The idea was pitched back in the spring when the Chargers were running around in shorts and T-shirts.
New coach Brandon Staley warned his offense not to assume that a punt was coming just because he finished fourth.
“Hey man, don’t start jogging off the field yet,” recalls center Corey Linsley Staley. “We can go for a quarter” [down] It doesn’t matter if we feel comfortable [where or when]”
The rookie coach has followed up on those words. Through five games, the Chargers’ offense is seven for seven in fourth place. The team’s only unsuccessful fourth-down attempt came on a fake punt.
The Chargers also had two quarter-downs converted by a pass interference call on the opposition and lost another successful attempt when wide receiver Jalen Gayton was penalized for an illegal change.
“For us, it’s attack mindset, being in situations where you have to do it and get it done,” Linsley said on Wednesday. “It’s a huge confidence builder. It takes guts to do it.”
For the Chargers, fourth-down conversions have led to late touchdowns against Kansas City, late touchdowns against Las Vegas, and late touchdowns against Cleveland.
“If I’m on defense, I don’t want to see us for it,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “I’d love to see us punt instead. I think that’s a good way to think about it.”
The Chargers’ five conversions have come on drives that resulted in a touchdown and on one drive that ended with a field goal. The other conversion didn’t help net points, with the Chargers eventually punting.
“When he says, ‘Hey, we’re going for it,’ I don’t really judge the decision,” Lombardi said of Staley. “I just call that drama. … Looking back, a couple of them are pretty daring.”
Not counting the fake punts, the Chargers have gone for it on fourth and one, fourth and two (three times), fourth and four (three times), fourth and seven, fourth and eight and fourth and nine.
He has gone to his end of the field for it three times, including on Sunday when, on fourth and two at the 24-yard line, Linsley said even he was surprised at the decision – Staley’s offseason. Despite the warnings.
In that case, the Chargers fell 27-13 to the Browns and still had 10 1/2 minutes to play in the third quarter.
It is not an exaggeration to suggest that the game was acrimonious. Failing to lift Down first would have given Cleveland a short field and a chance to bury the Chargers.
Instead, Austin Eckeler took a handoff from Justin Herbert and – behind a key block by backup right guard Michael Schofield – gained nine yards.
Staley has explained that the Chargers’ fourth-down decisions are data-driven and supported by modeling done by their analytics assistants. He added that he doesn’t believe he’s gambling, but “making good decisions, not recklessly.”
The level at which Herbert has performed as quarterback certainly adds to Staley’s desire to push things forward. He has often spoken about his preference to put the game in Herbert’s hands.
“I think it’s huge, knowing that often he’s going to make a play, your receivers are going to make a play and your line is going to defend,” Lombardi said. “The better you feel about those people, the more aggressive you are.”
In a league where so many games are scheduled late, an ounce of aggression from the head coach can make all the difference.
Linebacker Drew Tranquil is battling a chest-muscle injury, with Staley saying the team doesn’t believe “this is going to be anything long-term, according to IR.” He said Tranquil is taking a second opinion after initial testing by the Chargers’ medical staff.
With linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr (ankle) already out, losing Tranquil would leave the Chargers only behind Kazir White with rookies Nick Nieman and Amen Ogbongbemiga, one of two starters at the inside linebacker. .
Wide receiver Mike Williams was the only other player who would not have practiced on Wednesday if the Chargers had conducted more than a walk-through. Williams was listed as having a knee injury.
Right tackle Brian Bulaga underwent core-muscle surgery in Philadelphia on Tuesday, the Chargers announced. Staley says he is confident Bulaga will be able to return at some point, although the team does not yet have a timetable.