Was Chargers head coach Brandon Staley too aggressive when down to fourth?
Sometimes football coaches can become so established in the way “they do things” that their philosophy can negatively affect the overall production of the team. That can be said about the second-year head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, Brandon Staley. He believes in rolling the dice and moving on from fourth. And don’t be shy about it.
“If we lose, we will do it on our terms, not on someone else’s terms.” Old told The Athletic.
You have to love the young coach’s confidence, although his aggressiveness in attack is a bit surprising considering defense is his forte. Staley was the Rams defensive coordinator in 2020 before taking the Charger job last season. He also spent three seasons as an outfield coach for the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears. Brandon’s college coaching stops are also on the defensive side.
We rarely see an NFL head coach who has worked his way through the defensive ranks to be this aggressive in his formation and attacking mindset. Traditionally, defensive coaches mostly bet on Wednesdays when they need to. Only in specific situations is there a fourth transition that was even dreamed of years ago.
Two teams attempted more fourth downs last year than the Chargers, but Los Angeles converted the most, 22 to 34. LA also finished the season with the fourth-lowest conversion rate with the New England Patriots, another team whose head coach is more defensively inclined. While this contradicts all that the NFL has had on the field for decades, it’s no longer the norm for defensive coaches to be less conservative when it comes to offense.
Staley appears to be leading that charge and has no regrets about using analytics. Even with confidence, Staley humbly admits that it’s not about himself but about the team. If switching from fourth down gives the Charger a higher probability of winning, then maybe Staley is taking that opportunity.
But at what point does it become predictable? Opponent defenses are also using analytics and looking for an advantage against these modern attacks. Staley’s Chargers dropped seven points in their fourth drop to start the ’21 season. They ended the year by converting eight of their last nine fourth drop.
Sure, it worked, but so did Miami-damaging offense – for a season – until the rest of the NFL found out. And that’s where sticking to your plan can get stubborn. Some coaches can’t adjust when teams figure it out or simply don’t. Teams didn’t know what to expect from Staley when he fouled in his first year. This season will definitely be different.
Having a young star in midfield like Justin Herbert helps a lot, but even the best QBs have a team or two figuring them out at some point. Every defense they play this year will be prepared for multiple fourth kills against the Chargers.
Like many people, I still believe in taking points as they become available. I don’t mind dropping to fourth, but sometimes Staley chooses to make scoring attempts in close matches. It sometimes feels like coaches weigh these decisions on their own. It’s okay to only get three points in one drive.
With Staley’s gambler layout, he could be in the hot seat after just two seasons if these Chargers fail to do the job post-season. No coach wants to sit in the hot seat, but especially not when a name like Sean Payton is lurking.
LA won nine games last season, and their division has only gotten tougher this season with the addition of Russell Wilson in Denver. All four teams in the AFC West have medium to large QB scores. Herbert, Wilson, Patrick Mahomes and Derek Carr. AFC West is the best QB league in football.
At least Chargers fans know what they’re getting with Staley. He firmly believes in taking fourth place. This means you’ll miss out on some points here and there, although Staley takes responsibility and is willing to live with those decisions. Staley said that Chargers would lose on their terms. He may be looking for work elsewhere if those terms don’t get the Chargers into the knockout stages this year.