In opening the season 3-5, the Chargers at times have been accused of lacking urgency.
The same cannot be said this week of coach Anthony Lynn, who Monday fired Ken Whisenhunt as offensive coordinator.
“I just felt like it was time,” Lynn said Wednesday. “If I was eventually going to do it, why not just do it right now? We have eight weeks left in this season, and we still have everything in front of us that we want.”
Whisenhunt was in his fifth season overall and fourth in a row guiding the team’s offense.
He was let go after the Chargers made it four consecutive weeks of being unable to run the ball, produce big plays or consistently reach the end zone.
In a 17-16 victory Sunday at Chicago, the offense didn’t pick up a first down until early in the second quarter. It took more than 10 minutes for a second first down to be achieved.
“That wasn’t all on Ken,” Lynn said. “There was no flow. There was no rhythm. It was just time for a change, in my opinion.”
The Chargers have averaged only 35.5 yards rushing over the last four weeks, a performance that has led to the offense being severely out of balance. They ran the ball only 12 times against the Bears.
For the season, they’ve passed on 66.7% of their snaps, giving them the third-most lopsided offense in the league.
Although the NFL was a different game in the early 1980s, it is worth noting that even the most wide-open of the Air Coryell Chargers never passed more than 60% of the time.
“You hate that it got to where we stand today,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “As a player, when a coach gets let go, you feel deep down, ‘Gosh, I had a hand in that. I need to do a better job.’ I think we all just need to dig deep and keep going and find a way to get it turned around.”
Said running back Austin Ekeler: “Ken was here when I first made the team. That was probably one of the reasons why I made the team, because he liked me on the field. So I’ll never forget him as an OC.”
Starting Sunday against Green Bay, Shane Steichen will take over calling plays. He has been the Chargers quarterback coach since 2016, but this will be his first experience as a play caller.
At 34, he’s three years younger than Rivers, though Lynn is convinced Steichen is ready for the promotion.
“He’s young,” Lynn said. “He’s innovative. He has a lot of juice. I think the players are going to respond to Shane. He’s a good communicator. I’m just looking forward to seeing him do his job.”
Lynn can relate to what’s in front of Steichen. Two weeks, and two losses, into the 2016 season, Lynn took over play calling for the Buffalo Bills, the immediate result being four consecutive victories.
He said the key to that turnaround was simplifying the offense, which allowed the Bills to play faster and more physical.
Lynn said that play calling can be “kind of addicting.” He also said he has “always had the urge to call plays again, for sure.”
But he also spoke of the importance of the coach delegating to his assistants.
Although Whisenhunt was the Chargers’ play caller, Lynn was involved in the process and said he “had to hold back” at times to avoid disrupting the rhythm the offense was trying to establish.
He’ll continue to assist in making those decisions, particularly as Steichen transitions into his expanded role. But Lynn said the play-calling duties ultimately will fall to his newly appointed interim coordinator.
“I’m going to let him call it,” Lynn said. “I do not want him looking over his shoulder for any reason. I will assist like I’ve always assisted, but I have a lot of confidence in Shane and our offensive staff to get this done.”
Offensive line coach Pat Meyer will coordinate the running game, a significant assignment for a team that has struggled mightily trying to reincorporate Melvin Gordon.
The team’s No. 1 running back, Gordon sat out the first four games after ending an ill-fated contract holdout. He has averaged only 2.5 yards and scored one touchdown in 44 carries.
Lynn, a former NFL running back and running backs coach, dismissed the notion that he is driven to primarily move the ball on the ground. During that 2016 season in Buffalo, the Bills led the league in rushing.
“There is this narrative that I just want to run the ball all the time and that’s not true,” he said. “I just want to win. I want to advance the ball down the field [the] best way possible. Sometimes that’s passing and sometimes that’s going to be running. But I do expect a better balance.”
Even though Steichen will be calling plays for the first time, Lynn and Rivers said they anticipate that his experience has him ready for the job. A former quarterback at Nevada Las Vegas, he has been coaching in the NFL since 2011.
What develops over the next eight games could have a major effect on Steichen’s future, along with so many others in the organization.
“I guess you could say it’s an audition,” Lynn said. “I believe in him. I believe he’s going to do a heck of a job. We’ll see what happens for all of us after the season.”
Starting defensive tackles Justin Jones (knee) and Brandon Mebane (shoulder) sat out practice. They have sat out the last two games. … Receiver Keenan Allen (hamstring), left tackle Russell Okung (calf) and safety Roderic Teamer (groin) were limited. … Kicker Michael Badgley, who sat out the first eight games because of a groin injury, will return Sunday.