The Los Angeles Chargers 23-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers represents everything that the Chargers fanbase has endured over the years, both good and bad. A close game that once again came down to the final drive, they could be nothing but happy from what they saw from their franchise leader and an injury-stunted pass rush. But that still couldn’t get the job done.
During the game, the broadcast displayed a statistic that perfectly explained the frustration of Chargers fans. Since Herbert arrived in town, the Chargers have ranked fourth in points scored with 1502. They also gave up more points than any other team in that time – with 1502. Unsurprisingly, the Chargers were 29-30 over that span.
The Brandon Staley tenure was supposed to be about something entirely different; a hot new defensive scheme should have come in, with an analytics-savvy coach, to maximize what was possible with a phenomenal quarterback on a rookie contract.
To argue that the Chargers were victims of mistakes and injuries – a common theme – would be accurate. But it would still underplay the active choices that Staley would make that undermined the Chargers’ offensive performance.
The mistakes were tremendous – Keenan Allen dropped two or three passes, including a third down pass, a throw at the two-yard line and one inside the end zone – while players like Stone Smartt, Quentin Johnston and Donald Parham also had their fair share of drops.
A pair of pass interference plays – offensive by Smartt
and defensive by Asante Samuel – played big roles, as did process penalties like an unnecessary delay of game in the red zone. The biggest mistakes may have come from Austin Ekeler – slipping on the field once to produce an incompletion in the two-minute drill and another time to produce a fumble at the eight-yard line.
The most impactful mistake happened on a deep shot to Johnston on third down with 51 seconds left – a drop on a wide-open play that would have put them in field goal range.
There were significant injuries, too – Joey Bosa left the game early with a foot injury that looked painful both physically and emotionally. Sebastian Joseph-Day, after a strong start to the game, also had to exit because of injury, as did center Will Clapp.
Those don’t provide much of an excuse, though – the Packers lost almost their entire running back room and saw hits to their linebacker group with the injury to De’Vondre Campbell. The injury late to Luke Musgrave didn’t help things either.
Turn some of those mistakes around and Herbert ends up with a 75 percent completion rate and two more touchdowns. Turn some of those mistakes around and the Green Bay Packers don’t steal a possession off of the game’s lone turnover. Turn some of those mistakes around, and we’re talking about the Chargers stealing the wildcard spots claimed by the AFC North.
And still there would be reason to be upset with Staley.
Brandon Staley Architected The Loss
The defense has been feeling the absences caused by injury but that can’t overcome the issues presented by the scheme. We don’t know if the Chargers have the talent on the back end to consistently compete because they’re not being put into a position to succeed.
The Packers love to throw deep and they did so in the game. But their most valuable area of the field has been the most valuable area to Chargers opponents for weeks – the intermediate middle. The voids in the intermediate middle meant that Jordan Love could exploit the short posts, sits and square-ins on a consistent basis.
“We haven’t found that rhythm consistently enough in the secondary,” Staley said after the game. “There’s these plays that really hijacked our rhythm in the passing game. That’s where we got to put our focus, that’s where it’s been.”
Staley’s focus in the postgame presser was on execution and fundamentals — and that provided a convenient reason not to evaluate the scheme — but when asked why errors in fundamentals crop up every week, Staley didn’t provide a reason, instead emotionally making the case that they talk to the players about sound technique every week.
“I know the message is getting across. We’re not getting execution on the field,” he said. He reiterated that he has “full confidence” in his messaging and when asked about defensive playcalling, he told reporters they need to stop asking.
“Like I told you, and like I told you from the beginning, I have full confidence in our way of playing,” he said. “Full confidence in myself as the playcaller and in the way that we teach and the way that we scheme. Full confidence in that. We gotta bring this group together and do it consistently and that’s where it’s at. So you can stop asking that question, OK? I’m going to be calling the defenses, OK? So we’re clear. So you don’t have to ask that again.”
Staley was frustrated. But it’s hard to imagine that Chargers fans aren’t.
The Packers were more than familiar with how the defense would react to vertical stems – the obsession with keep corners on top of receivers meant that comebacks and curls would be there all day. And they were – an inexperienced Packers receiving group dominated a young Chargers secondary.
The Packers may not have scored a bushel of points – “just” 23 – but the Chargers let a struggling Packers offense that had been on a seven-game streak of games under twenty points turn in one of their best performances of the season.
It’s not all on the defense, of course. In addition to the offensive mistakes detailed above, Herbert was under siege and couldn’t operate out of a clean pocket. He turned many of those into scrambles, and ended the day as the game’s leading rusher, with 73 yards. But a better pocket would have meant more downfield shots.
The Chargers are not technically out of the playoff race. Sumer Sports, before the game, estimated that a loss would put the Chargers at one-in-six odds of making the playoffs with a loss, down from a greater than one-in-four (two in seven?) shot after a win.
The season is not over. But the conversations around the building should at least entertain that worst-case scenario and evaluate whether or not they want Staley there long-term.