It's been over 24 hours since the LA Chargers suffered a shocking Wild Card defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars by blowing a 27-0 lead. Twenty-seven points is the fifth largest blown lead in NFL history. In playoff history, it's the third largest collapse.
Opinions on what the Chargers should do vary. Most in the media probably believe Brandon Staley has to go. Sean Payton's name keeps getting brought up in reports. Amongst Chargers fans, firing Joe Lombardi and keeping Staley is a decently popular sentiment. Tom Telesco's name and whether he's fit to lead as GM is a common talking point on social media as well. After a loss like that on national television, everyone's immediate thoughts range from jumbled to outraged.
Almost 48 hours removed, I've had time to reflect and my thought process have largely remained the same: Staley cannot be allowed to continue as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.
27-0 is explainable enough in and of itself. Staley got out-coached by Doug Pederson twice in poor fashion this year. He didn't adjust in the second half as a defensive coordinator. Pederson allowed Lawrence to methodically come back into the game drive-by-drive giving him plenty of options and slants and crossers in the middle of the field.
Staley's first half game plan was immaculate. His pass rush got home and it allowed his defense to sit on routes in the intermediate range. But as soon as Pederson punched back and cornerback Michael Davis left the game, Staley had no answers.
Joe Lombardi's offense is absolutely one of the primary concerns for the Chargers to solve. Removing Lombardi and replacing him with someone who can better execute the central tenets of the west coast offense would solve a lot. If replacing Lombardi is what the Chargers decide to do, it will be a decision most fans can live with.
But let's not take away the blame from Staley with how the offense struggled as well. Staley's roster decisions got the Chargers to the point where they were playing Michael Bandy as their third wide receiver. Both him and Telesco share roster control and decisions. Both of them were comfortable to have Foster Sarell as their swing tackle for the back half of the season. That cost them, too. Staley's also had his way with personnel decisions on defense: let's not pretend that's not also true on the other side of the ball. The Chargers' receivers being unable to gain any separation is as much of a problem as Lombardi's stick routes that go nowhere.
Staley is partially to blame for the Chargers' defensive and offensive failures on Saturday night. However, there is one area where he is the sole person who carries the whole pie chart of the blame. That would be the health status of wide receiver Mike Williams and his absence against the Jaguars.
Staley's decision to not rest his starters after the first quarter cost him dearly. While he maintained that Williams would be able to play against the Jaguars for large portions of the week, it was eventually revealed on Friday morning that Williams suffered a back fracture and was effectively out for the remainder of the postseason. Not having him against the Jaguars was certainly one major factor that swung the game.
Personally, the main thing that caught me by surprise was Staley's indignance on the media's line of questioning to him about not resting the starters:
The Chargers need to fire Brandon Staley, effective immediately
Claiming that the media, fans, and "everybody on the outside" used hindsight in their criticism was absolutely erroneous. The TV commentators were shocked Herbert was still playing until the end of the 3rd quarter. Austin Ekeler was taking massive hits near the goal line. It wasn't simply about Williams' injury, although it was an unfortunate result. It was about Staley's process. For someone who's put a lot of value in sports science, performance, and player health, he threw it all out of the window to "tune up for the playoffs".
The Chargers were locked into the fifth seed and were headed to Jacksonville by the time the game kicked off. For a coach who's usually very methodical in approach, the arrogance that he displayed towards simply the line of questioning was atrocious.
The organization then came out on Saturday morning prior to the game and defended Staley to NFL insider Ian Rapoport. While they can throw their backing towards Staley, no one is going to convince me that the organziation made him make the decision to continue to play the starters. It was a coaching decision that the organization did support, but for that they paid the ultimate price.
Sticking with decision making, it's arguable that Staley become a worse decision maker in year two. I constantly defended Staley in response to old-school NFL media that would question his 4th down decisions in 2021. But when it came to fourth down in 2022, there was no "4th and Staley". His lack of aggression completely changed the makeup of some games. Staley was awfully conservative in the Wild Card game just one year after he was grilled following the Raiders loss in Week 18 where the media questioned him. Pederson coached to win while Staley coached not to lose.
Now it is true that Staley fought through injuries in 2022. That will be one of the arguments from his supporters. The Chargers by most metrics were a bottom five team in terms of injuries after being Top 10 in adjusted games lost in 2021. But by the time the regular season ended, the Chargers had a large portion of their players back for the Jacksonville game. Joey Bosa returned, as did Derwin James. Keenan Allen had been back for weeks. Even left tackle Rashawn Slater was ramping up to return in the divisional round had the Chargers advanced. The only premier player the Chargers were truly missing when the game kicked off on Saturday night was Williams, which has already been discussed.
The LA Chargers have put all of their poker chips in the middle of the table. They've gone all in financially, signing superstar players to big deals and using assets to build out their roster. They have just two more years of quarterback Justin Herbert's rookie contract window. That is to say they no longer have time to allow Staley to grow on the job.
The Chargers need a veteran coach on the job now to be able to take this team over the finish line. That doesn't necessarily mean Sean Payton as much as some want him, but someone who can go tit-for-tat with the premium coaches in the league and come out with wins.
Aside from a win over Andy Reid in year one and a win over Sean McVay's injured Rams in year two, Staley has never over-performed against a premium coach. He lost to Belichick and John Harbaugh badly in year one just as he got crushed by Pederson and Pete Carroll in year two. Aside from some close games against Reid's Chiefs, his adjustments when they've mattered most have left a lot to be desired against the NFL's best.
The Chargers were consistently the worst third quarter team in the NFL this year. That should mean something. They were 29th in offensive scoring out of halftime. But don't just blame Lombardi-the Chargers were 25th (!) in defensive scoring allowed in the third quarter. It's on the head coach to come out of halftime adjusted well and it says a lot that Staley regressed on both sides of the ball in the third quarter in 2022.
Someone who just looks at the records in 2021 and 2022 will see 9-8 and 10-7 and say that Staley improved. But as a coach, an argument can very well be made in my opinion that the Chargers head coach was better in 2021 and regressed this season. Cowardice on 4th downs, third quarter disasters, personnel and roster activations that left the team in poor positions, lack of defensive adjustments, being out-coached by the NFL's best, and the Williams injury in Week 18 are just a few things that the Chargers will be unable to scapegoat onto Renaldo Hill or the aforementioned Lombardi.
The Chargers need a proven commodity at head coach and cannot bank on Staley recovering in year three. It would be a disastrous misunderstanding of the contention window for Justin Herbert. Staley may be a fine coach one day, but I've lost faith in his ability to continue on as Chargers' head coach going forward.