What the Chargers accomplished over their last six games -- five wins and a narrow defeat in Denver -- gives clarity to what the team must accomplish this offseason.
A defense that was historically bad through the first 11 games turned the corner in a major way, allowing just 17.43 point per game over its final seven contests. Now, a unit that appeared in need of a complete rebuild may just need a few important additions in order to compete at the highest level.
John Pagano still needs a nose tackle who can command double-teams, an outside linebacker who can create pressure off the edge and a cornerback who can slow down opponents' top receivers. But he's thrilled by the development of young players like Shareece Wright
, Marcus Gilchrist
, Jahleel Addae
, Manti Te'o
and Thomas Keiser
On offense, the Chargers sorely missed receivers Malcom Floyd and Danario Alenxader, as the offense had no real downfield threat that could take the top off opposing defenses. But overall, Philip Rivers
directed a very efficient attack. The Chargers ranked No. 5 in overall offense, including No. 4 through the air.
Rivers had an MVP caliber season, earning PFWA's Comeback Player of the Year
award. Ryan Mathews
finished second in the AFC in rushing yards with 1,255. And Keenan Allen
finished second in Rookie of the Year
voting while setting a new franchise rookie record for receiving yards with 1,046.
The offense will undergo some changes, too, starting with Frank Reich taking over for Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator. A new quarterbacks coach is needed to replace Reich, and a new tight ends coach is needed to replace Jason Michael, who is following Whisenhunt to Tennessee to become the Titans' offensive coordinator.
As far as personnel, Rivers has a lot of weapons in Allen, Ladarius Green
, Mathews and Danny Woodhead
. Tom Telesco will likely draft another receiver and running back. He will also look for a left tackle, either to replace King Dunlap
or to groom behind him.
Telesco -- outside of the Derek Cox
signing -- enjoying a superb first season on the job. He will need another inspired offseason to advance the Chargers from fringe playoff team to legitimate Super Bowl contender.
His to-do list is daunting. But given San Diego's surprising success in his first season at the helm, this rebuild is closer to completion than anyone could have anticipated.
Talk all about Rivers and his comeback season inside of the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
When the Chargers fell to 5-7, many fans claimed to have no interest in a playoff run, insisting a higher draft pick was more valuable than a postseason push that would almost certainly fall short. Instead, the Chargers marched all the way to the Divisional Round, strengthening the team's identity and building momentum going into the 2014 season.
San Diego's season-ending run did not lead to the Super Bowl, but it did answer a lot of questions