New Chargers coach Brandon Staley reveals recent game plans on the four NFL finalists
Brandon Staley has his hands full with his job as new coach of the Chargers, but he’s got some valuable notes and insights on the conference championship games Sunday. Few defensive coaches are as up to speed on all four of the remaining teams — Tampa Bay, Green Bay, Buffalo and Kansas City — seeing as Staley has drawn up schemes against all of them the last two seasons.
Staley is coming off one year as defensive coordinator of the No. 1-ranked Rams, who played Buffalo and Tampa Bay during the regular season, then Green Bay in the playoffs. In 2019, he coached outside linebackers for the Denver Broncos, so his team played AFC West rival Kansas City twice.
This week, Staley shared some of his observations on the remaining offenses, and the four quarterbacks still standing: Tom Brady of the Buccaneers, Aaron Rodgers of the Packers, Josh Allen of the Bills, and Patrick Mahomes of the Chiefs.
His freshest memories are of the Packers, who last Saturday beat the Rams, 32-18, in a NFC divisional game at Lambeau Field.
“It was probably the worst that we played,” Staley said. “They were coming off a bye, we were coming off a huge emotional win against Seattle. Our guys prepared well, but we were tired. The Packers looked fresh, they felt fresh.”
The orchestrator for Green Bay is Rodgers, the odds-on favorite to win his third most-valuable-player award. Staley called him “one of the greatest players to throw a football.”
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“He’s in full command,” the coach said. “He’s in a comfort zone. He takes care of the ball. With the way they’ve been running it, it’s been a lethal combination. And he’s playing as well as I’ve seen him play the last five to seven years.”
The Rams had better luck against Brady, having won at Tampa Bay, 27-24, in Week 11. Key in drawing up a defense against Tampa Bay, Staley said, is figuring how to slow Brady’s big, physical targets: receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate.
“If you ask me as a defensive coach what I’m worried about, I’m worried about guys with size,” he said.
“Tom is one of the most accurate throwers inside the numbers in the history of the game. And they have a lot of big targets inside the numbers to throw to. Now they’ve been finding that outside element where [Brady’s] been getting more comfortable throwing it deep and outside the numbers.”
In Week 3, the Rams lost at Buffalo, 35-32, but roared back from a 14-0 deficit in that game and might have won but for a controversial pass-interference call with 25 seconds left that set up the Bills’ winning touchdown.
A major concern, Staley said, is Allen’s ability to pull the ball down and run. The third-year quarterback is a master of the run-pass option, and Buffalo frequently empties the backfield and lets him go to work.
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“Allen’s ability to run changes the math,” the coach said. “They do a really good job with him of the RPO game and how much empty they do. It allows him to see the field, but also creates running lanes similar to what Baltimore does with Lamar Jackson. Josh is such a good thrower, but the more space you can create for him, the more he can be a guy that, hey, if things are covered or teams are trying to play man-to-man with their backs turned, now he can go get you a first down.”
In terms of completion percentage, Allen has made the biggest jump in NFL history from his rookie year (52.8) to his third (69.2). He too is an MVP candidate.
“In this world, there’s just not a lot of patience,” Staley said. “Everyone is quick to judge, especially at that position. What you’re seeing is the benefits of patience and hard work, then having a vision that really expresses itself over time. You’re seeing that.”
Finally, Kansas City. Staley and the Broncos were swept by the eventual Super Bowl champion Chiefs last season, 30-6 and 23-3.
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“To me, you cannot play zone against him,” Staley said. “Because he’ll go 40 for 40 for like 380. If you play zone, he won’t miss. So you have to get on these guys or he’s just going to hit every pass. When I say ‘get on them,’ not necessarily just playing man every snap. But you’ve got to be close to them. You’ve got to have coverage variety, because if he knows what you’re in, he’s going to know exactly what matchup to exploit.”
As for the turf toe that bothered Mahomes last weekend, before he left the game with a concussion?
“There’s just so many different platforms he can throw from,” Staley said. “He doesn’t even need his legs to throw. He can just access anywhere on the field. He’ll catch the snap and get 10-12 yards deep, and still make a throw 40 yards down the field like it’s a 15-yard throw.
“You’ve got to keep those guys in front of you the best you can. Because if they go over the top of you, they’re such a momentum, streak team, you don’t want that train to get started. You’re always worried about that one punch against them. Boom. You do not want that to happen.”
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