Chargers coach Brandon Staley is no longer a fourth-down gambler

Jeremy Layton

By Jeremy Layton

Who are you and what have you done with Brandon Staley?

The Chargers’ second-year head coach made his name by seemingly going for it on fourth down at every reasonable opportunity during the 2021 season. L.A.’s 34 fourth down attempts last season was tied for third in the league, behind the Lions and the Bears, below .500 teams who often had to go for it late in games that they were trailing.

But in 2022 – and especially on Thursday Night Football against the Chiefs – Staley appeared to toss the analytics-heavy mindset to the side. The Chargers faced four 4th-and-2 scenarios in the first three quarters, three of them in Kansas City territory, and chose to either kick a field goal or punt in all four instances.

The Chargers didn’t attempt a fourth down of above one yard until their final drive, in which they were down by 10 and quarterback Justin Herbert was dealing with a chest injury and was in visible pain. Still, Herbert gritted through and completed two impressive fourth-down conversions – one a frozen-rope, 35-yard pass down the field to DeAndre Carter to bring L.A. within the five-yard line, and one a touchdown pass to Josh Palmer that cut the lead to 27-24. That would end up being the final score after a failed onside kick attempt.

They did convert two 4th and 1s, both rushes – one in the first quarter and one in the third.

“Just wanted to give our defense a chance to compete,” Staley said after the game of punting in Kansas City territory. “I really loved the way we were playing. I felt like that was the formula to flip the field there. I felt like we were aggressive when we needed to be tonight, we converted all four of our fourth downs, but I just felt like with who’s over there, and the way our defense was playing, I felt like the field position would be a big edge for our defense to be able to pin them back there. I like the way our defense competed tonight.”

Brandon Staley
Getty Images

Staley’s team certainly has a better defense than they did in 2021, adding Khalil Mack and J.C. Jackson in the offseason to compliment a unit that already features Derwin James and Joey Bosa. Still, in a game they lost by three to Patrick Mahomes, one might wonder what the score would look like if they had a couple more chances on offense.

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