The LA Chargers need to be watching their division counterparts, the Las Vegas Raiders, more closely.
The LA Chargers have not started the 2020 season as expected with a 1-4 record despite having a chance to win every single game (typical Chargers, right?). Meanwhile, the Las Vegas Raiders have two huge wins over the New Orleans Saints and Kansas City Chiefs that have put them on the map.
Ironically, the LA Chargers should also hold wins over both of those teams, but they don’t. The Chargers blew a lead in both of those games, including against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and are 1-4 without those big wins.
Are the Raiders as good as advertised? Probably not. Are the Chargers as bad as their record suggests? Also, probably not. In fact, when you really break it down, the two teams are actually on an almost identical level this season.
While the strengths and weaknesses of both teams are different, the overall talent is the same. The Chargers and Raiders rank 22nd and 21st, respecitvely, in DVOA (via Football Outsiders) this season.
For those that are unfamiliar, here is Football Outsiders’ explanation of DVOA (which is a very useful statistic):
“… measured by our proprietary Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA) system that breaks down every single play and compares a team’s performance to the league average based on situation in order to determine value over average.”
Simply put: the LA Chargers are Las Vegas Raiders are nearly identical.
So what has been the difference? What can the LA Chargers learn from the Las Vegas Raiders to win some of these big games instead of lose in disappointing fashion?
The difference is the coaching.
While I have been the number one passenger on the “Jon Gurden is overrated train”, I have to give credit where credit is due. He is absolutely coaching up Derek Carr and is making the kind of decisions that win games, while Anthony Lynn is making the decisions that lose games.
We could get deep on the playcalling and how the Chargers call more run plays on first down than the Raiders and are way less effective, but let’s just focus on the situational playcalling here.
Jon Gruden has guts. He is coaching his team to win. He is not coaching his team not to lose, which Anthony Lynn has been victim of this season.
Let’s just look at the two big wins that the Raiders have and the decisions that were made. Against the New Orleans Saints, Gruden opted to kick a 54-yard field goal to go up 10 with a minute left.
While Michael Badgley has not been great, Lynn would never make that decision. The Chargers would punt every day of the week. He would be too focused on the negative that could happen if they miss the field goal rather than going out and putting the game on ice by making it a two-possesion lead.
Again: you have to have faith in your kicker (which Lynn seemingly doesn’t) but isn’t that also Lynn’s fault? Why have they had a kicker for three years that he seemingly does not trust from 50 yards out?
Yeah, I am just going to put my life savings in a safe that I think only works 80 percent of the time but then blame the safe when someone robs me. Right?
The numbers are there. Since Lynn took over the coaching job, the Chargers have punted 12 times between their opponents 35 and 40 yard-line. The Raiders in that same timeframe (Gruden was hired in 2018)? Four.
In that exact same time frame the Chargers have only attempted four field goals from that range. Lynn is passive.
Gruden also is not scared to go for it when he can win the game as well. With an eight-point lead and two minutes left in the game, the Raiders opted to go for it on fourth and one against the Kansas City Chiefs from midfield to ice the game.
If the Raiders do not get that then the Chiefs only need to drive 55 yards to potentially tie the game. Patrick Mahomes probably does that. Instead, the Raiders went for it, got the first, and one.
The Chargers, after taking the Chiefs to overtime, punted away a chance of winning on fourth and one because they didn’t want to give the Chiefs a short field, completely ignoring the fact that the Chiefs only needed a field-goal anyway and Mahomes did not have to drive very far to get the win.
If that is the Jacksonville Jaguars then sure, punt and trust the defense. Not Patrick Mahomes. You play to beat Patrick Mahomes. You don’t play not to lose against Patrick Mahomes.
And let’s be honest: the Chargers should not have been in that game anyway. They started a rookie on minutes notice. If you get that far then just go for it. What happened to the Anthony Lynn that put it all on the line and went for a two-point conversion to beat Kansas City two years ago? Where has he gone?
The LA Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders are very similar in terms of overall talent but the Raiders have made better decisions. That alone can be the difference between being 1-4 and being 3-2.