The move might have been a moment for sober reflection had the Chargers not already spent weeks pondering their sour performances.
When Ken Whisenhunt was fired as offensive coordinator Monday, the development arrived more like just another loss in a season filled with too many of them.
“We’ve been needing to look in the mirror for a long time now, just with how our games have been turning out,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “It’s a reminder of how cutthroat this league can be and how changes do happen if you’re not performing.” The Chargers are 3-5 and just snapped a three-game losing streak but only because Chicago’s kicker missed a 41-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
They have been historically bad over the last month when trying to run the ball, their recent yardage totals unseen in the NFL since the 1940s.
They return to Carson on Sunday to face 7-1 Green Bay, trying to overcome Aaron Rodgers and what figures to be another decided home-field disadvantage.
They’ll do so with Shane Steichen, a quarterbacks coach three years younger than the team’s actual quarterback, calling plays for the first time in his career.
“I think Shane’s been calling plays his whole life,” head coach Anthony Lynn said. “He just wasn’t the coordinator. He’s always had great ideas. He’s not going to be doing this alone.”
Steichen, 34, will start the game on the sidelines, although he could move upstairs into the coaching box eventually, if he fails to find a level of comfort on the field.
Lynn, a former play-caller in Buffalo, will be on the headset to assist. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer will be in charge of coordinating the run game.
Steichen also can lean on Philip Rivers, who, at 37, is in his 16th season and will be starting his 232nd consecutive NFL game, including the playoffs.
“That absolutely helps,” Steichen said. “He’s a phenomenal football player. He has been doing it for a long time. His football IQ has to be up there as one of the best, if not the best, of all time.”
Regardless of who is calling the plays, the Chargers have to figure out how to produce something on the ground. A week ago against the Bears, they attempted only 12 rushes, 11 of which netted 17 yards.
The other carry was the only highlight, Melvin Gordon’s 19-yard touchdown that featured good vision, an impressive change of direction and, at the end, brute physicality.
Otherwise, it hasn’t been much of a month for Gordon since he returned after missing the first four games because of a contract dispute.
He and Ekeler have been unable to coexist as an effective duo or, running behind a patched-together offensive line that has been hit by injuries, generate any sort of consistency.
“We just have to stay with it, keep believing, stay with it and get first downs,” Rivers said. “Backs keep running hard, guys up front keep fighting and just keep going.”
Part of the issue has been easy to spot, no more difficult than looking up at the scoreboard. The Chargers haven’t been ahead much lately.
During their three-game losing streak, their only lead lasted barely three minutes. Last week in Chicago, they had the lead and the ball — a time when teams typically can turn to the running game — for just 31 seconds total.
“You have to give guys the chance to get into a rhythm and flow,” Lynn said. “Sometimes, you can do that through play calling. We’ll see moving forward if we can get into that rhythm, if the offensive line can take over a game on the ground and stay on the field.”
Against the Bears, the Chargers had 10 possessions. Nine of them lasted just three or four plays.
Their only sustained drive consumed half of the third quarter and went on for 14 plays and 73 yards, ending in a 20-yard field goal.
Still, of those 14 plays, only four were rushes and, all totaled, they picked up four yards.
“We popped one last week with Melvin,” Steichen said. “You get one of those and then it starts taking off. You get two or three big runs and it’s like, ‘Oh shoot, here we go.’ ”
The Chargers are still waiting for that moment, Lynn’s patience running out Monday when he decided to part ways with his former offensive coordinator. New play-caller and all, until that moment does arrive, this team likely isn’t going anywhere.
Badgley is back
The Chargers will welcome back one of their many injured players Sunday when kicker Michael Badgley makes his 2019 debut.
“I’ve been watching football for eight weeks,” he said. “You want to keep things in check and not get too excited. But I’m definitely going to let my emotions show a little bit, especially during pregame. I’ll be pretty juiced up.”
Badgley missed the first eight games because of a groin injury.
Already with starting defensive tackles Brandon Mebane (knee) and Justin Jones (shoulder) doubtful against Green Bay, the team added versatile defensive lineman Damion Square to its injury report Saturday. He was listed as questionable because of a back problem.
The Chargers also promoted safety Shalom Luani to the active roster and waived cornerback Tevaughn Campbell. That move was necessary because of Roderic Teamer’s groin injury. The rookie starter also is doubtful.