The Los Angeles Chargers had a chance to save their season in Week 12. Sitting at 4-6, the Chargers probably needed to win six of their final seven games to clinch an AFC Wild Card berth. They played host to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday Night Football in what turned out to be a winnable game.
Going into the two-minute warning, the Chargers were down by three points with the ball. But in typical Chargers fashion, they found a way to lose.
The Chargers were outmatched in the trenches, but it was a game that they easily could have won.
Now the Chargers are 4-7 and essentially out of the AFC playoff hunt. They are in last place in the AFC West, and only the New England Patriots have fewer wins in the conference. That should never happen to a team with a franchise quarterback like Justin Herbert.
Chargers' Regression in 2023 Is Shocking
How did we get to this point? The Chargers went from a playoff team in 2022 to one that would have the No. 9 pick in the 2024 NFL Draft if the season ended today. The truth is the Chargers have regressed in just about every way under Brandon Staley.
We could get into the specifics as to why the Chargers lost this game to the Ravens, but it was more of the same that we’ve seen all season. Dropped passes. Untimely penalties. Fumbles in scoring position. Bad sacks.
The Chargers have a talented roster but are one of the most undisciplined teams in the league. Worse yet, the team lacks an identity.
The Chargers hired Staley because he was viewed as a defensive genius. But the Chargers have one of the NFL’s worst defenses, and it’s only gotten worse by the year.
Heading into Sunday, the Chargers were 31st in yards allowed. That certainly won’t improve after allowing nearly 400 yards against the Ravens. Los Angeles allowed nearly 200 yards rushing and did not force a turnover.
Bottom Five NFL Defenses by Yardage
|Yards per game
|Total Yards (games)
Unfortunately, this wasn't even the worst performance of the season for the Chargers. They only allowed 20 points and had a chance to win late. That's not the real problem for the Chargers.
Brandon Staley Has Been A Bad Fit
It's clear that the Chargers don't have the right coach to have sustained success in the AFC.
There aren’t a lot of examples in the NFL of defensive-minded head coaches having a ton of sustained success in the NFL. There are eight teams in the NFL with eight or more wins. Of those eight teams, only one does not have an offensive-minded head coach (John Harbaugh of the Ravens).
The best way to build a franchise in the current NFL is to have an offensive-centric team. That the Chargers have a defensive-minded head coach AND a bad defense is a bad look.
The Chargers have a franchise quarterback who keeps them in games. But even the most die-hard Herbert truthers would admit he's regressed this season.
Against the Ravens, he had a negative EPA of -19.9. That was among the worst of any quarterback who played on Sunday. Baltimore has an excellent defense, but scoring just 10 points is unacceptable.
That's not to say Herbert is entirely to blame, but the Chargers need him to play better.
Herbert needs to be paired with his version of Mike McDaniel, Andy Reid or Kyle Shanahan to take his game to the next level. Even well-established quarterbacks (like Dak Prescott) need strong offensive coaches (Mike McCarthy) to help maintain their consistency.
That’s just not Staley because offense isn’t his specialty. He was brought to coach up a top defense. But without a top defense and a quarterback struggling a bit, it's not hard to see why the Chargers are where they are as a franchise.
Chargers Dying By Thousand Details
Another issue for Staley is his decision-making.
Early in Staley’s career, he was one of the most aggressive coaches in the league. But over time, his aggressiveness has waned. A perfect example was on a fourth-and-inches play early in the third quarter. Down 13-3, Staley punted. You could see the dejected look on the faces of the offense after Staley called the punt team on the field.
It’s those little moments in games that ultimately keep this team from winning games.
The Chargers will likely allow Staley to finish the season considering there are only six games left. But the Staley era needs to be over in Los Angeles.
The Chargers are 23-23 (including playoffs) under Staley. No team in the NFL has lost more close games than the Chargers. For whatever reason, he’s been unable to get his team to win tight games, and this one on Sunday Night Football was no different.
The Chargers have been patient. They've given Staley plenty of time to build the team and the defense he wanted. He’s had the opportunity to build the culture he wanted, and unfortunately, things have worsened. Maybe in a different situation and on another team, Staley could find success.
But as for his career in Los Angeles, the Brandon Staley era is over. Or at least it needs to be.