For the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Chargers record does not reflect their talent. Following a heartbreaking loss to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers currently enter Thanksgiving at 5-5 and out of the playoff picture. This team has the players to compete for a championship, so should the team fire head coach Brandon Staley and offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi?
Will the Chargers Fire Brandon Staley and Joe Lombardi?
The Case For Brandon Staley
Last year at this point, Brandon Staley was one of the more controversial coaches in the league, thanks in large part to his aggression on fourth down. Staley was one of the more aggressive coaches in the league when it came to fourth-down decision making, and that earned him a lot of praise from the analytics community and a lot of ire from the old-school analysts. Ultimately, being aggressive was the right call, as numbers do not lie, and you should always bet on a high-octane offense driven by one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.
Staley’s aggression did not carry over into 2022. Entering Week 11, the Chargers had the third-most win probability lost per game by kicking in goal-to-go situations, according to Ben Baldwin’s win probability model. This shows us that, in the most important moments, Staley is actively hurting the team with his conservative decision making. Reading between the lines, it’s safe to assume that a decent portion of Staley’s aggressiveness last year came from the Chargers terrible defense. Now that the unit is competent, Staley has reverted to a conservative coach that hurts the team in crucial situations.
Of course, there is more to being a head coach than fourth down decision making. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything else that Staley does particularly well, as reflected by the 5-5 record. Yes, the Chargers have battled injury throughout the year, but so has every other team in the league. Replacing a head coach midway through the year is incredibly difficult, so the Chargers should hold on to Staley for the remainder of the season. However, if he misses the playoffs for the second consecutive season, he needs to go.
The Case For Joe Lombardi
Coaches are supposed to adapt their scheme to a players’ strengths, but offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi has not been able to do that during his time in Los Angeles. Yes, the Chargers offense had a good game against the Chiefs, but that was an outlier. The team entered Week 11 ranked 21st in EPA/play, and that complete lack of efficiency is unacceptable when you have Justin Herbert as your quarterback.
It should go without saying that losing Keenan Allen and Mike Williams for sizable portions of the season will impact offensive efficiency, but the complete lack of scheme creativity bears a lot of the responsibility for the underwhelming results. Justin Herbert is one of the best deep passers in the game, capable of hitting any part of the field with remarkable accuracy. Despite this, Lombardi’s scheme has turned Herbert into one of the most conservative quarterbacks in football. Entering Week 11, Herbert’s 6.35 average depth of target was the second-lowest in the league, only ahead of Matt Ryan’s 5.86. Quite frankly, this is unacceptable and a complete waste of one of the best arms in the league.
It’s not like the results have justified a conservative approach, either. Herbert is considerably more effective on deep throws, yet Lombardi continues to insist on an offense comprised of five-yard curls.
on early downs, Justin Herbert throws 5+ yards downfield on only 40.7% of att
that's the lowest rate of any QB in the NFL
but when he throws 5+ air yards:
+0.27 EPA/att, 53% success, 8.9 YPA
and when he throws < 5 air yards?
-0.07 EPA/att, 42% success, 4.7 YPA
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) November 14, 2022
To be fair, the offense wasn’t the issue in Sunday’s loss. Perhaps Lombardi has turned a new leaf with Keenan Allen back in the lineup. Lombardi should keep his job for at least one more week, but one more bad showing should be the end of the line. Coordinator positions are considerably easier to fill, and the Chargers could probably find a better play caller on their current coaching staff.