith. The replacements? Tom Telesco as G.M. (former V.P. of operations for Colts), Mike McCoy as head coach (offensive coordinator for Broncos), and Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator (head coach of Cardinals).
Can’t say a lot about Telesco. But McCoy and Whisenhunt look like good hires zero weeks into the season. McCoy found a way to make a Tim Tebow led offense effective (which may be Canton-worthy resume material), before receiving way too much credit for adapting that offense to Peyton Manning. And let’s not forget, Ken Whisenhunt revived veteran QB Kurt Warner (with help from Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin) to an improbable Super Bowl appearance. This has the potential to be a very solid
The Old Guard
If the Chargers want to see a Whisenhunt-esque revival for their offensive stars, the potential (however slight) is still there. Quarterback Phillip Rivers is coming off back to back down seasons, but he still has gargantuan receiving targets like ageless tight end Antonio Gates (6’4) and wide receiver Malcom Floyd (6’5). Missing is Danario Alexander (6’5), who tore his ACL in the off-season. In his place steps small speedster Eddie Royal. Meanwhile, rookie Keenan Allen (6’2) could also see action. If Rivers has enough time, those height mismatches against the likes of cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph (5’11) and Kareem Jackson (5’10)…or safeties Danieal Manning (5’11), Shiloh Keo (5’11) and D.J. Swearinger (5’10) could be a problem for the Texans. If there’s anything we can take from past Chargers teams, we know they like to throw the ball deep – something that was a huge issue for the Texans D down the stretch.
But buying Rivers that time to throw downfield will be too difficult. Whisenhunt’s biggest problem in Arizona – outside of having non-talents like Kevin Kolb and Jon Skelton at QB – was his horrendous offensive line. He’ll have his hands full with the Chargers’ hogs, because they aren’t much better. They have four new starters on the line: former Eagle King Dunlap at left tackle, and former Bill Chad Rinehart at left guard. On the right side, rookie D.J. Fluker is tackle, while former right tackle Jeromey Clary will play right guard for the first time in his career. Their only returning starter? Center Nick Hardwick, who ProFootballFocus.com rated as the 63rd best center in the league. Fun fact! There are 32 starting centers in the league!
The biggest matchup of this game will be how the Texans pass rush fares against the Chargers O-Line. J.J. Watt is still J.J. Watt, while Earl Mitchell is coming off an extremely productive preseason. But how will they fare with Antonio Smith suspended (Jared Crick starting in his place)? Or with Whitney Mercilus playing in his first game of the year after a hamstring injury in training camp? And will Brooks Reed finally show up? I’m expecting a good outing from all of the above.
New Familiar Faces On D
Remember Dwight Freeney? He’s no longer a Colt, and is now an outside linebacker for the Chargers in their 3-4 scheme. Freeney was a terror as a defensive end with Peyton Manning’s Colts, but struggled last season when Andrew Luck’s Indy flipped to the 3-4. I don’t think he can play that position. He’s great as a pass rusher with his team up a couple of scores, but easily gets lost in the shuffle against the run. With that in mind, I’m hoping Gary Kubiak runs a heavy dose of Arian Foster and Ben Tate straight at Freeney early and often, taking him out of the game in the process.
Former Jaguar cornerback Derek Cox also joined the Chargers this season as their number 1 cornerback. He joins a secondary that… – outside of three time All-Pro safety Eric Weddle – …sucks. And Cox isn’t very good himself (ranking 71st overall at corner according to Pro Football Focus)!
It’ll be interesting to see if Matt Schaub goes for the jugular against this unit. Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels are ready, but rookie DeAndre Hopkins and 2nd year WR DeVier Posey are behind the 8 ball (Hopkins having missed the last two preseason games with a concussion, and Posey still getting back to speed after tearing his achilles). Maybe Lestar Jean could have a big game…
San Diego actually has a respectable front 7, especially on the defensive line. Corey Lliuget and Kendall Reyes are a solid defensive end tandem, ranked 8th and 14th respectively by Pro Football Focus. The Chargers are one of just three 3-4 teams with multiple defensive ends ranked in the top 15, with the Texans (Watt – 1, and Smith – 6) and Packers (B.J. Raji – 7, Mike Neal – 13, and C.J. Wilson – 15.) And they have a lot of faith in middle linebacker Donald Butler.
The Chargers are a lot better than people give them credit for, and could surprise the Texans by virtue of having a new head coach and offensive coordinator. But they won’t beat Houston with non-existent talent on the offensive line or in the secondary. I think the Texans start the season 1-0 with a 27-17 win.