GREEN BAY, Wisc. — If you wanted to distill Brandon Staley’s Los Angeles Chargers into one sequence of plays, it was right there for you in the fourth quarter at Lambeau Field, comical in its inevitability.
The Green Bay Packers faced a third-and-20 at their own 15-yard line, trailing by four points with less than four minutes remaining. Quarterback Jordan Love took the shotgun snap and dropped back to pass. He shifted left before firing a wayward pass over the middle of the field intended for receiver Dontayvion Wicks. Seconds after the throw hit the grass, a flag followed. Cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. had grabbed Wicks as the receiver was coming out of his break on a dig route. Pass interference. Fresh set of downs.
This set in motion a touchdown drive that sunk the Chargers in a 23-20 loss to the Packers on Sunday afternoon.
It was the sixth time this season the Chargers allowed a conversion on third-and-15 or longer, three of which have come on defensive back penalties, according to TruMedia. The Chargers have allowed a 50 percent conversion rate on third-and-15 or longer this season. No other team has allowed more than three such conversions. No other team is above a 30 percent rate. Including penalties, the Chargers have allowed a 27.5 percent conversion rate on third-and-11 or longer since Staley took over as head coach and defensive play caller in 2021. That’s the highest in the league, according to TruMedia.
Two plays after the penalty, Love connected with Wicks on a shallow route to the right. It should have been stopped for a 5-yard gain. Cornerback Michael Davis missed the initial tackle. Then linebacker Eric Kendricks collided with Davis. Wicks broke free down the middle of the field. Samuel missed a tackle. Safety Alohi Gilman missed another tackle. Wicks was finally stopped after a 35-yard gain. It was the 49th completion of at least 35 yards the Chargers have allowed since Staley took over, most in the NFL, according to TruMedia.
📺: FOX pic.twitter.com/pS1PT6lBsS
— Green Bay Packers (@packers) November 19, 2023
Two plays after Wicks’ catch and run, the Packers took the lead. Green Bay went no-huddle after an AJ Dillon 2-yard run. The offense set up in an empty formation, with Dillon aligned wide to the left. The Chargers were late matching the eligible receivers. They were scrambling and disjointed. When Love took the snap, linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. was still running to line up. Davis had two pass catchers to cover. He hesitated. Romeo Doubs ran untouched from the slot, and Love hit him for a go-ahead 24-yard touchdown. It was the 106th completion of at least 24 yards the Chargers have allowed since Staley took over, second-most in the NFL, according to TruMedia.
Yes, it was all there: bone-headed third-down penalty, missed tackles, explosive passes, miscommunications.
The only consistent elements for the Chargers defense over the past three seasons.
“You can’t foul on third-and-20, you can’t cut people loose, you can’t miss tackles,” Staley said. “We got to play cleaner football.”
Staley was defiant after the game. No, he’s not giving up play calling. He asked media members to “stop asking that question.”
“I have full confidence in our way of playing,” he said, “Full confidence in myself as the play caller and the way that we teach and the way that we scheme.”
You do not have to be a football savant to notice the disconnect here.
Love just had the first 300-yard passing game in his career. The Packers scored more than two offensive touchdowns for the first time since Week 3.
Are you losing hope in your potential franchise quarterback? Try Brandon Staley’s defense!
You all see it. Staley, though, had nothing for Chargers fans.
“I’m not here to talk to the fan base,” Staley said when asked about fans noticing the Grand Canyon-sized gap between his confidence and the product on the field.
“There were a lot of other things that caused us to lose today,” Staley added. “It certainly wasn’t our defense. It was the way we played as a team.”
“There were a lot of other things that caused us to lose today. It certainly wasn’t our defense … stop making it about one unit.”
– Chargers coach Brandon Staley after giving up 397 yds to the Packers pic.twitter.com/jBj0b6lqCF
— CBS Sports (@CBSSports) November 19, 2023
Justin Herbert played another great game, throwing for 260 yards and two touchdowns while leading the Chargers with 73 rushing yards. The players around him let him down.
Receiver Keenan Allen caught 10 passes for 116 yards and a touchdown but dropped a touchdown early in the third quarter. The Chargers had to settle for a field goal.
Running back Austin Ekeler fumbled at the Packers’ 2-yard line early in the fourth quarter, taking points off the board.
The pass protection collapsed on a third-and-10 on the Chargers’ second-to-last drive, leading to a sack. Zion Johnson was beaten badly on the interior by defensive tackle Kenny Clark.
On a third down on the final drive, Herbert delivered perhaps his finest throw of the day across the field to rookie Quentin Johnston, who was running free on a go route down the right sideline. A catch would have moved the Chargers into field goal range for the potential tying kick. Johnston, a first-round pick in April for general manager Tom Telesco, dropped it. Herbert’s fourth-down throw was batted at the line.
“Just a lack of concentration on my part,” Johnston said. “I just need to catch the ball.”
The Chargers defense still had a chance to ice the game on that fourth quarter possession. They almost succeeded when Khalil Mack had a strip-sack on second down. The fumble bounced the wrong way, and the Packers recovered.
Then came Samuel’s penalty.
“Every week we’re talking about fundamentals,” Staley said. “Every week we show them the officiating videos. Every week we’re talking about it. And so all we can continue to do is emphasize it.”
“We’re not thinking, ‘Don’t foul,’” Samuel said of those third-and-long penalties. “We’re thinking, ‘Make a play.’”
Then came the missed tackles. And the botched coverage.
“I know that the message is getting across,” Staley said. “We’re not getting the execution on the field.”
If the players are not executing, who is to blame?
“It’s on us,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “The coach is not telling us to go out there and hold and foul. You know what I mean? They’re not doing that. So that s— come down to us.”
Time will tell if Chargers ownership feels the same way.
(Top photo of Dontayvion Wicks eluding an Alohi Gilman tackle attempt: Patrick McDermott / Getty Images)
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