Questionable Brandon Staley Decisions Stand Out in Los Angeles Chargers Week 2 Loss

Brandon Staley

In their second straight AFC West matchup, the Los Angeles Chargers fell to the Kansas City Chiefs by a final score of 27-24, dropping them to 1-1. Unfortunately, Justin Herbert got banged up in the process and may have injured ribs; he played through it, albeit clearly in pain. However, before that happened, what stood out that changed the course of the game were some of the decisions by head coach Brandon Staley – ones that did not help the Chargers to avoid a loss, if not leading to one outright.

Questionable Brandon Staley Decisions Stand Out in Los Angeles Chargers Loss

4th and Staley Missing in Action

One of the things that Brandon Staley has been noted for is his aggressiveness on fourth down; often foregoing punting or even kicking and relying on Justin Herbert to get things done. This has been a strategy not without controversy, but the general response has been positive if it’s worked and negative if it hasn’t. There were a few times in 2021 for sure where going for it on fourth down appeared ill-advised, but there were also more than a few times where it was the difference in them winning games – including against the very same Chiefs also in Arrowhead. This strategy has been nicknamed “4th and Staley” by some.

That aggressiveness has been missing both in this game and the Week 1 game, but most people didn’t really care in the Week 1 game because the Chargers won. Here, against an opponent like the Chiefs, the opportunities that were passed up stood out more. There were two occasions in the first half where they had fourth down and only one or two yards to go near the 50 – and elected to punt instead. This just does not fit with Staley’s M.O. – and against a high-scoring opponent against the Chiefs, it feels ill-advised to go passive against them of all teams.

There was also a point on their first drive where instead of going for it fourth down and short that they settled for a field goal instead, but that was a little more forgivable. And it’s worth noting that he did go for it twice over the course of the game – both of those attempts being successful – but it still came off as odd that he went ahead and punted on those other occasions, where it’s not really like him to do so.

Disaster in the Red Zone

However, the real game-changing moment came early in the fourth quarter. The Chargers were driving the field – Herbert had just hit Gerald Everett for two consecutive strikes, which brought them down into the red zone. At that point, Everett apparently got gassed, because he motioned to be substituted out. However, Staley essentially ignored him, because he wanted to go no-huddle on the next play.

What happened next was Herbert targeted Everett again – only this time, likely due to being gassed, he did not appear to finish the route properly – and rookie cornerback Jaylen Watson jumped the route and took it back for a 99-yard pick-six.

The Chargers never really recovered from this, although it didn’t help that Herbert got hurt not long after that – which, despite his best efforts while playing through it, effectively ended the game. And while perhaps Herbert would have brought back the Chargers if he hadn’t gotten hurt, that sequence in the red zone was still the key point of the game – and it doesn’t reflect well on Staley for not pulling Everett when he needed to be subbed out, which ultimately led to a game-changing play for the defense. It seems to me that sacrificing the no-huddle is a small price to pay for subbing out an exhausted player that may not be able to give his all if you force him to keep going.

Looking Forward

At the moment, the greater concern is Herbert and just how hurt he is. The fact that he only missed one play and finished the game suggests that he is not super likely to miss time. But if he has to play hurt, that may hamper him a bit – we saw at one point that he was unwilling or unable to run at all. Still, he showed a bit of the usual magic late in the game with his arm. And on the plus side, the schedule gets easier for a while from here (Jaguars and Texans the next two weeks) – and he has ten days to rest up.

The other hope is that Brandon Staley will get back to his usual aggressiveness. Though one might not agree with every decision he makes, the strategy of “play to win” rather than “play to not lose” is generally a positive – and certainly a step up from previous recent coaching regimes that took the foot off the gas pedal way too much in the second half, and paid for it. But also hopefully he will learn next time to substitute out an exhausted player rather than needlessly rush a play.

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