In preparing for Sunday’s matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, Bolts from the Blue’s Kyle DeDimincantanio and I sat down for a short Q&A for one another’s publications.
Check out the Q&A below, and be sure to check out DraftKings Sportsbook for all your betting needs this season.
1) The Chargers are, by most accounts, a team with good-to-great players at premium positions. So what has them being 4-6 entering Sunday?
This is the classic Chargers question that has fans reeling year after year. The Chargers have benefitted from a handful of solid first round selections, partially due to advantageous draft position and partially from the board falling their way beautifully, as it did with Rashawn Slater and Derwin James. For a team with one of the longer-tenured general managers in the league, it’s amazing how little savviness Tom Telesco shows when managing this team. He has frequently traded up in the draft for players at a non-premium position, none of which were re-signed to a second contract. In ELEVEN drafts, he hasn’t traded down once to acquire additional selections. He’s prone to overpay in free agency, typically awarding contracts that encourage cutting the player in their contract year instead of letting players hit free agency again while they still have value, thus positively affecting the compensatory formula.
The end result is a team that is routinely top-heavy. Rotational or depth positions are filled by developmental players that struggle to contribute until their third or fourth year in the league. A perfect example is your very own Kyle Van Noy, who the Chargers let walk in free agency. The Chargers had Khalil Mack and the oft-injured Joey Bosa as their EDGE starters, an underperforming linebacker room, and Chris Rumph as their depth leading up to the draft. Fans have loved the Tuli Tuipulotu selection, but the decision to roster the undersized and unproductive Rumph in lieu of Van Noy seemed criminal at the time, and only looks worse and worse as the season progresses; Van Noy represents the perfect depth piece teams should covet, especially teams with an injury-prone starter and little depth behind him.
Brandon Staley deserves plenty of blame as well, with his determination to run a defensive scheme that still hasn’t shown a redeeming quality in three years... but we can discuss that in your next question...
2) It would appear Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley is on the hot seat? What are your thoughts on him? What are the fans’ thoughts?
I personally bought into Brandon Staley in Year 1. His defense was very unique - with a bend-don’t-break philosophy that focused on shutting down an opponent’s passing attack. One could see how a high-powered offense led by Justin Herbert could benefit from a defense that thrives at shutting down an offensive shootout, and closes the door on teams that shift to their passing offense when playing from behind. Get the lead, and let your premiere pass rushers feast on the quarterback... it makes sense on paper.
The drawback is the way Staley achieves this is by sacrificing the run defense significantly. He pulls a defensive lineman or linebacker off the field and replaces them with an additional defensive back; if a team is in a base formation, like a 12 or 21 personnel set, Staley will often match up in nickel (or even a dime from time to time). His EDGES often line up in the wide-nine technique, with only two lineman in the interior, and linebackers that play seven yards off the ball. It’s a recipe for aggressive run production for their opponent.
He has some wrinkles with creative safety play and pre-snap adjustments that can help key in on a mismatch or catch an offense by surprise. However, the defensive backfield, most of whom have been around since Staley’s arrival, still don’t seem to understand their coverage rules and assignments. Staley often calls “match-pattern” coverage schemes, where the defense keys man-coverage responsibilities off a certain offensive cue, and multiple times a game Chargers fans have seen the defensive backfield misread a cue and allow multiple free runners to sprint through the defensive backfield, leading to an absolute assault of explosive passing plays.
If you’re going to hang your hat on preventing those kinds of explosives, and selling out to stop the pass, your defense is going to lose their mojo and sense of identity when teams can throw at will against you. That is where the team seems to be now, and fan sentiment is overwhelmingly on the side of letting Staley go - the current question is whether a mid-season firing would make sense or if we should wait until the offseason.
3) Ravens second-year safety Kyle Hamilton is, according to PFF, the best slot defender this season. He’ll be going up against the dominant Keenan Allen on Sunday. Do you think Allen will remain in the slot in this matchup? What makes Allen so effective in that role?
Kyle Hamilton is a guy I had scouted heavily and actually thought would thrive in Staley’s scheme as that extra defensive back, a player that could play in the slot and provide exceptional run coverage when Staley ran his “lite front.” My wife is a Notre Dame alum, so we’re thrilled to see him do so well!
Keenan has taken 358 snaps from the slot this year, but he’s also taken 230 from out wide. He’s extremely proficient at both. I’d be amazed if Hamilton was able to shut Keenan out - he’s surgical with his route running, and almost approaches his game like a pass rusher. On any given play, he’s looking to beat his man, but also is setting his man up with moves he’ll look to play off of and exploit later. It’s a cerebral approach very few wide receivers can pull off.
That said, Allen is a chain-mover, a death-by-a-thousand-cuts guy. You won’t see him blow the lid off your defense, and the lack of a home-run threat enables defenses to play closer to the line of scrimmage, feeding into our difficulties in the run game. He can take over a game, but it’s predicated on such a high volume of targets to do so, you’re asking for near mistake-free football from the other ten offensive starters to pull it off... and consistency isn’t exactly a Chargers’ trademark.
4) Name two players (one offense/one defense) who Ravens fans may not know of that could have an impact on Sunday’s game?
Derius Davis is a guy on offense that has been efficient when used, and is our biggest after-the-catch threat. He’s a smaller gadget-type player with speed that kills. The Chargers have given him some looks from the backfield, both in the pass and run game, and he provides a unique shifty, speedy wrinkle to the Chargers. It’s been a surprise to see the Bolts not prioritize finding more ways to get him involved, but there are plenty that think it’s a matter of time before his role is expanded and the Chargers start leaning on some creative play calling to compensate for their offensive injuries.
On defense, Alohi Gilman is an upcoming UFA that the Chargers will need to prioritize bringing back. He was a sixth-round selection in the 2020 draft that doesn’t have top-end athleticism and measurables, but is one of the few (possibly the only) backs that has been able to comprehend Stalaye’s scheme and thrive in it. His football IQ should carry over to whatever defense the team deploys in the future. He’s not going to remind you of a true enforcer-type safety you might be looking for to compensate for his speed, but he’s an extremely willing tackler and has shown more “pop” and aggression in his hits this season.
5) DraftKings have the Ravens as three-point road favorites. Do you agree? Why or why not?
The Chargers have a history of matching their opponents’ talent, rising to the occasion against superior opponents but often playing down to inferior ones. The insane amount of one-score games, and one-score losses, can largely be attributed to this pattern. However, this season has reversed that course a bit, with the Chargers front-running against teams with backup quarterbacks under center and losing to the Chiefs by the largest deficit since Staley took over.
We’re curious to see if they can rise to the occasion for Sunday Night Football, but there’s not a ton of optimism about how the Chargers match up with the Ravens. The physicality of the Ravens on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball will likely be too much for this struggling Chargers roster that has a habit of losing in the trenches. It’s also going to be a test for our run defense - offenses have had so much success through the air against us, the run defense hasn’t really been tested this season.
That said, Herbie appears to hit another gear when his frustration mounts and starts playing more efficiently and aggressively when his emotions kick in. As frustrating as this season has been, we’re starting to see Herbert finally take over as a leader, something the reserved kid from Oregon hasn’t really done in years past. I’d still expect the offense to put up their points, but I’d honestly parlay the Ravens to clear an adjusted 6-point spread with the “over.”