San Diego did not have a very good season in 2011, going 8-8 and narrowly missing a playoff tiebreaker to the Denver Broncos.
The causes of 2011′s breakdown can be attributed to a number of factors, the least of which being a string of key injuries, and Phillip Rivers uncharacteristic sloppy play with 20 interceptions. The team also had a dismal rush defense that plagued them through most of the season, often struggling to get off the field and giving up plenty of big plays.
In 2012 they have taken dramatic steps to improve their defense, adding veteran run stopping linebacker Takeo Spikes in the middle of the line backing core. Their biggest changes however will come with the defensive line, as 2011′s first round pick Corey Liuget is showing great signs of improvement since camp has started.
They also selected Melvin Ingram with the 18th overall pick in 2012, someone who many considered the best all-around pass rusher in the draft. Ingram is set to retain the starting job at defensive end and is showing huge potential early in camp.
They are also planning on having former #1 pick Luis Castillo back for 2012, one of the premier defensive tackles in the league.
With a improved defensive line and veteran all-pro linebackers Shaun Phillips and Takeo Spikes in the mix, the front seven look to now be one the teams most solid areas, a complete reversal from last year.
San Diego still holds on to their reputation for having an excellent secondary, retaining veterans Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason, as well as Eric Weddle, who had 7 interceptions in 2011.
Having shored up serious gaps in the defense, success in 2012 will be depend on how explosive their offense can be, as well as if they can stay healthy throughout the year.
Fans were upset when they lost their top playmaker and deep threat in 2011, Vincent Jackson, and gained two mid-tier receivers in Robert Meacham and Eddie Royal instead.
In past years Rivers has been able to depend heavily on mega-all-pro Antonio Gates in the passing game, but with Vincent Jackson gone opponents are now free to focus even more on Gates, double teaming him and bumping him at the snap. This is not to mention that Gates is aging, and has been plagued by a persistent toe injury for quite some time.
Ryan Matthews is an excellent running back, but it remains to be seen if he can handle a load of 20+ carries a game through a full season. He was plagued with injuries throughout 2011, and if he is injured again this team will be to rely heavily on an already depleted passing attack.
2012 will be a make or break year for this team, with many fans irate that Norv Turner retained his job after numerous disappointing seasons. Many have called for a younger, more aggressive and innovative coach, but those calls have since fell on deaf ears. This may be Turners last chance to prove that he can make use of a team that is still brimming with potential.
This will also be Rivers opportunity to show if he is truly an all-pro quarterback. As stated, it will most likely be difficult for Rivers to put up top-tier numbers with a sub-par receiving core, offensive line, and running attack.
Most analysts predict the Chargers will win the AFC West title this year, as their competition has not done much to improve; but so far the hopes for a deep playoff run still seem several years off.