Is Anthony Lynn The Chargers Real Problem?

LA Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn. Photo Credit: The LAFB Network
LA Chargers Head Coach Anthony Lynn. Photo Credit: The LAFB Network

The Chargers are in a historic stretch of blowing games and many have struggled to understand what the problem is, or who the problem is. 

As the Head Coach, Anthony Lynn has taken the brunt of the criticism, but how much of it can be pinned on him? He isn’t calling plays for the offense or the defense. We know he wants to run the ball, as a former running back, but it’s hard to pinpoint what his impact is, schematically speaking. 

As a head coach in the NFL, if your team is struggling, it falls on you. The Chargers have blown four consecutive leads of 16 or more points, something that’s never been done in NFL history. They have held the lead at halftime in five of their seven games, yet have won just one of those contests. 

In hindsight, there are several key decisions by Lynn that directly impacted the Chargers’ chances of winning. The only thing we know Lynn is responsible for is time management and deciding when to go for it on fourth down. Analytically speaking, there is a right and wrong decision to make on every fourth down. It is all about what gives you the best chances to win. 

The Athletic’s Daniel Popper has brought up several key moments this season where Lynn went against the numbers, and it backfired. These probabilities come from prediction models by the Athletic’s Ben Baldwin and also 

We will start with Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs, Justin Herbert’s first start. The Chargers had a 4th-and-1 in overtime from their 34-yard line. The Chiefs had scored on their previous three drives, yet Lynn decided to ignore analytics and punt. 

Only needing a field goal, the Chiefs went down the field and got the game-winning kick. This was the third-worst coaching decision of Week 2 decreasing the Chargers’ chances of winning by 6.9%. 

Only two weeks later, Lynn was faced with a similar decision against Tampa Bay. This time there was 8:56 left in the fourth quarter with another 4th-and-1 from his 34-yard line. The Chargers were down by four, and Tom Brady and company had scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives. 

The defense would end up holding them to three points, but they lost that offensive possession and lost 38-31. This was deemed the fifth-worst coaching decision of the week, hurting their chances to win by 2.5%. 

Once again, last week against the Broncos, Lynn went conservative, this time early in the game. In the second quarter down 3-0, the Chargers faced a 4th-and-5 from the Broncos 43-yard line. They were in “no mans land” too far for a field goal attempt, and too close for a meaningful punt. 

After going for it and failing to convert on the previous drive, Lynn punted again. After a touchback, the Chargers netted only 23 yards on the punt. Lynn traded a possession and a chance for points, for a minor bump in field position. If they had gone for it, it would have improved their chances of winning by 3.7%. 

The teams would score a combined 58 points following this decision so it may seem insignificant. The problem is, the Chargers literally punted on points in a game that was decided by a single point. These percentages may seem small, but so have the margins of every Chargers defeat. Every possession matters. 

The other problem I have is the inconsistency because Lynn has gone for it on fourth down seven times this season. The problem is, in these crucial moments, the Head Coach has ignored the numbers and abandoned his aggression. Lynn has blamed losses on execution by players, while he hasn’t executed on making decisions to help them. 

The other big theme for these decisions, is Lynn having irrational faith in the Chargers defense to win games. Time and time again Gus Bradley’s unit has been trusted to defend a lead and almost every time it hasn’t. The one exception is the game against the Jaguars where the defense got two late stops. 

Much like Lynn, Bradley has been crucified on social media for blowing big leads. Bradley’s defense has allowed an average of 19.25 second-half points over the past four games. That’s not including an overtime field goal or the blocked punt touchdown against Jacksonville. 

It’s even more frustrating to Chargers fans because in a lot of these games they have been dominant early in the game. How does the same defense that allowed 3 points in the first half against Denver also give up 28 in the second?

Last Sunday the Chargers were much worse after the loss of Joey Bosa to a concussion. That’s no excuse for allowing three fourth-quarter touchdowns. Unfortunately, injuries have been a constant for the Chargers and Gus Bradley’s defense. 

This year the Chargers have two All-Pro players on injured reserve in Chris Harris Jr. and Derwin James. James is a true difference-maker whose production is impossible to replace, and he’s done for the year. Up-and-coming linebacker Drue Tranquill broke his fibula and is out for most, if not the whole season. Defensive starters Melvin Ingram and Justin Jones have had stints on IR as well. 

It’s impossible to expect exceptional production with the amount of talent that hasn’t been out there. Unfortunately for Bradley, when these kinds of leads are blown you can’t escape unscathed.

The other issue with Bradley is that even with more talent, they have been getting worse every season under him. When he took over the defense in 2017, the Chargers ranked third in the NFL in points allowed. This is made even more impressive with the players that played key roles for that team. Some of the defense’s main contributors were reserve linebacker Hayes Pullard, underperforming linebacker Kyle Emanuel and an ineffective defensive tackle Corey Liuget. Their safeties were Jahleel Addae and Tre Boston. The point being, Gus has done more with less before. That defense was somewhat of a mirage, but they forced a ton of turnovers. That year the Chargers had 26 takeaways ranking 5th in the league. Every season since then, the turnovers have progressively declined. 

Last year the Chargers ranked dead last in turnovers, this season through seven games they rank 26th. This is not the only regression either. Since that top-3 performance in 2017, the defense has allowed more points year after year. 

The 26.4 points per game allowed this year, is the most any Bradley defense has given up in his 8 seasons as a defensive coordinator. 

The biggest problem with Bradley’s defense is it’s disrupting the quarterback and not creating turnovers. Pressure can cover up a lot of mistakes on the backend, and you have Joey Bosa. The sack numbers have been dreadful for the team the past few seasons, and Bradley still won’t blitz. 

Before the season, Lynn’s focus was creating more turnovers and he told Bradley that he needs to blitz more. He still hasn’t done it. Once again the Chargers defense is last in the league at blitzing. You can tell he doesn’t have the confidence in the defense to force the issue. He has to ratchet things up dramatically if he wants to keep his job. 

Honestly, if I was Anthony Lynn, I don’t think Bradley would still have his job. The team fired Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt through eight games in 2019, but Lynn says it’s much different. 

If the Chargers were to relieve Bradley of his duties, there are several internal options they could choose. There is not a huge chance that the defense would turn things around but it could save Lynn’s job. 

Lynn is firmly sitting on the hot seat and it is easy to point to the defense as the biggest problem. If the team were to elevate someone like Ron Milus into the role and they succeeded, it would take some of the blame off of Lynn. 

I doubt the Chargers are going to make any midseason changes to the coaching staff. I also do not think that Lynn has lost the locker room. The Chargers do not lose because of a lack of effort. If he had lost touch with his players, it would probably look like most Jets games. But sometimes having the respect of your team isn’t enough. 

When placing the blame, it is fair to say that both of these coaches have played a part. At least in Lynn’s case, he will probably get some credit in the development of Herbert. With Bradley, not so much. 

I think that coordinators in some ways are more responsible for the on-field product than the Head Coach. The decision-making by Lynn has been subpar at best, but Bradley’s inability to adjust and adapt has been worse. If the season trajectory continues on this path it might not matter who’s the biggest problem because both could be elsewhere in 2021.