It’s week 1 of the NFL season and the Washington Football Team will be facing the Los Angeles Chargers at home in FedExField this Sunday at 1pm. The Chargers are boasting an entirely new coaching staff headed by Brandon Staley, former DC of the LA Rams (he changed team, but not city). Sean McVay called Staley “his own McVay” on defense and Staley brings with him OC Joe Lombardi (former QB coach of the Saints) and DC Renaldo Hill (former DB coach of the Broncos, where Staley worked before moving to LA). OC Joe Lombardi has been quoted as favoring lots of pre-snap motion and substitution to confuse the defense and force mismatches, fitting into the Sean McVay mold. Also within the Sean McVay mold, Staley sat his starters throughout the entire preseason. Although this has kept most of his starters healthy (except for starting RB Austin Ekeler, who pulled up with a hamstring this week), it means 2nd year QB Justin Herbert is learning a new offense and hasn’t been able to execute it in live games with his pass catchers.
The last few years, the Chargers have had a deep and talented skill-position group, but a poor offensive line that forced a short passing game and held back the run game. GM Tom Telesco finally committed to fixing the OL this past offseason (detailed below) in order to protect QB Justin Herbert and enable him to succeed.
The Chargers defense features multiple All Pro and Pro Bowl players, including DE Joey Bosa, S Derwin James, CB Chris Harris Jr, and NT Linval Joseph. With talent at all levels of the defense, Staley will have a lot of talent to draw upon for his defensive creativity so long as they stay healthy.
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Michael Peterson of Bolts from the Blue five questions about the state of the Chargers and what to look for in this game.
1) The Chargers lost a lot of close games last year, often in the final seconds of the game. What were your impressions of Anthony Lynn and his coaching staff and how much of last year’s record was due to them?
I LOVED the hire of Anthony Lynn. I wrote one of my first editorials for BFTB on how I personally would love to play for him. However, it was a tale of two halves with him. Those first two seasons were phenomenal. Two winning seasons and a playoff berth plus their first postseason victory since 2013. But then the other two years happened. 2019 saw a 5-11 record while 2020 saw a 3-9 season finish as a 7-9 campaign. No playoffs and no real silver-linings outside of the Justin Herbert selection.
Lynn’s final two years were riddled with little to no situational awareness, game management, and almost zero propensity to trot out a competent special teams unit. The 2020 season saw the team have arguably the worst unit in the NFL over the past 20 years. Seriously. How many times can you trot out 10 or 12 people on kick coverages? How many times can you allow long, momentum-shifting returns? There’s just no excuse for some of the coaching staff’s decisions over the past two seasons and luckily the front office felt the same.
2) What are your impressions of Brandon Staley and the new coaching staff? What do you expect to be especially different from the coaching and scheme this year?
Brandon Staley and the new coaching staff have been an incredibly-refreshing experience so far. There’s something special surrounding this team and it’s been such a joy to speak with and listen to them over the past few months. This is a progressive football team now. They’re bringing the franchise into the present and it’s about time. A revamped mindset regarding analytics and player preparation is at the center of it all which is a far cry from the old-school tactics of past coaching staffs.
The biggest contrast from last year to now will hopefully be game management and situational awareness. No more wasted time outs. No more boneheaded penalties. And hopefully no more running on 90 percent of the game’s first downs.
3) Tom Telesco has been the General Manager of the Chargers since 2013 and is one of the youngest GMs in the NFL. His stated philosophy is one of building through the draft. What do you think of the performance of his front office over that tenure and what (if anything) should they be doing differently?
Several years ago, many would have said Telesco’s been doing a heck of a job thus far. At the same time, he’s on his third hired head coach since being hired in 2013. Coupled with that, he and the new staff just basically rid themselves of an entire draft class (2017) during the offseason while moving on from a number of former draft picks of the team, as well. TT has had the worst luck with his third-round picks. Besides this year’s pick in tight end Tre’ McKitty, the only other third-rounders on the team are Keenan Allen and Trey Pipkins. With Pipkins already turning out to be nowhere near worthy of his draft slot, that’s a horrendous mark. Things aren’t much better in the second round, either. Uchenna Nwosu (2018), Nasir Adderley (2019), and Asante Sameul Jr. (2021) are the only ones left with the team.
It’s been “fine” with TT, but the talent on paper has never consistently matched up with real-life results. He waited until THIS YEAR to really invest in the offensive line and that’s incredible when that’s been a major problem for his entire tenure.
4) The Chargers offensive line has been a weakness of the team for the last few years. What is different about this year’s offensive line and how do you expect them to fare against Washington’s defensive line?
The word I’ve used the most over the past decade regarding the Chargers’ offensive line is “serviceable.” It’s been just good enough to be competitive but not good enough to consistently be an average position group compared to the rest of the league. In fact, most of their success has normally come in spite of the group.
This year, however, is completely different. Compared to last season’s group, there are four new bodies joining the lone holdover, right tackle Bryan Bulaga. It’s about time the franchise made this type of commitment to the front five. First-round rookie Rashawn Slater will be paired with new left guard Matt Feiler, one of the most-underrated guards in the NFL who comes over from Pittsburgh. They also went out and signed 2020 First-Team All-Pro center Corey Linsley to truly show they’re committed to the health and future of Justin Herbert. Lastly, the team signed right guard Oday Aboushi. He’s been a journeyman thus far in his career but most would argue he was playing his best football with the Lions last season. All in all, there are a ton of high expectations for this group going into the season.
5) Who are some lesser-known Chargers players you expect to make plays in this game?
Great question. On offense, I wouldn’t be surprised to see sixth-round rookie running back Larry Rountree make a play or two should Austin Ekeler be less than 100 percent on the day. He led the team in rushing during the preseason and already looks like a solid find on day three. The team’s other sixth-round rookie, linebacker Nick Niemann, is likely to find a role on special teams as an uber-athletic and rangy player. He led the team in tackles during the month of August and just seems to have a nose for the football.
Thanks again to Michael Peterson for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Chargers.