3 Takeaways from Chargers' Week 15 Loss

Joe Tansey@JTansey90Featured ColumnistDecember 17, 2021

3 Takeaways from Chargers' Week 15 Loss

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    The Los Angeles Chargers are not quite ready to challenge the Kansas City Chiefs for the top spot in the AFC West. 

    Los Angeles came close to earning its biggest win of the season on Thursday night, but its defense failed to stop Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce late in the fourth quarter and in overtime. 

    Instead of entering a three-week fight for the AFC West crown, the Chargers are left to fight for one of the three AFC wild-card spots. 

    Some critics will point to head coach Brandon Staley's aggressive fourth-down strategy as the main reason for the Chargers' loss, but that factor should take a back seat to the defensive failures that occurred in the fourth quarter. 

Defensive Failures Late in Game Cost Chargers the Win

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    The Chargers defense has not been great all season. 

    That showed once again in the fourth quarter and overtime of Kansas City's come-from-behind win inside Sofi Stadium. 

    The Chargers gave up their fourth 400-yard performance and were gashed for 27 or more points for the seventh time this season. 

    Los Angeles is 2-5 in games in which it concedes at least 27 points. All five of those defeats came against teams in playoff contention.

    The Chargers could not keep Travis Kelce under wraps all night and the Kansas City tight end delivered his final blows to their defense with a game-tying and game-winning touchdown. 

    Three of the final four Kansas City drives resulted in the touchdowns. The only series that did not produce a scoring play was when Mahomes kneeled in his own territory to send the game to overtime. 

    If Los Angeles does not fix its defensive issues over the next few weeks, it might be doomed for a first-round playoff exit at the hands of one of the AFC division winners. 

Failed 4th-Down Plays Weren't Los Angeles' Biggest Issue

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    Ashley Landis/Associated Press

    Chargers head coach Brandon Staley will catch criticism for his team's failed fourth-down attempts on Thursday night. 

    The offensive execution could have been better, but most of those plays did not result in a catastrophic momentum swing in favor of the Chiefs. 

    The first failed fourth-down conversion on the opening drive was the most costly opportunity. Los Angeles did not take advantage of Andre Roberts' 75-yard opening kickoff return. Kansas City marched right down the field for the game's first score on the ensuing drive. 

    Los Angeles was not taken completely out of the game by that failure. There is no fault in a coach being aggressive early in a game where touchdowns, not field goals, will beat the division leader. 

    Staley showed the same aggressiveness at the end of the first half. Justin Herbert's fourth-down pass to Keenan Allen was broken up by Daniel Sorensen to end the opening 30 minutes. The Chargers can't be faulted for going for the kill up four in that situation. 

    The other failed fourth-down attempt came in the red zone in the third quarter. The Chargers countered that with a fourth-down stop of their own. 

    Los Angeles successfully converted two fourth-down plays. The first one extended a second-quarter scoring drive that resulted in a Jalen Guyton touchdown catch. 

    The second successful fourth-down play allowed the Chargers to get one yard away from scoring before Joshua Kelley fumbled at the goal line. That turnover was cancelled out three plays later by a Uchenna Nwosu interception that set up an Austin Ekeler touchdown. 

    Los Angeles needed to have an aggressive play-calling system in place to beat the AFC West leader and it almost paid off.

    The Chargers did leave points on the board, but that might not have mattered with the way their defense faltered down the stretch. 

Justin Jackson's Success Could Aid Playoff Push

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    Kyusung Gong/Associated Press

    Austin Ekeler was not Los Angeles' top rusher on Thursday night.

    That title belonged to Justin Jackson, who produced a season high of 86 rushing yards on 13 carries. 

    Jackson earned more carries because Ekeler came into Week 15 banged up, but even when the No. 1 running back is at 100 percent, the Chargers could use more balance in its rushing attack. 

    Los Angeles should attempt to give Jackson the ball more over the coming weeks to see how the two-back system works ahead of the postseason. 

    The Chargers have the luxury of being able to attempt that since they play the Houston Texans and Denver Broncos in the next two weeks. Denver could be out of the wild-card race by the time it faces the Chargers in Week 17 since it faces the Cincinnati Bengals and Las Vegas Raiders in the next two weeks. 

    Los Angeles needs as many offensive weapons at its disposal to challenge the top four teams in the AFC.

    If Jackson performs well with an increased work load, the Chargers could hit opponents from different angles with two running backs, a strong wide receiver tandem in Keenan Allen and Mike Williams and a reliable veteran tight end in Jared Cook.

    That type of offensive versatility would at least allow the Chargers to remain competitive in high-scoring games, and it could take control of contests if their defense makes the necessary fixes.