The Chargers' collapse on Super Wild Card Weekend forced coach Brandon Staley to make changes to his offensive staff.
Gone are offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach Shane Day, leaving vacancies Staley must fill in the weeks ahead. Staley also had questions to answer after his team blew a 27-0 lead in Jacksonville, losing to the upstart Jaguars, 31-30.
"Just felt like we needed to make changes to the offense and the vision I have on that side of the ball," Staley said of his staff decisions Wednesday. "I think there's a different gear we need to get to as a football team, definitely not an easy decision because they did a really quality job for two years, but I think we can make improvements on that side of the football, and that's what we're going to have our focus be moving forward."
Staley's offense finished 11th in total yards per game in 2022, which should be seen as an achievement, considering the Chargers played a significant portion of the season without one or both of their top targets in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. Injuries hit Los Angeles hard on both sides of the ball, but as they got key players back late in the season, they appeared to hit their stride, winning four of their final five games to close the regular-season slate.
That momentum appeared to carry over into Super Wild Card Weekend, where the Chargers began their game in Jacksonville with four takeaways, building a four-possession lead in the first half. Signs of trouble began to appear, though, when they punted late in the first half, giving Jacksonville just enough time to mount a touchdown drive to cut the deficit to 27-7.
From there, Los Angeles went into a shell offensively, mustering just three more points in the remainder of the game while watching its defense crumble against Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars. The crushing loss was a product of what Staley believes was a subpar offensive approach.
He hopes staff changes will remedy this failure.
"Yeah, I think there's just a different level that we need to play at, offensively, particularly at the line of scrimmage, in the run game, and having a marriage of the run and the pass, creating more explosions on early downs, and I think there's just a style of play that's still out there for us," Staley said. "And I think we made improvements each season towards heading where I think we can ultimately go as a football team, and again these aren't easy decisions but I think you're not trying to stay at a certain place, you're always trying to take your game to another level, and that's what it's about, creating that optimal level that I know our team can get to offensively.
"I think we played really quality football for two years, but in terms of us being able to compete for Super Bowls and ultimately be as good as we can be, I think there's another gear we can get to."
If the Chargers can reach that gear, Staley shouldn't have to continue ignoring calls for his job. He's heard plenty of them already, even if he isn't taking them seriously.
"No, I have a lot of confidence in the way we've done things for two years, I have a lot of confidence in what I see on the football field week in and week out, I know the type of improvements that we've been able to make as a football team since I've been here," Staley said. "I think the way that we finished the season, the way we finished down the stretch, shows you all the things that we're excited about moving forward. I know that the culture that we have in the locker room, I know the quality of the product on the field, and I know the capacity we have to grow, and we have all these things in place where we made tremendous improvement from Year 1 to Year 2, and now from Year 2 to Year 3 we expect to make those same types of improvements.
"But I was really proud of the season we had, especially with all the challenges we were having throughout, I felt like the way we finished the season said a lot about the guys we had in the locker room."
A strong finish was ruined by a stunning exit. Now, Staley will have to find the right replacements in order to help his team take another step toward future success. In 2023, a first-round exit simply won't be acceptable.
"Yeah, I think you're looking for leadership, number one," Staley said when asked what he's looking for in his upcoming hires. "You're looking for someone that can really connect a group and get them to play a certain type of way, and I think that's where it starts. And that comes from young guys, it comes from medium guys, older guys, it doesn't matter but it really starts with leadership, and I think bringing out the solid play that we want to have as a football team, because it's about a football team in all tree phases playing a certain style, and that's what I'm really after, from leading a group and connecting it.
"And then in terms of what that looks like, I think the offenses that I think are the most challenging to defend are the ones that put a lot of pressure on you every snap, in terms of marrying the run game to the pass game, putting a lot of pressure on you in terms of personnel, pace, emotion, and being able to get the explosions consistently, and that's what I believe in. I want to get an offense that mirrors our defense, because I think those are the types of organizations who are consistent, game in and game out, and we're going to start that process here shortly."