Analysis

Up for Debate: Should Epic Collapse Open Door for Brandon Staley’s Firing?

On Saturday night, in an AFC Wild Card matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Los Angeles Chargers had a 27-point lead late in the first half. They ended up losing, 31-30, on a walk-off field goal. It was the third-largest collapse in NFL playoff history.

“This is the toughest way that you can lose in the playoffs,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said after the game. “Certainly, the way we started the game, that’s the team I know we’re capable of being, but in the second half, we just didn’t finish the game. We’re going to learn a lot from this.”

Biggest Comebacks in NFL Playoff History

SEASON ROUND TEAM LEAD OPPONENT
1992 Wild Card Bills 32 Oilers
2013 Wild Card Colts 28 Chiefs
2022 Wild Card Jaguars 27 Chargers
2016 Super Bowl Patriots 25 Falcons
2002 Wild Card 49ers 24 Giants
2019 Divisional Chiefs 24 Texans

The Chargers appeared to get conservative with their play-calling in the second half, failed to make necessary adjustments, and there were numerous questionable game-management decisions by Staley (along with some undisciplined behavior by Joey Bosa).

This comes on the heels of the regular-season finale in which Staley drew heavy criticism for keeping his starters on the field deep into a game that ended up being meaningless. One starter, wide receiver Mike Williams, suffered a fractured back in the game and was not available to play against the Jaguars on Saturday night.

We asked four of our former team executives if the Chargers’ collapse should open the door for a coaching change in Los Angeles. Here is how they responded:

Joe Banner: Staley Should Be Replaced

What makes someone a successful coach? I outlined four qualities in a column I wrote last week, but the top two are pertinent to this discussion. No matter who you talk to, leadership is first. Second, in my opinion, is the ability to hire and manage a top coaching staff. When I’m asked if a team should make a change, I always go back to these basics.

To be a great leader you must articulate and stick with a philosophy everyone in the organization can understand and follow. Whether team-building or game-management, Staley has failed at that, in my opinion. Even with two years under his belt, he often seems to still be trying to figure this out, or changing his mind.

As far as his staff and, most importantly, his three coordinators, when you watch the Chargers, do you see a scheme that is giving the players the best chance to succeed and is consistently better than the opponent? This is the clearest “no” to me in any area of evaluation of Staley.

What you saw Saturday night against the Jaguars was a complete collapse by his coordinators in an almost unprecedented manner. The extent of the Chargers’ collapse — the third-largest in NFL playoff history — was shocking, but the truth is, Los Angeles has consistently struggled with these problems in the two years Staley has run the show.

If I was making the decision, I would want him replaced, but if the owner would disagree, at a minimum Staley should be forced to find a better set of coordinators.

Mike Tannenbaum: One Game Never a Referendum

I don’t think Brandon Staley should be fired. If the Chargers convert the 40-yard field goal, there’s certainly a reasonable chance they win the game.

With that said, I do think they need to be creative and more diverse in their approach to the running game, including getting the quarterback involved there. Justin Herbert is a productive runner when allowed, and we’ve seen how difficult that is to defend around the league.

I don’t believe one game is ever a referendum on a coach, and if you look at the entire season, the trajectory of this team is positive.

T.J. McCreight: Not the Chargers’ Way

I expect the Chargers to keep Staley as their head coach.  The Spanos family does have patience and will give their coach more than two years to implement his program. You have to go back to Mike Riley more than 20 years ago to find a Chargers coach who was given fewer than four years.

But, that’s not to say there isn’t a problem with the Chargers, because there is. They have a franchise quarterback and a good roster, but they are certainly not where they should be. I see too many game-management issues with this team, and they are certainly underachieving.

It sounds like former Saints coach Sean Payton wants to be in Los Angeles, and that is the obvious move, but that is not the way the Chargers operate. The Giants, Steelers and Chargers are old-school football families that give people time to do their jobs.

Jeff Diamond: Evidence Piling up on Staley

As difficult as it may be to fire a head coach who has had two straight winning seasons at the start of his head-coaching career (but only the one playoff appearance with a terrible result), I am not impressed with Brandon Staley as a head coach. I don’t think one game should cost a coach his job, but blowing a 27-0 lead on top of other questions is enough to turn the tide.

Staley is a coach with a defensive background, yet his Chargers have ranked 23rd (2021) and 20th (2022) in total defense the past two seasons. His sometimes off-the-wall fourth-down decision-making has produced mixed results. On Saturday, he opted for a field goal attempt (that failed from 40 yards) on fourth-and-3 with a 10-point lead and 8:51 remaining when a fourth-down conversion followed by another touchdown would have produced a three-score lead.

What’s bothered me most about Staley’s performance as a head coach was his awful decision to play his starters in a meaningless Week 18 game the Chargers lost anyway in Denver. Why would you risk players who have an injury history. Wide receiver Mike Williams, who missed the playoff game, might have made the difference in a one-point loss in which the Chargers offense went three-and-out on a critical series late in the game while holding a two-point lead.

Bottom line: Staley should’ve won more games with a top 5-10 QB in Justin Herbert.

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