Brandon Staley has preached two things since being hired as the Los Angeles Chargers head coach in January: consistency in his message and playing aggressively.
That isn't going to change despite plenty of second guessing by many after a 34-28 overtime loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday night.
The Chargers came up empty in three red-zone trips — with two being on decisions to go for it on fourth down — and were 2 of 5 overall on fourth downs. All four of Staley's fourth-down calls were correct according to analytics, but has the first-year coach been too driven by analytics instead of relying on instinct from time to time?
Staley said he has tried to blend both as best he can.
“Personally, I didn’t make it here by going with the math. The math says that I’m a long shot to make it where I’m at. The math, the odds are not good," said Staley, who was a Division III defensive coordinator five years ago. "The only reason why I made it here is because of calculation. We’re being calculated on how we play and we are playing to the strength of our football team.
“What I’m doing is I’m trying to make the decisions that I think are going to win us the game. I’m ready to live with all that smoke that comes with it. You need to be able to live with the decisions and your team needs to know why you’re making these decisions so that they can live with them, too.”
The decision when Staley was second guessed most came on the final play of the first half. The Chargers had fourth-and-goal at the Kansas City 1-yard line and elected to go instead of taking the field goal and a 17-10 lead into the locker room. Justin Herbert's pass to Keenan Allen was incomplete, broken up by Daniel Sorensen.
Staley said he wanted to make it a two-possession game.
“I knew that if we didn’t get it, then it’s 14-10. Even if Kansas City scores to open the second half, it’s still a one-possession game,” he said. “I wanted to be of that mindset, to separate from them because I felt like it was a great opportunity.”
While taking the points might seem a no-brainer, Staley didn't deviate from the norm. According to Stathead, there have been seven second-quarter fourth-and-goal plays from at least the 2-yard line with 3 seconds or fewer. Teams have opted to kick the field goal only three times while teams that have gone — including the Chargers — are 1 for 4.
Even though the Chargers' hopes of winning the division took a major hit, they are still in the mix for a wild-card spot at 8-6.
The Chargers were last in the league in kickoff returns during the first six weeks, averaging 16.5 yards. Since signing Andre Roberts, they are averaging 28.6 yards over the past nine weeks, which is second highest in the league. Roberts took the opening kickoff 75 yards, his eighth return of at least 25 yards since coming to Los Angeles. The Chargers' longest return in their first six games was for 24 yards.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
The secondary and pass defense have done a solid job most of the season not allowing the big play, but they gave up a season-high seven completions of at least 20 yards against the Chiefs. There were too many breakdowns in pass coverage, especially when it came to covering tight end Travis Kelce, who had a career-high 190 yards on 10 receptions.
LB Uchenna Nwosu came up with his first NFL interception during the fourth quarter when he read Patrick Mahomes' screen pass to Clyde Edwards-Helaire, tipped it behind the line of scrimmage and then picked it off. Austin Ekeler ran in from 2 yards on the next play, putting the Chargers ahead 21-13 in the fourth quarter.
It was Nwosu's second takeaway of the season. He joined CB Michael Davis as the only Chargers this season to have an interception and a fumble recovery.
Joshua Kelley had a costly fourth-quarter fumble at the KC 3-yard line, marking the third red-zone drive during Thursday's game in which the Chargers produced zero points.
“It’s one thing to go up and over and it’s another thing to reach it out when you go up and over," Staley said. "It was third down, not fourth down. That’s not what we coach around here. We need to learn from that and make sure that that doesn’t happen again.”
TE Donald Parham Jr. is expected to be released from the hospital Friday after being diagnosed with a concussion. Parham left the field on a stretcher after his head slammed to the turf while trying to catch a pass during the first quarter.
S Derwin James aggravated a hamstring injury during the second half and did not return. Staley is hopeful the extra days off will allow James to further recover in time for the Dec. 26 game at Houston.
0 — sacks allowed despite LT Rashawn Slater not playing after he tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday. It is the second time this season the offensive line hasn't allowed Herbert to be sacked.
The Chargers have a weekend to catch up on Christmas shopping before they begin preparations for the Texans. Los Angeles has won five of the seven meetings in the series.
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