The Los Angeles Chargers found a new star quarterback last year, but didn't have the right coach.
Now they seem to have rising stars at the two most important spots in the NFL.
This past offseason, the Chargers hired Brandon Staley, the young and dynamic defensive coordinator with the Los Angeles Rams last year. Through four games, that hire looks like a home run. It also helps that he gets to coach Justin Herbert.
Herbert threw three first-half touchdowns and Staley's defense held the Las Vegas Raiders to one first down before halftime. In the second half, the Raiders made a run but a couple of aggressive fourth-down calls helped the Chargers pull out a big 28-14 win.
The past few years, the Chargers always lost games like Monday night, when they'd inexplicably collapse. Things seem different now.
Chargers dominated in first half
In the first half, Derek Carr and Jon Gruden were confused.
Before a third down in the first quarter, the Chargers had multiple defenders standing up by the line. Carr wasn't ready for that look and needed to reset the protection, but he couldn't do it before the play clock was going to run out. He called timeout. That epitomized the first half. The Chargers figured out how to confuse the Raiders. They got to Carr early and the Raiders couldn't figure out how to block Los Angeles' rushers. The Raiders were frustrated by halftime.
The Raiders looked like they were going to get blown out. When Herbert threw his third touchdown of the first half, on a beautiful touch throw to Austin Ekeler coming out of the backfield, the Chargers led 21-0.
The Raiders rallied and made it a game in the second half, as the Chargers heard all the Raiders fans in their home stadium get loud. Most recent Chargers teams would have folded. This one didn't.
Chargers hold on late
The Chargers went for it twice near midfield in the second half when some coaches would have punted. Both plays gained the first down. The second time, Herbert somehow squeezed in a pass to Jared Cook for a first down to keep the drive alive. Later in the possession, Ekeler scored on a run with 5:21 left. The Chargers refused to punt and give the Raiders more momentum, and went on to take back control of the game. Derwin James got a nice interception after that Ekeler touchdown to put the game away.
Fourth-down aggression is becoming more common in the NFL, but it's not like the Chargers' previous coaching staff was known for optimal decisions. Staley has helped the defense — every one of the Chargers' opponents, including the Chiefs and Cowboys, have had their worst offensive games this season against Staley's defense — and he made strong decisions on Monday night that led to an important win.
And, again, it helps to have Herbert. The 2021 rookie quarterbacks' struggles are a reminder that Herbert's rapid acclimation to the NFL was special. You can go a long way in the NFL with the right coach-quarterback combination. Staley and Herbert have a lot to prove, but this isn't the same old Chargers.