Chargers’ coaches search for a spark

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 29: Head Coach Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers on the sidelines during the second quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 29: Head Coach Anthony Lynn of the Los Angeles Chargers on the sidelines during the second quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on September 29, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) /

In what was a frustrating first half against the Miami Dolphins, the Los Angeles Chargers coaching staff had enough and searched for a player that would provide a spark to their defense.

The 2019 Dolphins may be the worst team in NFL history, and the Chargers needed to snap their two-game losing streak. All week, you heard Anthony Lynn claiming that this Dolphins team had potential, that they were fighters, that they would keep it close, that they were desperate for a win. The Chargers were desperate too. Desperate to avoid losing to an 0-3 Dolphins squad.

The Chargers started off hot, grabbing three points in the first drive, but Miami responded by making it 7-3. At this point, many Chargers fans are confused, angry, and amazed that a team that often annihilated lesser teams in 2018 seems to have regressed to its old ways.

That wasn’t the case.

The Chargers said enough is enough. Forrest Lamp saw the field. Then Drue Tranquil saw the field. Then Nasir Adderley saw the field. Jerry Tillery‘s snaps increased, Kyzir White saw more third-down usage, and Desmond King borrowed the power of the Gods and said, “I’ll bring the pressure”. The pressure was brought, as the defensive back had 2.5 sacks on the day.

This isn’t a recap, this isn’t a summary, this is praise.

The Chargers have had one knock throughout the last two seasons. Play your better players. If the line is struggling, you would think they would put Lamp on the field. They haven’t. For over a year they didn’t, due to the “chemistry” of the line in 2018, and the emergence of Dan Feeney in the preseason.

There were standouts in the preseason. Troymaine Pope, Adderley, Tranquil. The 2018, or even the Week 3 Chargers, would have never made a change. Melvin Gordon would have played if this was last week. Thomas Davis would see a full 100 percent snap count. Rayshawn Jenkins wouldn’t be moved around as they need him to. It would be conservative football decisions to refrain from losing. Don’t get this wrong, the Chargers are in survival mode, but they still have the pieces to be aggressive that they just weren’t showing. Until they showed it, of course.

The Chargers did what needed to be done. They made changes at halftime. It’s what separates some good coaches from bad coaches, and the Chargers reaffirmed their fans. “We’re good.” Those aren’t spoken words from the players or staff, but they were heard. The Chargers offense, led by Philip Rivers, managed to put 30 on the board, never punting the ball. The defense, while shaky to start, didn’t give up a single point in the second half. Enough was enough.

It’s been a concerning three weeks. Lynn stating that the “Right 53 may not be the best 53” sent flags throughout all of us that analyze the Chargers. It was a moment of looking at each other and thinking, “here it is.” It immediately was proven to be worthy of concern. Artavis Scott, T.Y. McGill, Andre Patton, all cut. Standout players in the preseason, gone. The depth chart was set, and Adderley was the bottom safety on the list. Lamp was the backup right guard, Tranquil was third behind White and Perryman, and Patton wasn’t even on the list.

Four weeks later, and I feel okay at 2-2. We’ve all learned something. The Chargers and the fans.

“We’re good.”

Again, it’s not a quote from any player or staff, but it’s what is heard and what is felt when you go back and watch any rep of any of the four games they have played. They’re a Wild Card team with the roster they have, and they are getting a lot of help very soon. Let’s just think about that for another moment.

They are a Wild Card team. Without Gordon, Derwin James, Hunter Henry, Adrian Phillips, Russell Okung. They are a playoff team. Give them those players, now what do you have? A contender. Make no mistake, this team is contending. Those were just injured players I listed, now add the rookies and young players that will begin to receive play time. Adderley, Lamp, Tranquil, Patton. These are reinforcements for a Wild Card team, that creates a contender.

The Chargers coaching staff found the spark. It isn’t a player, it isn’t a playbook. It’s reinforcements and youth. The Chargers stated in this game that they have Keenan Allen, and they can throw him the ball for 200 yards, but they don’t have to. They can run Gordon, but they don’t have to. They can rush back Melvin Ingram, but they don’t have to. They can go trade for a corner, but they don’t have to. It’s Week 4, all they have to do is win the football game. When the time comes that Allen needs 200, they will throw to Allen. When the time comes that they need range at free safety, they will put in Adderley.

Contrary to popular belief, a win is not a win. There is a lot of context and information to be learned in the middle of that win. Is the team blocking well? Check. Are other players stepping up? Check. Do they have the depth to hang on? Check. Are they recovering after bad plays? Check. All things that can be learned from this win, and there is so much more. A win is not so much a win, just as a loss is not just a loss. You learn from them, you grow from them, and there are lessons in each game that show whether or not a team has it.

The Chargers may have struggled in the first half, and any analyst that just looks at the box score will say to himself, “Wow, the Dolphins gave them a rough time in that first half. Chargers must not be very good.” Yet, it’s what occurs in that first half, and what they do to fix what was broken, that tells the story. Did they build upon what was good, and did they fix what was wrong? Yes. Box scores don’t tell the whole story. The Chargers didn’t punt. They were getting pressure, they were tipping passes. Some things just went wrong.

So, what do the Chargers do when something goes wrong? Prior to this game, they went back onto the field and did it again, hoping for a different outcome. Against Miami, they made improvements. They learned. Just like a team needs time to shake off the rust, coaches need moments in games, or in bed at night, to think to themselves, “it’s time to get that man on the field. It’s time to step things up.” They stepped it up, and the young players they trusted to go make plays answered as well as you could ask them to.

They played Lamp at left tackle. He had blocked well all game, he had key blocks on key runs to kick off drives. It didn’t seem like a predetermined move to put Lamp at left tackle. It seemed like a, “he has been on the sideline for long enough. Let’s move him around.” They played Patton at wide receiver. They didn’t have to. They could have rolled Allen, Dontrelle Inman, and Geremy Davis. They elected to get Patton some experience. Patton ran solid routes, made great blocks, and earned that valuable experience that will help him grow as the season goes along.

Next. Chargers dispatch of Dolphins to win first game in Miami in nearly 40 years

This was much more than a win against a bad Dolphins team. This was an experience. The context of the win matters and this game was more important than anyone realizes. Not because the Chargers are now 2-2, but because they put themselves in a position to improve in the future.

That future starts when they get home in Los Angeles to get onto the practice field and prepare for the Denver Broncos next week. This writer is excited about that future.