Normally an 0-2 start shouldn’t necessarily be cause for panic, but given the circumstances, Chargers fans definitely have reason to be concerned at this point. Losing to a healthy Tua Tagovailoa and the Miami Dolphins in a shootout was one thing, but losing in overtime to the Tennessee Titans despite passing for 300 yards with zero touchdowns? Despite all the attempts to change things this off-season, not enough appears to have changed, and they almost look as if they still haven’t recovered from the Wildcard loss in January. The team is trending in the wrong direction, and unless Brandon Staley turns things around, this will likely be his final season as head coach.
-Justin Herbert threw for over 300 yards for 2 TDs, 0 INTs
-The defense sacked Ryan Tannehill 5 times
-Derrick Henry didn’t break 100 yards rushing
And the Chargers still lose.
— Jarrett Bailey (@JBaileyNFL) September 17, 2023
Brandon Staley, Chargers Trending in Wrong Direction
This was addressed somewhat last week, but the Chargers defense has been downright inept at times over the first two games. The defensive line has fared a bit better in Week 2, as they got five sacks on Ryan Tannehill on Sunday. But the linebacker corps and secondary have been a mess. They allowed 450+ passing yards from Tagovailoa in Week 1 and then allowed Ryan Tannehill to go 20-for-24 in Week 2 (when he did have time to throw) after having thrown three interceptions the previous week.
The issue is that, particularly with regard to Week 1, there are no excuses at this point. The defense was entirely healthy in Week 1, and the only guy they were missing this week was Eric Kendricks. And yet this defense continues to give up explosive plays in particular – and they have also been more undisciplined and sloppy. Last week there was the hilariously bad J.C. Jackson pass interference that gave the Dolphins an easy three points – and this week, the Chargers had three penalties on third downs, two of which ruined chances to end drives.
Let’s not forget that Staley is supposed to be a defensive-minded coach. However, outside of some improvements in 2022, we have not really seen the fruits of this very often. And now, with a healthy and supposedly loaded roster, the defense looks worse than ever.
No Easy Fix
The offense isn’t entirely blameless in the Week 2 loss, as Kellen Moore kept trying to establish the run when it wasn’t working due to the Titans run defense being much stouter (and also Austin Ekeler being out). There have also been issues with the right side of the offensive line folding on third downs and critical plays. But the offense has done enough in both weeks – Week 1 more so – that on paper, they should have won. The defense gets the vast majority of the blame for both losses.
The problem is, aside from J.C. Jackson (who has been in and out of the lineup), there’s not really one single player or issue you can point to easily fix things. Aside from the defensive line, as mentioned before, they just seem lost as a unit. Whether they’re checked out mentally or are trying too hard and being unfocused as a result, something is just critically wrong here. And there is no easy fix when it’s a unit issue and not an individual one. Staley – and defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley – will have to find a way to get them more disciplined and focused, and/or tweak the scheme to compensate.
Staley’s Seat Growing Hotter
Aside from the failures of defensive players, eyes are going to be looking to Brandon Staley as well as someone to blame – after all, as mentioned earlier, he is supposed to be a defensive-minded coach. And he was already on the hot seat going into the season. If the Chargers are unable to turn the ship around and miss the playoffs, Staley is gone for sure.
The question is how soon this would happen. There have been some wondering if the Chargers would fire Staley during the bye week to try to make a desperate in-season correction to attempt to save the season. Historically, that has not been Dean Spanos’ M.O., although it did happen with Kevin Gilbride in 1998. Still, matters would have to be pretty bad for that to happen. If they end up starting 0-4 and/or Staley loses the locker room, it could happen. But if not, the earliest this could happen would be if/when the Chargers get eliminated from the playoffs.
It seems wild to be talking about such eventualities already after only two games. But with a team that was supposed to be a playoff contender and an upgrade at offensive coordinator, losses of such a nature are going to be prone to make the vultures begin to circle. The Chargers shouldn’t have lost after scoring 34, and they shouldn’t have lost to the Titans, period. The question is what, if anything, Staley will do about this – and if that fails, how soon he’ll find himself visiting the unemployment office.
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