NFC West Writer
Brandon Staley, the embattled head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, has been in this situation before. Last year, the Bolts trudged their way to a 5-5 record before getting hot late, winning five of their last seven games and reaching the playoffs.
Of course, everyone remembers what happened in the postseason, as the Chargers blew a 27-0 lead in a road loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC Wild Card game.
Staley has been trying to make NFL observers forget that historic collapse, but at 4-5 with a 31 percent chance of reaching the postseason per the NY Times calculator, it doesn’t appear he has many lifelines left. There is also a potential head coach in waiting already in the building: offensive coordinator Kellen Moore.
Staley is in the third season of a four-year deal, reportedly earning $4 million annually. His predecessors Anthony Lynn and Mike McCoy each got a chance to coach a fourth season before ultimately being shown the door by owner Dean Spanos.
Lynn coached the first four seasons for the Chargers in Los Angeles, finishing 5-11 and 7-9 in his last two years with the team. McCoy was at the helm for the last four years in San Diego, finishing with 4-12 and 5-11 records in his last two seasons before being fired minutes after his final game coaching the team.
The Chargers usually do not fire head coaches in the middle of the year. Spanos last fired someone midseason when the team moved on from Kevin Gilbride, replacing him with June Jones in 1998. But it’s fair to say that if Staley doesn’t lead this team to the postseason again, it seems unlikely he will stick around in 2024.
Time for Chargers to fire Brandon Staley after loss vs. Lions?
Staley has overseen his fair share of late-game meltdowns, head-scratching in-game decisions and injuries to big-name players to work through, but at the heart of the 40-year-old head coach’s failures has been his inability to execute what he supposedly does best — build a top-notch defense.
According to Over the Cap, the Chargers have $101.5 million in salary this season allocated to the defense. Only the Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers have spent more on that side of the team in 2023.
Highly paid cornerback J.C. Jackson is a prime example of Staley’s failure in evaluating game-changing talent to add to his roster defensively. Jackson had trouble staying on the field after being signed in L.A., played poorly when healthy and was traded back to the New England Patriots midseason this year.
Of course, Staley led the No. 1 defense in the league for the Los Angeles Rams in 2020 with Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey as the headliners, helping him earn the head coaching job for the crosstown Chargers.
But the defense has been the weak link for the Bolts since he arrived. During his first two seasons as head coach, the Chargers fielded one of the worst run defenses in the league, allowing 142 rushing yards a contest over a two-year span, No. 31 in the NFL.
This season, the Chargers are No. 31 in total yards allowed (393.2 per game), last in first downs allowed (22.8), No. 31 in passing yards allowed (291 per game) and No. 24 in points allowed (24 per game).
“It’s frustrating as hell, because our job is to go out and dominate,” Derwin James Jr. told reporters after his team’s latest loss, a 41-38 setback at home to the Detroit Lions in Week 10. “We want to go out and execute and get off the field. So, for us to not get it done, it’s all a reflection of all of us. We’ve got to all look in the mirror, and it starts with me. We’re going to get it fixed.”
The Bolts have given up 30-plus points three times this season. They don’t exactly have an elite defense to partner with one of the best quarterbacks in the game, Justin Herbert.
“In terms of 2023, it’s just been the passing game,” Staley told reporters this week. “We just haven’t done a good enough job of sustaining high-level play. I think that there’s a lot of good film, and then there are a couple of plays that just really hijack your game, and they can’t happen.
“Whether it’s a communication or a technique being played, we haven’t been consistent enough. Again, it starts with me.”
There are some glimmers of hope. The Bolts have 31 sacks, tied for third in the NFL. L.A.’s 15 takeaways are tied for No. 9 in the NFL.
The Chargers have eight games left in the season, starting with a road contest against the 3-6 Green Bay Packers on Sunday. Four of the eight games left on the schedule come against teams with a .500 or worse record, and the Chargers face the toughest opponents remaining on the schedule at SoFi Stadium in the Baltimore Ravens, the Buffalo Bills and the Kansas City Chiefs in the final game of the year.
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The Bolts are projected favorites in four of the team’s last eight games. Staley is 23-20 during his time with the Chargers, with one postseason appearance and no postseason wins.
The Chargers have appeared in the playoffs just three times over the past decade, have not won the AFC West division since 2009 and last made the AFC championship game after the 2007 season.
Staley has eight games to prove he’s the right guy to change that trend.
Eric D. Williams has reported on the NFL for more than a decade, covering the Los Angeles Rams for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Chargers for ESPN and the Seattle Seahawks for the Tacoma News Tribune. Follow him on Twitter at @eric_d_williams.
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