Late 4th-down gamble pays off for Chargers in win over Eagles

·3-min read

Brandon Staley is not afraid to go for it on fourth down. 

The rookie head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers is the face of the NFL new school, repeatedly taking fourth-down chances from field positions and situations previously unheard of outside the low-consequence confines of PlayStations and Xboxes. 

Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles was no different. 

Staley rolls the dice

With 1:45 remaining in a game tied at 24-24, the Chargers faced fourth-and-1 at the Eagles' 28-yard line. A 45-yard field goal would give Los Angeles the lead inside the final two minutes of regulation. A miss on the high-percentage kick would give the Eagles the ball back near the 35-yard line with a chance to win the game. 

Staley, armed with a recently signed Dustin Hopkins who made his Chargers debut last week, didn't leave the game on the foot of his kicker. Not from that distance with that much time on the clock, at least. Instead — as he's wont to do — he went for it.  

Oct 31, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley looks on from the sideline during the second half against the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 31, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley looks on from the sideline during the second half against the New England Patriots at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

He sent the Chargers offense back out in an effort to pick up a first down. Or was he just trying to trick the defense into jumping offside — a tactic long familiar to these types of NFL situations. The play clock ticked as Justin Herbert refused to snap the ball against a defense that recent Chargers history dictated should be prepared for Los Angeles to actually run a play. 

But the Chargers let the play clock run down before calling a timeout after failing to draw the Eagles into a penalty. For years in the NFL, this signaled the pending arrival of the kicker after a failure to induce a defensive mistake. But Staley sent his offense back out. And since he's not allowed to call consecutive timeouts, there was no doubt the Chargers were going for it this time. 

They did. And they got it, thanks to a Herbert sneak that picked up just enough yardage. It was the second fourth-down conversion of the drive after Los Angeles converted five plays earlier on fourth-and-1 from the Philadelphia 39. 

Four plays and 1:43 later, Hopkins pushed a 27-yard field goal through for the game's final 27-24 margin. 

The Eagles had two seconds remaining on the ensuing kickoff for a miracle return that didn't arrive. Chargers win.

Was Staley's gamble analytically sound?

The Chargers got the result they sought. But was Staley's decision analytically sound? According to Ben Baldwin's fourth-down decision bot that analyzes the win probability of such decisions, it was a no-brainer. The decision to go for it increased the Chargers' win probability by 4.1%, making it an easy call based on math. 

It's a decision that in years past was shunned by most coaches. But the result and the process both proved Staley to be correct on Sunday. 

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