The LA Chargers came out in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers and looked great. It looked like the Bolts were going to shock all of the doubters on Sunday Night Football and take it to the 49ers in what would have been a massive win.
Instead, the Chargers offense decided to take the night off early after taking a 16-6 lead into halftime. The Bolts picked up only two first downs in the second half behind only 57 yards.
Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has not been a popular person among the Chargers fanbase dating back to last season and the fans certainly let him have it after this ridiculous second-half showing. While it admittedly was not entirely on Lombardi like some fans think it is, the fact of the matter is that Lombardi's mistakes put this offense in a position to fail.
Joe Lombardi's first-down play-calling killed the Chargers offense against the 49ers.
Before diving into the problems with the first-down play-calling, it is important to note that the passing game wasn't necessarily the issue as far as Lombardi is concerned. After seeing the Chargers go deep in the first half, many fans complained that Lombardi got timid and stopped throwing past the sticks.
That had nothing to do with Lombardi being "timid". The routes were there past the sticks, the problem was that Justin Herbert was playing in front of a patchwork offense line and literally had his preseason offense on the field with him. Herbert also missed a potential throw or two in key spots that could have converted.
The main problem was the first-down play-calling, though. Lombardi's insistence on establishing a run game that wasn't working, and running behind his third-string right tackle, killed this offense. Just because the run game works with Zion Johnson and Trey Pipkins doesn't mean it'll work with Johnson and Foster Sarell, who made his first NFL start in this game.
Here were the Chargers' first-down play calls in the second half with how many yards they picked up:
- Run (2 yards, negated by defensive penalty)
- Pass to Joshua Palmer (12 yards)
- Run (12 yards)
- Run (2 yards)
- Run (2 yards)
- Run (-1 yard)
- Jet sweep (-6 yards)
- Pass (incomplete)
- Pass (Interception)
The Chargers ran a pass play on what was essentially the first first down of the second half and it picked up 12 yards. They then ran a pretty successful run with Austin Ekeler. Then, the team decided to instantly kill four drives in a row with vanilla, bad plays.
The incomplete pass was when Herbert was backed up in the end-zone and the interception was on a tipped pass at the end of the game. Nobody is asking for Herbert to throw it 30 yards on first down (or shouldn't be), but getting behind the sticks killed this offense.
Lombardi knows the situation on the Chargers. It is not like he was in a coma, suddenly woke up, and thought he had a fully healthy offensive line and his top two receivers. He should have known that picking up third and longs would be nearly impossible with the unit that was on the field.
On paper, the play-calls and routes on the third and long situations actually made sense. That was not the problem. The problem was that he was calling these plays like he had Keenan Allen and Mike Williams on the field. He didn't.
So when the early-down play calls weren't working, why didn't he adjust and try and get ahead of the sticks? With what was out there, the difference between third and seven and third and 10 wasn't much. So throw a pass and put your team in actual manageable third-down situations.
The Chargers faced five third downs in the second half. Four of those five were for eight or longer yards. The only one that was third and short the team converted. I totally understand the sentiment to try and get the run game going to get into those short third-down chances. But when it is not working time and time again, you have to adjust. There are no excuses.
The Chargers can't drop back 60 times in a game. They are not going to win many games that way. But when something very obviously isn't working, adjustments have to be made. Plain and simple.