Analytics foil Chargers against Chiefs
January 6, 2022
The Chargers proved once again last week at SoFi Stadium that a bird in the hand is better than two in the bush. Analytics failed the Chargers in their game against the Chiefs last week. They passed up several field goal opportunities hoping to score touchdowns and unfortunately, they came away with no points.
The Los Angeles Chargers' fate was sealed with one overtime coin flip. Justin Herbert had outplayed Patrick Mahomes, and until the last 7:45 seconds in the game, the Chargers had limited the Kansas City Chiefs offense. But one connection from Mahomes to Travis Kelce across the middle and 34-yards later, the Chiefs were celebrating their win in the endzone.
After the Chargers passed on three field goal attempts and lost to the Kansas City Chiefs 34-28, it would be easy to blame head coach Brandon Staley or the poor clock management down the stretch. But ultimately, you must blame the foothold analytics has in football.
Coaches around the league are opting for touchdowns and first downs on fourth and short. In a vacuum, it makes sense. But, if you can end possessions with touchdowns, opposed to field goals, it has a distinct advantage on the scoreboard, as well as the psyche of both teams. The trailing team may become more desperate and take significant gambles to throw the ball to catch up.
But this game did not call for touchdowns, and the game's complexion may have developed differently for Los Angeles had they just kicked one of the three field goals.
This was a winnable game for Los Angeles, and they gave Kansas City an early Christmas gift. Staley's aggressive philosophy calls for going for it on 4th and short. He believes that scoring six points, opposed to settling for three, gives his team the best option.
But what happens when trips end in zero points against a team with the offensive potency as the Chiefs? Opportunities to capitalize and put Kansas City away are infrequent. "I really liked the way we managed the entire game," Staley said. But, unfortunately, fans in the stands would not agree, and rightfully so. The Chargers could have changed the game's complexion by being up two scores. "We could have definitely been up a lot more, but that's the way we play. We play going forward all the time, all year long," defensive back Chris Harris said.
After the Chargers took the opening kickoff deep into Chief's territory, they failed to punch the ball in the endzone from the five-yard line. They had another opportunity before the first half ended, again at the five-yard line, and failed to come away with points.
They were denied by the Chiefs on Kansas City's 28-yard line in the third quarter. "It didn't go down for us today, but we gave ourselves an opportunity," Staley stated.
But Staley would have allowed his team to win had they opted and succeeded in kicking a field goal. "That's going to be the mindset no matter who we play," said Staley. "I really felt comfortable with all those decisions."
But it begs the question, if analytics are going to play an integral part in decision making, why not go for two-point attempts after touchdowns? They are, in essence, the equivalent of fourth-and-short plays. Would it not place as great of a burden on the opposing team down eight points instead of seven? Wouldn't this force them to take chances to keep pace?
Staley has his players' beliefs, and it is easy to understand why. He is a savant and straightforward. And in his first season at the helm, he has been exactly what the Chargers have needed.
"That's the way we're gonna play around here. When we have a quarterback [Justin Herbert] like ours and an offense like ours, that's the way we're going to play. That's how you need to play against Kansas City. That's how we're going to become the team that we're ultimately capable of being, by playing that way," Staley said.
Staley and the Chargers know they are contenders. Kansas City knows it. With Herbert under center, Los Angeles can beat anyone, especially if they kick their field goals.
Follow Eric on Twitter @elambsquared and IG @elamb5quared.