Los Angeles Chargers Brandon Staley: Defensive Mastermind Or Mirage?

In what was a highly entertaining football game, the Los Angeles Chargers lost yet another one-score contest, and yet again, it was the defense that let the team down.

Justin Herbert was vintage Herbert throwing for 323 yards and 4 touchdowns. Keenan Allen had a monster evening to the tune of 11 catches for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns.

The offense started a bit flat, but once they got going, they could not be stopped. It was the offense that we had been waiting to see since Kellen Moore was brought in to call plays (we saw a glimpse of it in Week 1 against Miami but then it disappeared). The run game is still inefficient, but they stuck with it to keep the defense honest rushing 24 times between Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley. The offense was certainly not the problem on Sunday.

The Chargers defense continues to be an eyesore for this team. With names like Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Eric Kendricks, Asante Samuel Jr., Derwin James, etc., it is astonishing that the unit ranks 31st in total defense, 24th in PPG, and dead last in passing defense (by a LARGE margin).

Is the problem the scheme? Is it execution? Is it player buy-in? Is it systemic? Like most things in life, it is probably a combination of all of the above.

The scheme as a whole is fine, in my opinion, but situationally it seems that the switch between zone and man happens at inopportune times. Or to the tune that the opposing offense knows exactly what look they are getting.

I don’t take a ton away from post-game press conferences, especially after losses. Guys are emotional. No one wants to talk to the media, and typically things get said or don’t get said, that aren’t always factually true. However, it is starting to become a consistent fixture that after losses, what Coach Brandon Staley says and what his players say are not in tune. There seems to be a disconnect, and that is cause for concern.

It’s tough to play defense in this league, especially when more and more rules are created to favor offensive players. But in a year where scoring across the NFL is way down, you would think that a defense with a defensive genius on the headset and Pro Bowl talent at every level would be towards the top of the trend. So what is going on?

Sometimes you have to look back before you can look forward.

Brandon Staley And The 2020 Los Angeles Rams

NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Chargers
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

In individual sports, it is so easy to define greatness. To be the best, you have to beat the best, and for a long sustained period of time. Serena Williams, GOAT. Tiger Woods, GOAT (you can debate with Jack Nicklaus, but that’s not the point). Novak Djokovic, GOAT.

In team sports, there are so many more factors, and one major one is the level of competition/schedule. There are countless times when the champion of any given year perhaps had a much simpler path based on schedule and who they played when. Doesn’t make them any less of a champion, but it can certainly play into any future success or lack thereof.

Brandon Staley made a name for himself as the defensive coordinator of the Los Angeles Rams in 2020. A team that finished 1st in total team defense, allowing an impressive 281.9 points per game. They were also 1st in points allowed with 18.5 per game. Many point to the fact that he had Jalen Ramsey and Aaron Donald on that roster, but I don’t exactly think this Chargers defense is lacking in topline talent.

But this brings me to my point of level of competition and schedule.

Here is a list of quarterbacks that the Rams faced in 2020:

Definitely good wins against Brady and one win against Wilson, but I don’t think anyone would call this the murderer’s row of quarterbacks. Who you play is certainly a factor, and can deceive those that simply blindly look at box scores.

The other factor that does not get talked about often, and this could completely be a non-factor, but it is at least worth noting. The 2020 NFL Season was played almost entirely in front of no fans (Miami and Tampa Bay games at 25% capacity) due to COVID-19. Crowd noise typically benefits the defense, but without any fans in the stands, there is way less margin for error in communication and coverage changes.

So what does all this mean for the Los Angeles Chargers and the 2023 team moving forward? Probably nothing, but until Coach Brandon Staley and this defense can consistently stop/slow down good quarterback play and better offenses, the 2020 defense that put Staley on the map may have just been a mirage of the inferior competition at hand.

Brandon Staley and the defense have eight games remaining to change that narrative, and we all certainly hope that they do.