Live by the Sword Die by the Sword
By Sam Barricella
LA Charger head coach Brandon Staley is a gambling man. He loves to roll the dice and take his chances. His high risk/high reward style has led the Chargers to 8 wins this season and put them on the cusp of the playoffs. A win tonight at home vs their biggest rival the KC Chiefs would have put them in the driver’s seat to the AFC West division title. Tonight, the LA Chargers really needed some run-good on their gambling ways. Unfortunately, when you live by the sword you can also die by the sword. Let’s take a deeper look at the decisions that cost the Chargers tonight in a tough loss against the Chiefs.
Decision #1. First-quarter, first-drive of the game. Chargers get a huge kick return to put them in plus territory. They smartly pound the run for 20 yards and find themselves at the Chief’s 5-yard line. After 3 straight incomplete passes to Mike Williams, they are in a 4th and goal situation. The obvious call is to kick the field goal and it’s the right decision. Going for the touchdown here is simply terrible and here is why. It is hard to get 5 yards down at the goal line. The field is small, the defense is fired up, and your best player is banged up. Also, if you planned on going for it, you must run the football at least once. Going for it from the 1 or 2 is very different than the 5. In this situation, the defense can play pass only. Had they run the ball and gotten closer this decision looks less terrible. Since the Chargers failed to get closer, and it’s the first drive they should have kicked the sure field goal, taken a positive first possession, and had an early lead. The Chargers go for it and fail to score giving the Chiefs the ball at the 5. Gamble lost.
Decision #2. Second-quarter, KC leading 10-7, Chargers have the 4th 1 from the KC 33. LA has run the ball well up until this point in the game. Down a score, and right at the lip of field-goal range, going for it here makes perfect sense. Not a difficult decision and one that many teams make in this situation. I think kicking a FG is a really bad decision. Instead, Herbert sneaks for 2 yards and a first down, and an eventual touchdown. Gamble won.
Decision #3. Second-quarter, 14-10 LA, after a Mahomes fumble the Chargers get the ball on the plus 45 right before the half. They get down to the goal line and fail to score twice from inside the 3. They face 4th and goal from the 1 on the last play of the half. Kicking the FG is the only play here. One of the big benefits of going for the TD down by the goal line is the position you leave your opponent in if you fail to score. Giving a team the ball on their own 1 often results in conservative play-calling, a 3 and out possession, and the ball right back in plus territory. However, this is the last play of the half. That benefit is completely erased here. Getting points right before the half after a turnover is the type of momentum you want heading into the locker room. Getting stopped here, and the Chiefs getting the ball to start the second half is a bad recipe. Of all the calls, this one is the worst. LA goes for the TD and fails to score. Bad gamble lost.
Decision #4. 3rd quarter, 14-13 LA. KC received the second-half kickoff, drove the ball into field goal range and converted a successful kick. The Charger’s first possession has them still in the lead and moving down to the KC 28. Facing a 4th and 2 with 7:48 remaining the quarter, should LA kick the FG or go again? This was the toughest decision of them all for me. Kicking here is well within the range of Dustin Hopkins, but not automatic. Going for it, on 4th and 2 has a run or pass option meaning the defense will have a tough time predicting the play. However, since the score is turning into a FG game, KC has only managed to get into the end zone once in 2.5 quarters, and your defense has played great, I lean towards points here. I do not hate the decision to go for it on 4th down, but I think the wiser choice would be to take the points. LA goes for it and does not convert the first down. Good gamble lost.
Decision #5. 4th quarter 14-13 LA. KC drove the field and gambled themselves on 4th and 1 from the LA 2. The Charger’s defense holds and keeps the lead then embarking on a 10-play drive that has them 4th and 1 from the KC 11 with 12:24 to play. Should LA go for this first down? Emphatically yes! This is a very easy choice. They have the Chief’s defense tired, and they cannot stop the run. Furthermore, with the score being 14-13, a FG here doesn’t add much to their chance of winning while a TD in this spot puts KC in the really bad spot in the 4th. Kelly runs the ball for 7 yards to set up first and goal. Unfortunately for LA, they fumble on the goal-line ending this drive with no points. Easy gamble won.
Decision #6. 20-13 LA. After the fumble by Kelly mentioned above, Mahomes throws an interception on the KC 9. (This emphasizes the benefit of giving the ball back deep in an opponent’s territory when deciding to go for it at the goal line). Ekeler runs into the endzone on the first play to give LA the 20-13 lead. So, what is the decision? I have postulated in this spot; LA should have gone for 2! While many times, taking the extra point is easy, this is a spot where a little gamble could really pay off. If LA goes for 2 and gets it, they now have a 2-possession lead with 9 mins to play, all the momentum, and deflate the Chiefs. If they fail, they still are up 7, with little risk of giving up the lead if KC scores. KC will never go for 2 in that spot late in the 4th, since they believe they are the better team. Staley is such a gambler, this would have been a perfect spot to roll the dice. As it turns out, they kick the extra point, KC goes right down the field, scores, and of course, gets the 2-point conversion to tie the game. Missed opportunity in my opinion.
The conclusion of this wildly entertaining game resulted in KC winning in overtime 34-28. But this game was not won or lost in overtime. Had Brandon Staley played a little more conservatively the game looks very different. Up 20-10 at the half really changes everything. Maybe the Chiefs come back to win anyway, maybe LA scores to open the half with a TD, go up 27-10 and blows them out. But when you live by the sword you also die by it and in this game, the sword was very costly to the Chargers. This loss belongs to the gambling coach. The Chargers were the better team tonight, and they deserved better. Bucking trends, and being aggressive are great things, but winning football games is even better. I look forward to Brandon Staley in the playoffs because win or lose, they play exciting games.