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Seven Coaching Decisions That Came Back to Bite the Chargers in New England

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NFL: Miami Dolphins at Los Angeles Chargers Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

We’ve had a few days to recover from the Chargers’ loss to the Patriots and, my guess is, we’re all still licking our collective wounds. Sunday’s game was sloppy, filled with questionable coaching decisions, bogged down by pathetic special teams play, and exceedingly disappointing. And, of course, with the bye week here, we get two weeks to wallow in our misery.

As sick as the players have to be over how that game unfolded, it’s the coaching staff that will feel like they let the players down when they watch the film. Sure, Tyrell Williams and Travis Benjamin had extremely rough games, but I thought the coaching staff wasted a few opportunities to impact the game with either game management or play-calling decisions.

In fact, I thought the coaches wasted seven such opportunities, all of which came in the form of either game management errors or play-calling errors. Let’s review those lost opportunities to see how they changed the momentum and outcome in the game.

Game Management Errors #1 & 2: 4th and one from NE 33, 8:48 Q1, FG try

Scenario: Rivers hits Gates on 3rd & 17 from the NE 49. Gates catches it at the 35, is hit by two defenders at the 33, spins his way to and lands on the NE 32 – also known as the line to gain. The officials spot the ball at the 33, decide to measure a spot that is clearly a full yard short as the Chargers are lining up to go for it, and give the Patriots a chance to regroup.

What happened: Anthony Lynn accepted the bad spot, took his offense off the field and decided to kick a 51-yard field goal with his 55-year old kicker (I kid, sort of).

What should have happened #1: Anthony Lynn should have challenged the spot. The ball was spotted a full yard short of where it should have been placed, and it was evident re-watching the play. The worst case scenario here has the Chargers winding up with a 4th and inches try, but the odds are strong they come away with the first down. Either way, the offense stays on the field with either a considerably shorter fourth down try or a first down. This was a big miss by the Chargers rookie head coach.

What should have happened #2: Anthony Lynn should have gone for it on fourth down. First of all, the odds of Nick Novak, who is 16/30 (53.33%) from 50+ yards in his career, making a 51-yard kick into the wind rested somewhere between slim-and-none. Second, it makes no sense that Lynn would take his offense off the field in that situation against a suspect and depleted defense just a week after daring that same group to “bow up” against arguably the best front seven in the NFL. Going for it was the play, and I could have even (grudgingly) accepted pinning the Pats deep with a punt, but kicking the field goal was the wrong call, and it suggests he doesn’t know his personnel.

Play-calling Error #1: 3rd and two from LA 23, 14:04 Q2, wildcat run for Oliver

Scenario: Melvin Gordon just had what was ruled a six-yard carry on 2nd & 8. Faced with 3rd and a relatively “long” two, Ken Whisenhunt decides to get “creative,” calling for a Branden Oliver outside zone play from the wildcat.

What happened: Oliver gets stretched out and comes up short, forcing a punt.

What should have happened: Ken Whisenhunt should have run Melvin Gordon behind Russell Okung and Dan Feeney. First of all, don’t run trick/gimmick plays on 3rd & 2. Second, Oliver shouldn’t be getting key third down touches. Third, they shouldn’t be asking Branden to race the defense to the edge on the short side of the field. And last but not least, if you’re determined to run that garbage play in that situation, you might want to run it behind the left side of your line, which also happened to be the wide side of the field. Again, calling BO’s name on that play, to that side of the field, and in that situation, suggests they don’t know their personnel. It was a huge coaching fail for Whis, which is nothing new at this point.

Play-calling Error #2: 3rd and two from LA 44, 2:01 Q2, pick pass to Tyrell

Scenario: Chargers are down 12-7 and driving before the half. Rivers doesn’t like what he sees and calls a timeout. Ken Whisenhunt decides to call a pick play for Tyrell Williams with Mike Williams setting the pick.

What happened: Mike whiffs on the pick, Tyrell slips after being pushed from behind in traffic, and the ball falls incomplete. The Patriots would eventually kick a field goal before the half, stretching their lead to eight points.

