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Joe Lombardi Remains a Problem for Los Angeles Chargers

The issues with Joe Lombardi and his play-calling have become more and more apparent as Justin Herbert has gotten healthier.
Joe Lombardi

Due to the underwhelming nature of the 2022 Los Angeles Chargers season thus far, fans have been looking for a place to point the blame – and the coaching staff has been a frequent target. While there is also the fact to consider that there have been a lot of injuries (including franchise quarterback Justin Herbert himself, even if he played through it), it is certainly accurate to say that the coaching staff is not blameless. The warmness of the staff’s seats have been off and on, but right now, the warmest seat would seem to belong to offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi.

Joe Lombardi Remains a Concern for Los Angeles Chargers

Passive Offense

There does seem to be a marked difference between the offensive performance of the Chargers in 2021 versus 2022. In 2021, while the offense was not quite as aggressive as, say, the Kansas City Chiefs or Buffalo Bills, Herbert still had plenty of room to be himself, and passed for just over 5,000 yards and 38 touchdowns, averaging 7.5 yards per attempt. The running back room was iffy overall, but Austin Ekeler rushed for a personal record of 911 yards and 12 touchdowns and averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

In 2022 the offense has gone remarkably downhill in terms of aggressiveness. This was somewhat affected by Herbert’s injury (and possibly the wide receiver corps being decimated by injuries), but while he is on pace for over 4,600 passing yards, he is only averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. Even after having been healthy for weeks, the most recent win in Week 12 saw him go 35-for-47… for only 274 passing yards. Notwithstanding Herbert’s efficiency in particular on the final drive, that is a stat line marred by countless checkdowns and failed screen passes.

The Blame Game

The passing offense has been turned into a dink-and-dunk game that resembles something more like the offense that Drew Brees ran in his final few years when his arm strength wasn’t what it used to be – an offense that Joe Lombardi surely had a hand in or at least took inspiration from, having been the quarterbacks coach of the New Orleans Saints from 2016 to 2020.

That offense made sense for where Brees was at in his career at the time – and it did work. Making Justin Herbert run this offense when he was playing hurt might have made more sense if Lombardi was doing it to protect his injured quarterback. But Herbert has been healthy for weeks now and has also had a more healthy complement of receivers the last two games. Running the “old man Brees offense” (as we will affectionately nickname it here) when your quarterback has the skillset that Herbert does and is healthy and in his prime – frankly seems absurd, to put it mildly.

A small number of viewers have seen fit to blame head coach Brandon Staley for the offense’s shortcomings, but that would be a mistake. He does not have much of a hand in the offense – definitely not in the play-calling. The only “play calls” he makes on offense are when to go for it on fourth down or when to go for a two-point conversion, as he did in Week 12 to win the game. The lion’s share of the blame for the offensive gameplan/play-calling – if not all of the blame entirely – falls to the offensive coordinator here.

History Repeats Itself

This is not Lombardi’s first round as an offensive coordinator, as Detroit Lions fans will remember. He was the Lions offensive coordinator for a year and a half with Matthew Stafford as his quarterback. Despite a playoff appearance in 2014, the Lions offense crashed and burned so badly in 2015 that Lombardi was fired after seven games (along with other staff members). The issues there were similar – Matthew Stafford, a big-armed quarterback, was not allowed to use that arm often enough, and the offense was too passive or even vanilla.

It seems that Lombardi has not learned enough from his days with the Lions. The mystery does remain as to why Lombardi allowed Herbert to be more aggressive in 2021 (at least by comparison) but has suddenly clamped down in 2022. Whatever the case, the most recent Chargers games are making it clear that Lombardi and Herbert are a mismatch for each other. Herbert succeeds despite Lombardi at this point, not because of him.

Numbered Days?

The Chargers are still in playoff contention at 6-5 and given that they have a fairly soft schedule down the stretch outside of the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans, making a playoff appearance is still quite possible. If they miss the playoffs again – even if with a winning record – the chances get higher that Joe Lombardi will be replaced. (And if they finish with a losing record, then pretty much the entire staff should be fired, as finishing with a losing record with Herbert as your quarterback is essentially inexcusable.) Perhaps Sean Payton could be the next man for the job.

If the Chargers do make the playoffs, it’s much less likely that there would be a change given that this would make the season an improvement over last year (at least on paper). But either way, there needs to be a critical change at the offensive level next season – or Lombardi needs to loosen up a bit more and let Herbert be a bit more like himself like was the case in 2021 (at least by comparison to this year, anyway). It’s truly a pity watching a quarterback with talents like Herbert be forced to throw checkdowns and screen passes that go nowhere for 80% of the game.

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