Sunday’s 23-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers perfectly emphasizes the 2023 season for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Big plays given up by the defense and offensive mistakes have led the team to a 4-6 record.
A perfect example was with 5:24 left in the game when the Packers took over after a Keenan Allen touchdown. Quarterback Jordan Love faced a 3rd-and-20 after a Khalil Mack sack fumble.
Love dropped back and threw a pass to Dontayvion Wicks, but he was interfered with by cornerback Asante Samuel Jr., the 11th conversion by the opposing offense on 3rd-and-11 or more this season.
“Every week we’re talking about fundamentals,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said. “Every week, we show them the officiating videos. Every week talking about it and so all we can continue to do is emphasize it and I know that our coaching staff is doing that. I know that the message is getting across, we’re not getting the execution on the field.”
Two plays later, Love threw to Wicks, which should have been a five-yard gain, but a missed tackle by Michael Davis and over-pursuit by Eric Kendricks turned into a catch and run of 35-yards that set them up on the Chargers side of the field.
Two plays after the 35-yard gain, a pre-snap miscommunication between Kenneth Murray and Davis led to Romeo Doubs being open for the 24-yard touchdown that put them ahead and ultimately gave them the victory.
Sequences like this have happened all season long.
The defense allowed Love to complete 27 of 40 passes for 322 yards and two touchdowns. Love hadn’t thrown for more than 289 yards. He also had thrown an interception in six games this season, but the Chargers defense couldn’t get one.
After the game, Staley was short with the media, who asked about the defense giving up a career day to Love. They also asked about the miscommunication, blown assignments, penalties, and conversions in must-have situations that have plagued this defense all season.
“You guys act like we’ve never played good defense,” Staley said. “That’s not the truth. It’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 in is the passing game. And that’s where our full attention is, and it’s where it will continue to be.”
The Chargers head coach was asked earlier in the week if he would give up play-calling duties after the apparent struggles. He simply said no. After Sunday’s loss, he was asked about it again.
“I have full confidence, like I’ve told you, and like I’ve told you from the beginning, I have full confidence in our way of playing well,” Staley said. “Confidence in myself as the play caller, and the way that we teach and the way that we scheme, full confidence in that we got to bring this group together and do it consistently. Okay, and that’s where it’s at. I’m going to be calling the defense. Okay, so we’re clear. So you don’t have to ask that again.”
The defense is the worst unit against the pass, and that is how teams attack this team. It is how the Lions and Jared Goff attacked them in the second half of last week’s game or how Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs attacked them a couple of weeks ago.
“There were a lot of other things that caused us to lose today,” Staley explained. “It certainly wasn’t our defense. It was the way we played as a team. We didn’t play well enough in the red zone on offense. We dropped too many passes, okay? We gave up a few killer sacks, okay? 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. And I take full responsibility. But we lost as a team today, and that’s the storyline.”
The offense also deserves blame for multiple mistakes, fumbles, and drops. But this loss was on both sides.
The Chargers receivers had seven drops on Sunday. The biggest one came with 23 seconds left in the game. The offense faced 3rd-and-6 when Herbert moved to his left threw a pass to Quentin Johnston, who beat his defender by two or three steps and dropped the pass.
Coulda, woulda, shoulda, but Johnston would have walked into the end zone.
They also went 0-for-3 in the red zone. The biggest play wasn’t a drop in the red zone but a fumble.
Justin Herbert and the offense had 2-and-goal from the two when he handed the ball off to Austin Ekeler, who slipped, stood up, and was wrapped by Kenny Clark and Jonathan Owens but fumbled the ball. It was recovered by Rashan Gary.
In the other two red zone opportunities, there were some critical drops by Keenan Allen, but he made up for it when he scored a ten-yard touchdown with 5:24 left in the game.
“I think we just had some missed opportunities,” Herbert said. “I thought we were in a position to be able to score some points. You can go down there and drive, and we just have to execute better. It’s on us as an offense to be able to take over those situations and score in the red zone like that.”
For the second straight week, a Herculean performance by Herbert and Allen is pushed to the side by a loss.
The playoff hopes dwindle as the losses keep piling up. One thing is clear: the same mistakes keep costing this team.
“These guys are giving their all,” Herbert said. “I feel for these guys and it’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but all we can do now is answer in how we can deal with this and keep moving forward. I know that these guys are going to continue to show up and give their best effort week in and week out.”