The LA Chargers suffered perhaps the team's worst loss since losing to the winless Cleveland Browns on Sunday, losing to the now 4-11 Houston Texans in a game that was not even close. The Chargers controlled their own playoff destiny and now need serious help in the last two weeks to be able to make the playoffs in Brandon Staley's first year as head coach.
Overall, Staley has been a positive addition for the Chargers. He has leaned into having one of the best quarterbacks in the league, embraces the analytical side of the game and has seemingly brought a new culture to the franchise. The Chargers have won several games this season as a direct result of his decision-making.
However, it has not been all sunshine and rainbows, which should be expected for a first-year head coach. There have been struggles as well and these struggles have polarized Charger fans. One-half of the fanbase loves all the positives that Staley brings and does not want to give him any blame. The other half (albeit smaller than half) does not like Staley at all and thinks he should be fired.
Staley definitely should not be fired but he absolutely should be held accountable for the areas where he can be better. And quite frankly, there is one glaring area where Staley has to improve as a coach if the Chargers are going to really capitalize on a potentially wide Super Bowl window with Justin Herbert's rookie contract.
The LA Chargers need the defensive genius Brandon Staley that was promised.
Look, the LA Chargers were short-staffed on Sunday against the Texans. Houston was short-staffed as well and I do not think it is a good excuse at all for the Bolts to hold onto, but I am not going to grill Staley for Devontae Harris playing badly. He played out of necessity.
However, there have been problems that have existed for the entire season. The two most notable problems are the run defense and third-down defense. The Chargers have one of the worst run defenses and the worst third-down defense in the league and I do not care who the quarterback is, you are never going to win multiple playoff games with those two areas being weak.
In fact, the Chargers' third-down defense is the second-worst since the NFL started tracking third-down conversions in 1991. The Bolts have allowed a first down on 51.1% of third downs this season. Only the 2020 Titans are worse at 51.9%. It has been that bad.
The defensive numbers are simply not good. The team ranks 31st in total points allowed and 22nd in total yards allowed. The defense ranks 25th in total plays allowed per drive and 22nd in average time allowed per drive. If teams want to keep the ball away from Justin Herbert then they can do it. That is exactly what the Texans did on Sunday.
All of these rankings are even worse considering Brandon Staley was touted as a defensive genius that would maximize this defense this season. He turned the LA Rams into the best defensive team in football and with stars such as Derwin James and Joey Bosa, the hope was that he could do the same in LA.
But he hasn't. The defense has been horrendous. Staley supporters who do not want to blame him at all would point at the lack of roster depth and blame Tom Telesco. That is absolutely part of the equation. However, there is a simple fact that really hurts Brandon Staley's case.
This is virtually the same group of players on defense as last season and quite frankly, is probably more talented last season. Sure, the team lost Denzel Perryman, Rayshawn Jenkins and Casey Hayward Jr. but they have improved in all of those areas. Perryman has been great for Las Vegas but Kyzir White has been better this year than Perryman was last year. Derwin James has returned and taken over the snaps that Jenkins played and Casey Hayward was awful last season, so they really are not losing much.
Add in a healthy Drue Tranquill and a much better Nasir Adderley and it is clear that this defense is more talented than it was last year. However, the numbers compared to last year are far worse. Last season the Bolts ranked 23rd in points allowed and 10th in total yards allowed. They ranked 15th in total plays allowed per drive and 14th in total time allowed per drive. The third-down defense rate still wasn't great, but it was much more manageable at 43.6%.
It is not like the offenses the Chargers are playing are much better this year, either. Last season, the average points per game for all the Chargers' opponents (for the entire season, not just against the Chargers) was 24.2 points. This season that average is 26.1 points. Not much higher.
Even still, this defense being on par with last year's despite the talent additions and the addition of Brandon Staley should still feel like a slight failure. The fact that the defense is worse is even more alarming considering what Staley was supposed to do with this defense.
Brandon Staley definitely deserves time to figure out the defense and actually add pieces that fit his scheme, not someone else's scheme. This upcoming offseason will be extremely important for him and the LA Chargers.