Brandon Staley keeps the Chargers offense in fourth place and produces.
The idea was planted in the spring when the Chargers raced in shorts and jerseys.
New coach Brandon Staley warned his offense not to assume a punt was coming just because it was a fourth down.
“Hey man, don’t start running off the field just yet,” recalls center Corey Linsley Staley saying. “We could go for a room [down] if we feel comfortable it doesn’t matter [where or when]. ”
The rookie coach has kept those words. Over five games, the Chargers’ offense is seven of seven at fourth down. The team’s only failed fourth-down attempt came with a false punt.
The Chargers also had two converted fourth downs on pass interference calls to the opposition and lost another successful attempt when wide receiver Jalen Guyton was penalized for an illegal substitution.
“For us, it’s that attacking mentality, being in those situations where you have to do it and do it,” Linsley said Wednesday. “He is a great confidence builder. It takes guts to do it. ”
For the Chargers, fourth-down conversions have led to a touchdown lead against Kansas City, a final touchdown against Las Vegas and a late-tying touchdown against Cleveland.
“If I’m defensive, I don’t want us to try,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. I’d rather see us clear. I think it’s a good way to think about it. ”
Five of the Chargers’ conversions came in series that resulted in touchdowns and one in a series that ended with a field goal. The other conversion didn’t help net points, the Chargers finally kicked.
“When he says, ‘Hey, let’s go for it,’ I don’t really judge the decision,” Lombardi said of Staley. “I just call the work. … In hindsight, a couple of them pretty brave. ”
Not counting the fake punt, the Chargers have gone for him at fourth and one, fourth and two (three times), fourth and four (three times), fourth and seven, fourth and eight, and fourth and nine.
They’ve tried it on his side of the field three times, including Sunday when, at the fourth and two at the 24-yard line, Linsley said even he was surprised by the decision, despite Staley’s offseason warnings.
In that case, the Chargers had fallen behind the Browns 27-13 with 10½ minutes to play in the third quarter.
It is not hyperbole to suggest that the game was shaky. Not getting the first down would have given Cleveland a shortstop and a chance to bury the Chargers.
Instead, Austin Ekeler received a pass from Justin Herbert and, behind a key block from backup right guard Michael Schofield, gained nine yards.
Staley explained that the Chargers’ fourth-down decisions are based on data and supported by modeling made by their analytics assistants. He said he does not believe he is gambling, but rather that he is making “wise decisions, not reckless ones.”
Having a quarterback at the level Herbert has maintained certainly adds to Staley’s willingness to push things forward. He has often spoken of his preference for putting the game in Herbert’s hands.
“I think it’s huge to know that most of the time he’s going to make a play, his receivers are going to make a play and his line is going to protect,” Lombardi said. “The better you feel with those guys, the more aggressive you will be.”
In a league where so many games are decided late, a bit of aggression from the head coach can make all the difference.
Linebacker Drue Tranquill is dealing with a chest muscle injury, Staley says the team doesn’t think it’s “going to be a long-term thing for RI.” He said Tranquill is seeking a second opinion after initial testing by the Chargers’ medical staff.
With linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (ankle) already out, losing Tranquill would leave the Chargers with only rookies Nick Niemann and Amen Ogbongbemiga behind Kyzir White, one of the two starters at inside linebacker.
Wide receiver Mike Williams was the only other player who wouldn’t have practiced Wednesday if the Chargers had gone more than one run. Williams was listed with a knee injury.
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga underwent core muscle surgery Tuesday in Philadelphia, the Chargers announced. Staley says the belief is that Bulaga will be able to return at some point, although the team does not yet have a schedule.