Column: Hey, Brandon Staley, it’s Year 3! Why is Chargers’ defense still a sieve?

 Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill (10) hauls in a 47-yard pass behind Chargers cornerback Ja'Sir Taylor (36).
Dolphins receiver Tyreek Hill (10) hauls in a 47-yard pass behind Chargers cornerback Ja’Sir Taylor (36). Hill had 11 catches for 215 yards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Share via

About that Super Bowl talk by Brandon Staley

Might be juuuust a little premature.

The Chargers finally have a running game but still can’t stop the other team, which should make for plenty of entertaining games and another crushing finish to their season.

Staley’s defense conceded 536 yards in their season-opening 36-34 defeat to the Miami Dolphins at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, with visiting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa linking up with preferred target Tyreek Hill as if they were playing catch at a nearby Darby Park.


Nothing represented the Chargers’ defensive shortcomings as much as the Dolphins’ drive to end the first half. In just nine seconds, the Dolphins marched 53 yards and kicked a 40-yard field goal to take a 20-17 lead into the break.

The Dolphins didn’t march so much as they threw a Hail Mary and prayed the Chargers would do something Charger-like, which, of course, they did.

Tagovailoa passed into triple coverage but cornerback J.C. Jackson shoved receiver Erik Ezukanma, resulting in a pass-interference call that advanced the ball 30 yards to the Chargers’ 23.

The Chargers defense was supposed to be better this season, but it did not seem so in the season opener at home as the Miami Dolphins won a 36-34 shootout.

Sept. 10, 2023

Sound familiar?

Or what about this: With the Chargers ahead by four points with less than four minutes remaining, the Dolphins faced a third-and-10 from their 25. Tagovailoa connected with Hill for a 47-yard gain that set up the winning touchdown — a four-yard pass to, you guessed it, Hill.

Tagovailoa finished with video-game numbers, 466 yards and three touchdowns, as he completed 28 of 45 passes. Hill registered 215 yards and a pair of scores on 11 catches, as he averaged nearly 20 yards per reception.

The Chargers should be better than this, even against Tagovailoa, even against Hill. Staley is now in his third season with the Chargers. Last year, they revamped their defense by acquiring players such as Khalil Mack and Sebastian Joseph-Day. They have continuity. They have the players.


Asked why his defense hasn’t clicked yet, Staley tried to argue that what happened Sunday was a reflection of the Dolphins’ explosiveness rather than the Chargers’ ineptitude.

“They have a really good offensive group over there,” he said. “They’re a top-three offense in the NFL, and they had a good plan today.”

Miami's Tua Tagovailoa (1) escapes the grasp of Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack before completing a 47-yard pass.
Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) escapes the grasp of Chargers edge rusher Khalil Mack before completing a 47-yard pass.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Staley also tried to make the case that the view of the defense was altered by the final score. . Pointing to how the Chargers were positioned in the final two minutes to set up a winning field goal, he said, “Had we come back and won that game in two minute, this is just one game in September.”


Staley’s team was fortunate the game was as close as it was, considering Tagovailoa lost a fumble at the Chargers’ two-yard line on the game’s opening drive and threw a pass that was intercepted in the end zone in the third quarter.

How could anyone have watched the Chargers’ defense and think this was a Super Bowl team? Even the Greatest Show on Turf version of the Rams had a semblance of a defense.


These Chargers lost a game in which they scored 34 points and didn’t commit a single turnover. These Chargers lost a game in which they rushed for 234 yards.

At least Staley was to the point when asked of his appraisal of the performance by Jackson, who spent the majority of last season injured.

“Not very good,” Staley said.

Staley wasn’t finished.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 36-34 home loss to the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

Sept. 10, 2023

“Everybody on defense that was covering did not have a good game today,” he said. “Our entire back seven didn’t have a great game.”

However, Staley added, “It starts with me as the coach and I gotta do better.”

How long he remains the coach of this team could depend on it. If Staley is fired, it won’t be because of the timeout he called in Las Vegas or the 27-point lead he blew in Jacksonville. It will be because he couldn’t get the Chargers’ defense to, well, play defense.

Defense was why Staley was hired in the first place. In his only season as the Rams’ defensive coordinator, the team allowed the fewest points and yards in the NFL.

Staley has 17 weeks, maybe fewer, to engineer a similar turnaround with this team.