Chargers’ Brandon Staley explains surprisingly conservative fourth down decisions against Chiefs

During his first season as head coach of Los Angeles ChargersBrandon Staley has become widely known for his aggressive fourth position decision making.

No team in the NFL attempted fourth down at a higher rate than the Chargers, who made it 31.5% of the time. The Chargers were also quite effective on those fourth down opportunities, converting them at a clip of 64.7% – tied for fourth best in the league. Aggressiveness helped the Chargers earn early-season wins over the Browns and Chiefsbut at the end of the season, Staley was criticized when his aggression didn’t work as well.

Fast forward to 2022, and Staley has apparently become much more conservative. Against rival division chiefs on Thursday night, Staley opted to kick several places he would have usually opted for a year ago. After throwing to a 54.5% clip on fourth-and-fourth or under last season (and converting those chances 62.5% of the time), Staley opted to throw or throw a field goal in five from these seven opportunities on Thursday night. According to at least one calculation, the kicking choices Cost The bone Angeles percentage 11.6 points of probability of victory. Some, but not all (10.1 percentage points) was made up of of them choices move forward in similar situations.

Explaining his decision-making, Staley said: “I just wanted to give our defense a chance to compete. I loved the way we were playing. I felt like that was the formula – knocking the pitch down there -down. I feel like we were aggressive when we needed to be tonight. We converted on our fourth four downs. I just felt like, with who’s there (Patrick Mahomes), and the way our defense was playing, I felt like the position on the pitch would be a big advantage for our defense to be able to pin them there. And I like the way our defense competed tonight.”

It’s striking to hear Staley talk about his decision-making this way, especially considering how he’s spoken about such opportunities in the past. Consider the difference in his post-match explanation and what he told The Athletic this offseason on his decision-making process:

“There has to be a fearlessness to play in this game, and what I wanted to establish is that,” Staley said. “The story of this team when I came here, it was like somebody was going to get injured, they were going to lose a lead, something catastrophic was going to happen. There’s this ‘Charge’ thing. There there are all these external factors that I know in my life are just excuses, they are just excuses.

“So how do you change that? Well, you have to do things differently, you have to have a different approach. … Our mindset is going to be on us, it’s not going to be on the opponent. It’s okay So by creating that fearless mindset, we’re going to be aggressive, we’re going to get the ball in our hands, we’re going to trust our guys to make plays.

“If we lose, we will do it on our terms, not on someone else’s terms.”

Specifically, the mindset part being “on us, it won’t be on the opponent” is relevant here, since Staley cited Mahomes being on the other side as a reason to kick rather than going into these situations. It directly contradicts what he told The Athletic, and doesn’t really stand up to so much scrutiny.

With Mahomes on the other team, you’ll probably need to score even more points to win. Kick removes the chance to do so. And if you’re so confident in your defense and the way they play, you should have enough confidence in them to get the ball back, even if you go there and don’t convert. The 2021 version of Staley would almost surely have said the same thing. Perhaps criticism of his decision-making over the past season has pushed Staley into a more conservative stance on these issues. Maybe he just didn’t like the way those specific opportunities presented themselves in that specific game. We will know more as the season progresses.

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