What should have happened: Ken Whisenhunt should have run left with Gordon or called a swing pass to either Gordon or Ekeler to the left. There was so much wrong with this call; it’s difficult to keep track of everything. First of all, you’re asking a rookie who has hardly played to set a pick. Second, you’re asking Tyrell, whom we all know isn’t particularly strong at the catch point, to make a physical catch in traffic. Third, if you must call that play, why not have either Keenan or Hunter set the pick for Mike Williams, whom the team drafted specifically to make physical, chains-moving catches in traffic? Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but it suggests Ken Whisenhunt doesn’t know his personnel.

Play-calling Error #3: 2-point try from NE 2, 8:00 Q4, 50/50 ball to Gates

Scenario: The Chargers had just scored and were trying to close to within three points with a two-point conversion.

What happened: Gates and Benjamin ran slants from the left (short) side of the field, with both of them winding up in a crowd between the hash marks and Rivers tried to throw a 50/50 ball to Gates, who wasn’t looking for it. The result was an incomplete pass.

What should have happened: Whisenhunt should have called either a back shoulder fade or a jump ball for Mike Williams to the right (wide) side of the field. This was an awful play call because it created congestion in the middle of the field and it appeared Gates was the primary read (or at least the pre-snap read). It isn’t 2007, Gates is no longer capable of being the primary option in the red zone, and he certainly shouldn’t be getting jump ball looks. If only the team had drafted a 6’4”, 215-pound wide receiver in the first round with that exact scenario in mind…

Game Management Error #3: 4th & 8 from LA 26, 4:41 Q4, punt

Scenario: Chargers are down 18-13 and face a 4th and 8 with 4:41 remaining in the game.

What happened: Anthony Lynn decides to punt. At this point the defense is tired, and the Patriots have attempted three field goals and punted once in the second half, so the chances of the Patriots extending their lead while forcing the Chargers to burn most or all of their timeouts are pretty good. In other words, this could be your last opportunity to win the game with a touchdown.

What should have happened: Lynn should have gone for it. Sure, you can argue they trusted the defense to get a stop, but if not for two improbable missed field goals the Chargers are down 24-13, and they have to go for it there. Of the two options (going for it, punting), only one gives you a shot at extending that drive, which increases your chances of putting together a game-winning drive against a bad defense with your full complement of timeouts. Both a punt and a failed try give the ball back to Tom Brady and essentially end the game. Wouldn’t you rather go down fighting? I know I would.

Play-calling error #4: 2nd and ten from the NE 23, 0:01 Q4

Scenario: Final play of the game with the Chargers needing a touchdown and a two-point conversion to tie.

What happened: The Chargers go five wide and run everyone into the end zone, but Mike Williams is the primary option and is supposed break his route off and come back to the ball short of the end zone. Mike slips in his break with the Patriots lined up along the goal line, and it’s an easy interception to end the game.

What should have happened: They should have thrown the ball into the end zone. I understand wanting to target Williams in that situation, but why are you asking him to come back to the ball short of the end zone with no time remaining? Get him in the end zone, throw it up, and let him go get it. I could even (grudgingly) get with giving Mike a chance to break a tackle by hitting him in stride a couple of yards shy of the end zone, but asking him to essentially stop and start his momentum twice in the same play with no time remaining is silly.

Those are the seven points in the game at which I thought the Chargers coaching staff really let the players down. We have three game management lapses and four play-calling mistakes, all of which played a huge role in the outcome of the game and, I hope, will serve as learning experiences for Lynn and his staff.

In my opinion, the fourth down decisions (or lack thereof) at the beginning and end of the game were concerning because they contradicted the physical, aggressive identity Coach Lynn worked so hard to cultivate while also showing a lack of appreciation for the individual moments in which he found himself. Other than that, I think Ken Whisenhunt’s third-and-short play-calling shows an alarming lack of familiarity with his players’ individual skill sets and will probably get him fired at the end of the year.

That’s what I think; what would you have done differently?