Torched again, the smell of the Chargers’ burnt pass defense permeated Sunday even into a performance during which the group gave up only two touchdowns.
Brandon Staley faced repeated questions related to his defense following a 23-20 loss to Green Bay, the inquires reaching a point where the head coach turned plenty defensive himself.
“There were a lot of other things that caused us to lose today,” Staley said. “It certainly wasn’t our defense. It was the way we played as a team.”
He cited a one-for-four offensive red-zone showing, three glaring dropped passes and a pair of sacks Staley described as “killer.”
The Chargers also lost a scoring chance early in the fourth quarter when running back Austin Ekeler fumbled inside the Packers’ 10-yard line.
And the carnage was even more real. Edge rusher Joey Bosa was lost to what appeared to be a significant foot injury on the first series of the game.
All totaled, the Chargers fell to 4-6 thanks to their third two-game losing streak during a season that seems to be sliding toward something that resembles mediocrity, at best.
Forecast to contend for a playoff berth and perhaps even a division title, they today find themselves with a better record than only Tennessee and New England among the AFC’s 16 teams.
“Stop making it about one unit because that’s not what happened out there today,” Staley continued. “Our team lost, and I’m fully responsible for it.”
Still, the Chargers’ lingering inability to stop the pass — they’ve ranked last in the league in yards allowed per game since Week 1 — serves as a fitting example of the team’s underachievement.
The Packers’ Jordan Love, in his 11th career start, had his first 300-yard game, amassing 322 while completing 27 of 40 attempts and throwing for two touchdowns.
Green Bay also reached the end zone on a second-quarter end around with rookie wide receiver Jayden Reed, a call that went for 32 yards — big plays another issue that has plagued Staley’s defense.
Love became the fifth quarterback top 300 yards against the Chargers this season.
He lofted an 11-yard touchdown to Christian Watson late in the third quarter and then hit Romeo Doubs for a winning 24-yarder over cornerback Michael Davis with 2:33 remaining.
The final air strike came after the Chargers struggled to find their alignment when Green Bay’s offense went with no huddle. As the ball was snapped, Davis and linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. nearly collided, costing Davis a precious step.
“That last play was bad ball,” Davis said. “You can’t be scrambling around and switching on the run. It puts everybody in a bad spot.”
Problems with communication, tackling and penalties have undermined a defense that approaching three seasons into Staley’s tenure as head coach simply hasn’t been good enough.
On the Packers’ winning drive, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. was called for pass interference, allowing Green Bay to convert a third and 20. Staley: “You have to play with good fundamentals and not grab the guy. It’s as simple as that.”
Two snaps later, Davis was unable to bring down rookie wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks, leading to a 35-yard gain. Staley: “You can’t cut people loose.”
Afterward, Staley reiterated for the third time recently that he will continue as the defensive playcaller and again expressed confidence in his players and his schemes.
Then he was asked a question that referenced the Chargers’ fan base, a group no doubt frustrated by a team that now has lost five times by three points or fewer.
“I’m not here to talk for the fan base,” Staley said. “I’m here to talk to my players, the locker room. I know that we give ourselves a chance to win every single week with the game plans that we have.
“We have done it here. You guys act like we’ve never played good defense. That’s not the truth. That’s not the truth. You act like we haven’t made any improvements.”
Staley then talked about how the Chargers limited the Packers to 102 yards rushing in 28 attempts and pointed out the three times they sacked Love, just their latest bit of productive pressure.
But the overriding theme for this defense and this season will remain the Chargers’ inability to sufficiently slow passing attacks. Love finished with six completions that picked up at least 20 yards.
“There’s these plays that really hijacked our rhythm in the passing game,” Staley said. “That’s where we gotta put our focus. That’s where it’s been. Until we get that solved consistently you’re gonna continue to see results like today.”
And Staley is going to continue facing questions as he did Sunday, especially as a coach hired because of his success as a defensive coordinator.
As the Chargers’ uneven play bounces along, Staley’s uncertain future with the team will tumble along as well.