Brandon Staley has gone from breath of fresh air to blowing smoke as his seat’s grown hotter
Let’s take a little walk down memory lane, to the first week of December 2021. Brandon Staley was riding high in his first season as Los Angeles Chargers head coach, coming off a win over the eventual AFC champion Cincinnati Bengals that put his team’s record at 7-5.
Staley had drawn plaudits to that point for a few reasons. In that game against the Bengals, he’d kept star defensive end Joey Bosa from going back on the field even though he’d been cleared to return by the medical staff after being evaluated for a possible concussion, citing Bosa’s history of brain injuries as the reason why he erred on the safe side. He’d also shown sympathy for potential victims of Jon Gruden’s now-infamous cache of bigoted emails rather than offer pithy words about what a shame it was. And he’d been more than respectful with media, offering detailed explanations in cases where some of his peers would offer nothing.
But as he’s shown this season, Staley’s goodness apparently only comes through when his seat isn’t hot. On Sunday he lashed out at a reporter who asked if he’ll give up defensive play-calling duties, a question he’s already faced this season, with the Chargers looking like the worst defense in the league.
“You can stop asking that question, OK? I’m going to be calling the defenses, OK? So we’re clear. So you don’t have to ask that again,” Staley snapped.
Not exactly the example of grace under pressure expected of players.
This week, Staley’s Chargers lost for the fourth time in six games, this time to the Green Bay Packers after being up 20-16 with 5:24 to play. The defense gave up 24 yards on third-and-20 when Asante Samuel was called for defensive pass interference, and then allowed a 35-yard pickup by rookie Dontayvion Wicks when neither of the defenders within inches of him when he made the catch just five yards from the line of scrimmage could bring him down. Wicks wove his way through the defense for his long gain.
The Packers’ game-winning touchdown came two plays later, a 24-yard pass from Jordan Love to Romeo Doubs. Love had a career-high 322 yards on 27 of 40 attempts (67.5 percent), not a surprise given that the Chargers are dead last in the league in passing yards allowed per game — over 20 yards worse than the next-closest team, Tampa Bay.
The 23-20 loss marked Los Angeles’ sixth this season. Five of them have come by three points or fewer.
An NFL defensive coordinator for all of one year before getting a chance to be a head coach — Staley was yet another beneficiary of the “shared a meeting room with Sean McVay” hiring craze among team owners, a benefit Raheem Morris somehow hasn’t gotten despite crafting a stellar defensive plan against Cincinnati in Super Bowl LVI (wonder why that might be). Staley has been the Chargers’ defensive play-caller since he first took the job, and gets very, well, defensive when asked about the issues on that side of the ball.
“I know that we give ourselves a chance to win every single week with the game plans that we have,” he said. “We have done it here. You guys act like we’ve never played good defense; that’s not the truth. That’s not the truth. You act like we haven’t made any improvements; today, in the run game, we played outstanding. We’re rushing the quarterback well.
“What we’ve got to do a better job of is in the passing game, and that’s where our full attention is, and where it will continue to be. There were a lot of other things that caused us to lose today. It certainly wasn’t our defense”
What Staley said next doesn’t just smack of ranting for his own self-preservation, but likely didn’t go over well in the locker room.
“It was the way we played as a team,” he said. “We didn’t play well enough in the red zone on offense, we dropped too many passes, we gave up a few killer sacks. We did this as a team. Stop making it about one unit, because that’s not what happened out there today. Our team lost, and I am fully responsible for it.”
Sounds like a lot of deflection for someone allegedly taking responsibility.
There were some really bad dropped passes, and Austin Ekeler fumbled at the Green Bay 2 early in the fourth quarter, and in response to another question Staley seemed to lay the loss at Ekeler’s feet. Again, very much what one does when they’re claiming “full responsibility.”
Staley can act as though the defense locked down Green Bay if he’d like, but Love & Co. converted half of their third-down tries and earned 23 first downs, right on par with the Chargers’ 22.8 allowed per game.
A week earlier, Los Angeles lost to Detroit on a last-second field goal. The 41-38 shootout saw the Lions total 533 yards of offense, including 333 passing yards for Jared Goff and 116 yards rushing (including a 75-yard touchdown) from David Montgomery.
The Chargers’ defense has four games giving up 475 yards or more this season, against the Lions, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings and Kansas City Chiefs. That’s a total of 2,027 yards in four games. The Cleveland Browns have only given up 2,433 yards in 10 games.
And lest we forget, the Chargers had an epic meltdown last year in the wild-card round against the Jacksonville Jaguars, when they were up 27-0 with 4:25 left in the first half and lost, 31-30, again on a field goal as time ran out. After holding the Jaguars to 108 yards and 0-for-7 on third down in the first half, Staley’s defense allowed 282 yards and three crucial conversions on third and fourth down in the second half. The worst of it? A 25-yard run by Travis Etienne on fourth-and-1 with just under 90 seconds to go to put the Jaguars in field-goal range.
How you act when things get tough exposes far more about you than how you behave when things are going well. After seeming like a breath of fresh air at this time in his first season as head coach, Staley’s “don’t blame me” act now that he looks to be weeks from losing his job is growing stale fast.