How Much Will the San Diego Chargers’ Record Improve in 2009?

Last year, the San Diego Chargers got off to a very slow start, eventally becoming the only team in NFL history to start out 4-8 and make the playoffs. Many of their struggles stemmed from the loss of Shawn Merriman for the season and the suddenly below average rushing game due to LaDainian Tomlinson’s injuries in 2008. Because of their defensive struggles, they were unable to hold leads late in games. They lost a total of 6 games by 7 points or less. With LT and Merriman back, they are expected to have a significantly better record this year. But, how much better could it be?

Comparing their 2008 schedule with 2009, it appears that they are facing a somewhat easier schedule than they did last year. In 2009, the Chargers’ Strength of Schedule is ranked 17th, with a 0.484 winning percentage based on 2008 records. That is a little lower than the 0.516 winning percentage of their 2008 opponents. Of course, we won’t know the final SOS for this schedule until the end of the season, and teams change each year. At this point, however, it appears that the Chargers may face a less daunting task than one year ago, at least until the playoffs.

In this post, I wanted to break down the Chargers’ 2008 and 2009 schedules a little further to get a better understanding of what they are up against this season. Taking my raw data from Pro-Football-Reference.com, I have compiled the Offensive and Defensive rankings of the Chargers’ opponents from 2008 and 2009, broken out in the following 4 categories:  

  • Pts Rk – Total Points Rank
  • Yds Rk – Total Yards Rank
  • Pass Rk – Passing Yards Rank
  • Rush Rk – Rushing Yards Rank

The rankings for both seasons are based on how the teams finished the 2008 season, since, of course, the 2009 final rankings are yet to be determined.

Before we get into opponents’ rankings, let’s review the Chargers’ rankings from last season. 


Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Chargers’ 2008 Off Rks 2 11 7 20
Chargers’ 2008 Def Rks 15 25 31 11

With these numbers in mind, let’s take a look at the Chargers’ opponents for last year and this year. In the tables below, we see the Chargers’ opponents’ offensive and defensive ranks for 2008 and 2009. First, the offensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Chargers’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Carolina Panthers 7 10 19 3
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
New York Jets 9 16 16 9
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
New England Patriots 8 5 12 6
Buffalo Bills 23 25 22 14
New Orleans Saints 1 1 1 28
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 22 17 23
Indianapolis Colts 13 15 5 31
Atlanta Falcons 10 6 14 2
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 19 14 11 15
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Average Ranks 17.06 14.75 14.81 13.63

And 2009:


Opponents’ Offensive Ranks
Chargers’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
Baltimore Ravens 11 18 28 4
Miami Dolphins 21 12 10 11
Pittsburgh Steelers 20 22 17 23
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Oakland Raiders 29 29 32 10
New York Giants 3 7 18 1
Philadelphia Eagles 6 9 6 22
Denver Broncos 16 2 3 12
Kansas City Chiefs 26 24 20 16
Cleveland Browns 31 31 31 26
Dallas Cowboys 18 13 9 21
Cincinnati Bengals 32 32 30 29
Tennessee Titans 14 21 27 7
Washington Redskins 28 19 23 8
Average Ranks 20.38 18.38 19.31 14.25

Next, we have the opponents’ defensive ranks for 2008:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Chargers’ 2008 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Carolina Panthers 12 18 16 20
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
New York Jets 18 16 29 7
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
New England Patriots 8 10 11 15
Buffalo Bills 14 14 13 22
New Orleans Saints 26 23 23 17
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Pittsburgh Steelers 1 1 1 2
Indianapolis Colts 7 11 6 24
Atlanta Falcons 11 24 21 25
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10 9 4 19
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Average Ranks 17.63 19.69 17.31 21.06

And 2009:


Opponents’ Defensive Ranks
Chargers’ 2009 Schedule Pts Rk Yds Rk Pass Rk Rush Rk
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
Baltimore Ravens 3 2 2 3
Miami Dolphins 9 15 25 10
Pittsburgh Steelers 1 1 1 2
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Oakland Raiders 24 27 10 31
New York Giants 5 5 8 9
Philadelphia Eagles 4 3 3 4
Denver Broncos 30 29 26 27
Kansas City Chiefs 29 31 28 30
Cleveland Browns 17 26 14 28
Dallas Cowboys 20 8 5 12
Cincinnati Bengals 19 12 15 21
Tennessee Titans 2 7 9 6
Washington Redskins 6 4 7 8
Average Ranks 15.75 16.06 13.56 17.44

Just a cursory glance at these tables shows that the level of opponents’ defenses increases considerably while the level of opponents’ offenses decreases considerably. This may be good news for the Chargers, because the Chargers’ offense was 2nd in the league last year while their defense struggled. The offense should be even better this year with a healthy LT and Philip Rivers entering his fourth season as a starter. I think the Chargers’ offense is well prepared to handle higher quality defenses this year. The Chargers’ defense should be a better unit with Merriman back, and they should put up significantly better numbers with the drop in opponents’ offensive ranks from 2008 to 2009.

Digging a little deeper into the numbers, here are a few items of the note from this data.

  • The opponents’ average offensive rank decreases 19% in points scored from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average offensive rank decreases 25% in yards gained from 2008 to 2009 (30% in pass yards, 5% in rush yards).
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 11% in points allowed from 2008 to 2009.
  • The opponents’ average defensive rank increases 18% in yards allowed from 2008 to 2009 (22% in pass yards, 17% in rush yards).
  • In 2008, the Chargers faced the following number of top 10 offenses: 5 in points, 6 in yards, 5 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Chargers will face the following number of top 10 offenses: 2 in points, 4 in yards, 5 passing, and 6 rushing.
  • In 2008, the Chargers faced the following number of top 10 defenses: 5 in points, 3 in yards, 5 passing, and 3 rushing.
  • In 2009, the Chargers will face the following number of top 10 defenses: 7 in points, 7 in yards, 9 passing, and 7 rushing.

When looking at all of the numbers, I come away with a couple of things. First, the Chargers could have a better offense this year and not have the same statistical success as a year ago. About half of their schedule will consist of top ten defenses this year, including 9 who were top 10 against the pass. But, if LT is fully healthy, they should have a more balanced team, and I do think that Rivers is capable of stepping up in the clutch when given the opportunity. So, that brings me to the second point. A big question mark for the Chargers last year was pass defense. Again, the return of Merriman should help improve the pass rush and the Chargers’ overall pass defense. San Diego also drafted Larry English in the first round as insurance against Merriman struggling this season.  If the Chargers can do a better job stopping the pass, the rest of the defensive numbers should improve significantly.

Overall, the Chargers can expect to face a slightly weaker schedule than last year. The greatest difference is in the higher level defenses that they will face, mainly NFC East teams and the Ravens (they played the Steelers last year). But, this should play into their strength, which is offense. With that said, this analysis didn’t get into individual opponents and what changes each opponent went through in the offseason. For example, every team in their division has a new head coach, and, as we saw last year with the Falcons and Ravens, those teams may be surprisingly improved. Or, they may struggle even more this year. But, on the whole, I do think this analysis gives us a good idea of what the Chargers are up against this year.

Let me know your thoughts, Chargers fans.

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