2020 NFL coaching changes: Los Angeles Chargers

2020 NFL coaching changes: Los Angeles Chargers

NFL Coaching Change with fantasy football impact

2020 NFL coaching changes: Los Angeles Chargers

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(Jake Roth, USA TODAY Sports)

Oct. 30, 2019, the Los Angeles Chargers promoted Shane Steichen from quarterbacks coach to interim offensive coordinator after the firing of Ken Whisenhunt. Steichen was given the official title of OC just a few short months later.

The 2020 season will be his first full year with command of an NFL offense, and his tenure begins with the biggest question mark of all: What will the Chargers do at quarterback this offseason?

Personnel decisions

The 16-year veteran, 38-year-old Philip Rivers, incumbent is a free agent in March, and plenty of chatter suggests the Bolts will be moving on. Some reports point to the coaching staff’s affinity for veteran backup Tyrod Taylor as a stop-gap while grooming a rookie, and others float Tom Brady’s name about, although the door isn’t entirely closed on Rivers’ return.

The second question of major importance: Will Melvin Gordon return as the primary running back? A follow-up has to be: Do the Chargers even want him back with the way Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson played in 2019?

Aside from quarterback and running back, the Chargers also face the potential loss of talented but oft-injured tight end Hunter Henry. Wide receiver Travis Benjamin is a free agent, too, but he’s far from being irreplaceable.

The system

Steichen, 34, cut his teeth in the NFL under Norv Turner in San Diego during the 2011 and ’12 seasons as a defensive assistant. He moved over to the offensive side of the ball in 2013 with Rob Chudzinski in Cleveland as a quality control coach before returning to the Chargers in 2014 under the Mike McCoy regime to hold the same title through the 2015 season. In ’16, he took on the role of quarterbacks coach until his aforementioned promotion to interim OC. Surviving multiple years and positions under two coaches speaks volumes to the respect inside the ranks for Steichen.

While we have a limited view into how he will call plays and their efficacy, some basic themes we should continue to see in 2020 include a commitment to running the ball, the use of play-action passing, an emphasis on downfield attempts, and an aggressive nature.

Over the final eight games, Steichen’s offense scored more points, managed more first downs, totaled more yards, and firmly established a ground attack significantly more dangerous than that of his predecessor. Gordon finally rounding into game form played a factor in the second-half success.

Week
Opp
Pts
1stD
TotYd
PassY
RushY
TO
1
Indianapolis Colts
30
25
435
310
125
2
2
Detroit Lions
10
21
424
287
137
2
3
Houston Texans
20
22
366
293
73
1
4
Miami Dolphins
30
24
390
311
79
0
5
Denver Broncos
13
19
246
211
35
3
6
Pittsburgh Steelers
17
23
348
316
32
3
7
Tennessee Titans
20
24
365
326
39
1
8
Chicago Bears
17
11
231
195
36
1
Whisenhunt averages
19.6
21.1
350.6
281.1
69.5
1.6
9
Green Bay Packers
26
24
442
283
159
0
10
Oakland Raiders
24
26
315
169
146
3
11
Kansas City Chiefs
17
23
438
345
93
4
12
Bye Week
13
Denver Broncos
20
17
359
244
115
2
14
Jacksonville Jaguars
45
27
525
330
195
0
15
Minnesota Vikings
10
17
345
283
62
7
16
Oakland Raiders
17
21
284
265
19
0
17
Kansas City Chiefs
21
25
366
258
108
2
Steichen averages
22.5
22.5
384.3
272.1
112.1
2.3
Differential
13%
7.4%
8.8%
-3.2%
38%
0.28

The passing yardage per game went down ever so slightly, and the turnovers went up — largely fueled by a total offensive implosion vs. the Vikings. The offense didn’t turn it over at all in three games under Steichen vs. once under Whis.

Rivers attempted more yards per pass, averaged nearly a yard per completion more, and slightly improved his completion-to-touchdown ratio during his eight games with Steichen. Unfortunately, those increases came at the detriment of throwing an interception at nearly twice the frequency and a smidge lower completion rate.

Pushing the ball down the field tends to increase mistakes, and the Chargers played underwhelming football on the defensive side of the ball, which put Rivers in a hole more often.

One thing Steichen learned from Chudzinski was flexibility in catering the system to the personnel rather than trying to force players into a rigid design. We’ve seen Chud move from city to city to work wonders with varied types of passers. There’s obviously going to be a much different offensive approach if Taylor starts instead of Rivers, or if a rookie is the top quarterback. Experience handling this kind of flexibility can make a world of difference for fantasy purposes, even if it can make projections infinitely more troublesome.

Fantasy football takeaway

Soooo … there’s a ton of potential turnover of key members of personnel at crucial positions. Given all of the volatility, specifically at quarterback, it isn’t worthwhile to provide any kind of definitive fantasy takes.

Speaking in generalities is the best course of action at this time. The quarterback position will be asked to operate with less volume but more chances for dynamic plays. This kind of play tends to result in erratic fantasy results.

Running back will be the focal point for fantasy football purposes coming from this offense. It’s anyone’s guess as to which backs will be deployed, and there’s always an outside shot Ekeler and Gordon are gone. The former is a restricted free agent, so his options are limited, and the Chargers get first right to refusal. We can reasonably expect RB2 production out of the most prolific player from this backfield.

Wide receiver: Little should change in terms of the roles and values. Keenan Allen figures to remain the primary possession target, while Mike Williams’ downfield skills make him an inconsistent No. 3 fantasy option. Allen’s role may remain intact, but his fantasy returns are in question with a looming quarterback change. He and Rivers have been a consistently reliable tandem in fantasy, and any change on the quarterback end of such an equation makes for uncertainty. Talent alone, Allen is a strong WR2 or low-tier No. 1 in PPR.

Two of the top three tight ends are unrestricted free agents come March. There will be plenty of attention for Henry’s services on the open market, and reports suggest the Bolts could place the transition tag on him. This allows other teams to negotiate and gives LA the right to match any deal, but there isn’t compensation in return should he leave. It is also around $1.8 million cheaper than using the franchise tag.

Expected improvement on defense this season from the Chargers, and count on the offense being able to run the ball because of it. The passing game could be in flux if Rivers doesn’t return, and even if he does, we’re talking about an age-39 season after throwing 20 picks in 2019.

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