Telesco sees a bright future for the Chargers
January 27, 2022
Los Angeles Chargers General Manager Tom Telesco has been with the Chargers organization for the past nine seasons, and he understands as well as anyone the frustration and the disappointment that comes when the team fails to make the playoffs, which has happened seven times in his nine seasons as the GM of the team.
"I understand. I think, if you watched our team on the field this year, objectively, I think it's hard to look at this team and not be excited for the future," said Telesco at a recent press conference. "We play an exciting brand of football. We have a lot of playmakers on the field. In mid-December, we were playing for division lead. But, when our best was needed, and our best was needed late in the year, we just didn't quite have it, which is why we weren't in the playoffs. So, I understand the fan frustration. I really do."
The exciting brand of football starts with their quarterback, Justin Herbert, the second-year quarterback, who turns 24 years of age in March, has been sensational in his first two seasons. Herbert has thrown for 9,350 yards and 69 touchdowns in his first two seasons, both NFL records for a quarterback in his first two NFL seasons.
Herbert's 5,014 passing yards and his 38 touchdown passes in the 2021 season both set Charger team records. Herbert set another team record with 302 rushing yards in 2021, the most ever by a Chargers quarterback in a single season. Herbert has rushed for 536 yards and added eight rushing touchdowns in 32 career games.
This season Herbert was selected to the Pro Bowl as the starting quarterback for the American Football Conference (AFC). The Pro Bowl is the all-star game of the National Football League (NFL). Players are voted into the Pro Bowl by the coaches, the players, and the fans. Herbert is highly respected in the NFL as one of the best young quarterbacks in the league.
Many of the best young quarterbacks are in the AFC. Herbert, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Josh Allen of the Buffalo Bills, Joe Burrow of the Cincinnati Bengals, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, and Mac Jones of the New England Patriots. All are under 27 years of age. All have made the playoffs with the exception of Herbert. Therein lies the problem for Telesco and the Chargers.
Herbert has a record of 15-17 as a starter. It is rare to see a starting quarterback in the Pro Bowl fail to make the playoffs. As Telesco said in his season-ending press conference, the Week 18 loss to the Raiders was, "Professionally, one of the most difficult defeats I've been through because when I looked at this football team, this 2021 football team, you only get one chance with this team."
That loss eliminated the Chargers from the playoffs. A failure to make the playoffs next season, with a talent like Herbert at quarterback, would probably result in some leadership changes in the organization.
The Pittsburgh Steelers made the playoffs in the AFC with a 9-7-1. The Steelers were ranked 23rd in total offensive yardage per game and 24th in defensive yardage per game. The Chargers were ranked 4th in offensive yardage per game and 23rd in defensive yardage. The Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was ranked 31st among 32 starting quarterbacks by Pro Football Focus (PFF). As a comparison, Herbert was ranked No. 3.
On paper, the Chargers were better. The Steelers just found ways to win games. They were 8-2-1 in games decided by 8 points or less. The Chargers were 5-5 in those games. The Steelers were last in the NFL in rushing defense but led the NFL in sacks with 52.
The Chargers and the Steelers met in Week 11 at SoFi Stadium, with the Chargers winning 41-37. In that game, the Chargers showed both their strengths and their weaknesses. The Chargers led 27-10 after three quarters and appeared to be cruising to an easy victory. With 3:24 left in the game, the Steelers had taken a 37-34 lead over the Chargers.
The Steelers had scored 27 points in less than a quarter, with a blocked punt setting up one touchdown, and an interception setting up another touchdown. Charger head coach decided to go for it on 4th & 1 at the Charger 34-yard line. The attempt failed, giving the Steelers a first down at the Chargers 34-yard line. That set-up a 45-yard field goal to give the Steelers a 37-34 lead.
In less than one quarter, the Chargers showed why they were a 9-8 team this past season. A blocked punt, an interception and coaching decision had cost the Chargers 17 points. The Chargers pulled the win out because they have Herbert, who connected with Mike Williams on a 53-yard touchdown pass with just over two minutes left to give the Chargers the lead and the win.
Although he had thrown a fourth quarter interception to set-up a Steelers touchdown, Herbert had also thrown for 382 yards and three touchdowns, while adding 90 yards rushing. He was the reason the Chargers won the game.
The Chargers had six players selected to the Pro Bowl this season, with five of them having been drafted by Telesco. Three of the six players (Herbert, left tackle Rashawn Slater, and safety Derwin James) are still on their rookie contracts. Linebacker Joey Bosa and wide receiver Keenan Allen were drafted by Telesco and made the Pro Bowl in 2021. Star running back Austin Ekeler was an undrafted free agent out of Western Colorado University, a Division II level football school.
The Chargers have talent, which makes their struggles this season even more difficult to understand. But whatever the reason for their struggles, the Chargers are in a division with the Chiefs and the Raiders, both playoff teams this season. The Denver Broncos just need a quarterback to contend for the playoffs. All three division opponents are better defensively than the Chargers. The AFC is very competitive.
For the Chargers, the city is also competitive. The Los Angeles Rams, the other NFL team in Los Angeles, will be playing in the conference championship game this Sunday at SoFi Stadium against the San Francisco 49ers. With a win, the Rams will play in the Super Bowl at SoFi Stadium, against either the Chiefs or the Bengals. The Chargers beat both on the road in 2021.
But Telesco is positive that this will get turned around. "Obviously, we haven't gone to playoffs as much as we would have liked, but each season is really unique in its own," said Telesco. "When I talked to the team the day after the Raiders game, the one thing I told them - certainly for guys like Joey Bosa, Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, guys that have been here a while, this was Year 1: Year 1 with this football team, Year 1 with Brandon Staley, Year 1 in a stadium full of our fans, not an empty stadium. We're going to build on this year."
The question is, will there be a Year 3 for Telesco if the Chargers fail to make the playoffs in Year 2?