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Wednesday, June 6, 2012

San Diego Chargers: 4 Reason Why They Will Win the AFC West in 2012 - Bleacher Report

With OTAs in full swing, football fever is starting to take control of America. The San Diego Chargers hope to return to the top of the AFC West for the first time since 2009.

The Bolts have won 15 division titles in their history and the 2012-13 season should be another division championship for the Chargers.

The Chargers have had a successful offseason so farâ€"they have signed every one of their draft picks and have added talent and depth to their roster. With these moves, the Bolts are primed for a division championship.

Philip Rivers Will Rebound

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Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Was he hurt? Does he not like Norv? Was he distracted? Those types of questions flew around the media regarding Philip Rivers. Philip Rivers was not the same Philip Rivers that Charger fans have been accustomed to seeing year in and year out. 

Rivers played his first full season as the starting quarterback in 2006 and since then has been regarded as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. 2011 was a year to forget for Rivers, although he threw for 4,624 yards, he also threw a career high 20 picks, fumbled the ball 7 times and threw for just 27 touchdowns (lowest since 2007).

Whether he was hurt or not (he wasn’t,) Philip Rivers will rebound in 2012. His offensive line was decimated with injuries leaving Rivers with no help in pass protection. Rivers isn’t the most agile quarterback, so lots of pressure on him is not something that fits well into his game. With the offensive line getting healthy during the offseason, Rivers should have plenty of protection next year.

Rivers will enjoy the addition of Eddie Royal and Le’Ron McClain. Rivers and the Chargers hope that Royal will pan out to be a Darren Sproles-type player. Rivers had great success with Sproles, and with Royal being capable of lining up all over the field, it should help out in short downs and on third down.

The addition of Le’Ron McClain, in my opinion, is one of the best signings of the offseason in the entire NFL. McClain is an upgrade over fan favorite Jacob Hester. McClain will add better protection for Rivers as well as the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. In his five year career, McClain averages almost 17 catches a year, which is outstanding for a fullback.

Rivers will have added motivation, as he is not considered the best quarterback in the division anymore. The Denver Broncos’ acquisition of Peyton Manning should spark a fire under Rivers, who is known to be ultra competitive. Antonio Gates will also help Rivers have a rebound year. Gates who has been banged up for the past 2-3 seasons is supposedly as healthy as he has been in past years.

Gates is just another weapon for Rivers to use to as he hopes to return to his All-Pro form. 

The Pressure on Norv Turner and AJ Smith

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After the San Diego Chargers missed the playoffs for the second straight year, most people around the NFL believed that head coach Norv Turner and General Manager AJ Smith would be fired by the organization.

Team owner Dean Spanos, however, let the two get one last shot at turning the team around. The move was a surprising one, but Spanos made it clear that he believed these two men were the right combination to lead the Chargers back to the playoffs.

Most people agree that if the Chargers miss the playoffs three times in a row that both Turner and Smith will be sent packing. Both Turner and Smith know that this is their last chance to get this team turned around. The pressure should bring out the best in both men, which is a good thing for the Chargers and the fans.

For AJ Smith, it started in free agency in which he lost his best receiver within the first hour, but then reloaded the position with the signings of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. He signed veteran OLB, Jarret Johnson who should fit well in new defensive coordinator, John Pagano’s system. He followed up a strong free agency period with a solid draft in which they chose defensive players with their first three picks.

All three of those players are talented enough to come in and have a shot at clocking considerable playing time in their rookie year. AJ Smith has had a strong 2012 so far, but as we get closer to the season we will know more about how these additions will help the team.

As for Norv Turner, the first four games will be extremely important for him and his coaching staff. The Chargers are known for getting off to slow starts under Turner and in order to stay in the AFC West Race, they will need to get off to a strong start.  The Chargers open up their 2012 season at division foe Oakland, then return home for two games against the Tennessee Titans and Atlanta Falcons before heading to Kansas City for a tilt against the Chiefs.

The first month features two tough road division games for the Bolts and two wins will help the Bolts jump out to a terrific start in the division.  Norv Turner and AJ Smith both realize that this could be their last time working for the Chargers and both should be at their best for the rest of the offseason and into the 2012 season.

Ryan Mathews

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Donald Miralle/Getty Images

Ryan Mathews should have his best year as a professional in 2012. With the departure of Mike Tolbert, Mathews should get the rock more than he has in his career. When Mathews is on the field, the San Diego Chargers are a much better football team. He is a “do it all” running backâ€"last year he recorded 1,091 on 222 rushing attempts and caught 50 balls for 455 yards.

Much like Ladainian Tomlinson, he is a running back who is comfortable catching the ball out of the backfield, which is a weapon the Chargers should use to their advantage all year

Last year, Mathews ranked 10th in the league in total rushing. He did this even though he missed two games and split carries with Tolbert all season. He averaged 4.9 yards per carry, which was an improvement from his rookie season. Mathews is starting to look like the guy that AJ Smith and the coaching staff thought they would be getting when they traded up 12 spots to take Mathews in the 2010 draft.

The offseason has given the often-injured Mathews a chance to get healthy and work on his fitness, as well as his ball security. After failing the team's conditioning test during training camp last year, Mathews' dedication has been discussed.

This offseason has been much different for Mathews. According to Chargers beat writer, Michael Gehlken, Mathews has dedicated himself to becoming a better football player this offseason and expects to see tremendous results once the season rolls around. 

Mathew’s training partner Jacob Hester, told Gehlken said that “He (Mathews) looks like Arnold back in the day.”

One big question that surrounds Mathews is his durability. He missed two games last year and missed time with an ankle injury his rookie year. Mathews must stay healthy in order for the Chargers to win the AFC West.

With a strong offseason, a solid training camp, and superb work from the training staff, Mathews should have a top five running back type of year as the Chargers look to win the AFC West in 2012.

Defensive Improvement

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Jeff Gross/Getty Images

The San Diego Chargers finished last year ranked 16th in the NFL in total defense.  In a disappointing 2011 year for the Chargers, the defense was one of the main reasons why the team struggled.

The Chargers fired defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and promoted linebacker coach John Pagano to fill the vacancy. Charger players have expressed their excitement to be working under Pagano.

The defense never could figure it out under Manuksy, they ranked 20th in the league in opponent rushing yards and 13th against the pass. The Chargers should expect to be much better on defense this year, with a familiar coach taking the reigns and the excitement surrounding Pagano, the Chargers defense should see an upgrade.

The Chargers also improved through free agency and the draft on the defensive side of the ball.  The Chargers signed Jarret Johnson in the beginning of free agency. Johnson will improve the run defenseâ€"his specialty is sealing the edge and shutting down the run, which is exactly what the Chargers lacked last year.

The Chargers also added depth at safety with the addition of Atari Bigby.

Bigby should battle with third round draft pick Brandon Taylor for the starting job at safety alongside of Eric Weddle. Draft picks Melvin Ingram and Kendall Reyes both will compete to see plenty of snaps in their rookie seasons.

Ingram should see a majority of third down snaps as well as spell Johnson in blitz packages. Reyes adds depth to a fairly slim defensive line that seems to be dealing with injuries every year. At 6’4” and 300lbs, he has the ability to play both the interior and exterior positions on the line.

Shaun Phillips should have a rebound year for the Boltsâ€"last year, Phillips was plagued by injury, which caused him to miss five games in 2011. With the addition of Ingram and Johnson, Philips should see pressure taken off of him.

Last year, he saw double teams and saw his sack numbers dip from 11 in 2010 to 3.5 in 2011. With Philips healthy and the additions through the draft and free agency, John Pagano’s defense should be a top defense in the NFL.

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