Chargers' Brandon Staley relies on analytics for 4th-down calls, but play-calling must improve

Brandon Staley has his legion of critics when it comes to fourth-down calls, especially late in games.

The third-year Los Angeles Chargers coach is at least consistent in his beliefs and trusts the math when he makes those decisions.

“It’s your job as a head coach to make sure your team knows you have belief in them. I think we came here to win,” Staley said after Sunday's 28-24 win at Minnesota. “It was a tough road game against a team that made the playoffs, so we were trying to go win the game, and I make no apologies for that.”

It marked the second straight season in which the Chargers escaped with a road win after Staley's decision to go for it on fourth down late in his own territory came up short.

Joshua Kelley was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the LA 24-yard line with 1:47 remaining, giving Kirk Cousins and the Vikings offense a short field to attempt a game-winning drive despite having no timeouts.

The Chargers held on when Kenneth Murray Jr. intercepted a deflected pass by Cousins in the end zone.

“He felt like our offense had an opportunity to go out there and get it done and get the first down," Murray said. “I’m always going to ride with him when it comes to that if he feels like that’s the best call. That’s what he gets paid to do, to make that call. So, he made that call, then we get paid to go out there and play defense and back him up and back the team up.”

Last year in Week 5 at Cleveland, the Chargers led 30-28, but were unable to convert a fourth-and-1 at their own 46 with 1:10 remaining. The Browns got the ball needing only a field goal for the win, but Cade York was wide right from 54 yards out.

“The mindset was similar that we were trying to win and finish the game. But defensively it was a different game,” Staley said Monday. “The way we defended in (Sunday's) game was much different than the way we defended in Cleveland.”

On Sunday, the Chargers had an expected win probability of 84.2% by going for it, compared to 77.8% if they punted. For a coaching staff that relies heavily on analytics, any time there is that much of a difference, they are going to go for it.

The shortfall was the play call. Kelley had a 44.6% chance of getting the first down. Kelley had just 12 yards on 11 carries, with five going for no gain or negative yards.

“If I would have been affected, we wouldn’t have gone for it. We would have punted it. It was fourth down and less than a yard,” Staley said when asked if he was worried about second-guessing. "We were protecting four points, not three.”

During last year's game against the Browns, the Chargers had a 9.4% better win probability by going for it. The probability of converting on a pass by Justin Herbert was 57%, but his throw on a slant route to Mike Williams was broken up by Martin Emerson.


Herbert beating the blitz. He faced five or more pass rushers on 40 of 48 dropbacks, but he was poised under pressure. Herbert completed 32 of 38 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns against the Vikings blitz. He is the first quarterback to throw for over 300 yards when facing the blitz since the league's NextGen Stats system started in 2016. Herbert is 42 of 52 this season leads the league in passing yards (356) and completion percentage (80.8%) when facing at least a five-man rush.


Limiting big plays. The Chargers allowed seven pass plays of at least 20 yards and six runs of at least 10 yards. Through three games, they have allowed a league-leading 30 big plays (completions of at least 20 yards or runs of at least 10 yards).


LB Tuli Tuipulotu. The second-round pick generated 10 quarterback pressures, the second-most by a rookie in a game since 2016. Tuipulotu played 63 of 82 snaps and finished with four tackles, one sack and four QB hits.


CB J.C. Jackson, who was a healthy inactive for the game. It is another major setback for Jackson, who signed a five-year, $82.5 million contract last year but hasn't come close to being the same player he was in New England, where he picked off 25 passes between 2018 and 2021.


WR Mike Williams is out for the rest of the season after suffering a torn ACL in his left knee during the third quarter. S Derwin James' status going into the week is questionable after he suffered a hamstring injury in the third quarter. RB Austin Ekeler and LB Eric Kendricks have been sidelined the last two weeks with hamstring injuries.


3 — Games with at least 15 receptions by Keenan Allen during his 11-year career, an NFL record. Allen set a franchise record with 18 catches on Sunday.


The Chargers have split their season series with the Raiders the last three years. The last time they got a sweep was 2018.



Joe Reedy, The Associated Press