Chargers say play-calling isn’t to blame for sputtering offense

Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn watches from the sideline in the preseason. Lynn hasn't put the Chargers' offense on track yet. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn watches from the sideline in the preseason. Lynn hasn't put the Chargers' offense on track yet. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

COSTA MESA >> A day after he fell to 0-3 as an NFL head coach, Anthony Lynn stood at the Chargers practice facility and told it straight.

“I didn’t have to watch the film to figure out why we lost that game,” he said.

The reason being, of course, an offense that turned the ball over three times in the first 20 minutes. An offense that crossed midfield four times without adding any points. An offense that had its lowest-scoring performance in nearly two years.

In Sunday’s 24-10 loss to Kansas City, the Chargers squandered a strong defensive showing with multiple miscues on the other side of the ball — the most prominent of them being Philip Rivers’ three interceptions. The veteran quarterback finished the day with no touchdowns, and the fourth-worst passer rating of his career.

But when asked whether the offense needed wholesale changes, both Lynn and his players said that their struggles can be fixed simply through better execution.

“I think Philip will be the first one to tell you he did not have one of his better days yesterday,” Lynn said. “Play-calling was just fine. Like I told the group earlier this morning, sometimes we’re going to throw the 50-50 ball, and I expect us to catch it or break it up.”

“You hope to avoid days like this all year long,” Rivers said, “but if you have them, you’ve got to learn from them and go, and not overreact.”

The Chargers ranked top 10 in the league in either yards or points in three of the past four years. Three weeks in, they are stuck at 19th in yards per game (315.3) and 23rd in total scoring (48).

They ranked top 10 in third-down conversion in 11 of the past 13 seasons — leading the league at 49 percent in 2013, when they first hired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt. They are currently loitering among the NFL’s bottom five, converting just 10 of their 33 attempts on third down.

This was supposed to be the Chargers’ strength: A high-octane offense that not only returned a potential Hall of Famer in Rivers, but revamped its offensive line through free agency and the NFL draft. Throw in the return of star receiver Keenan Allen, who tore his ACL in the 2016 season opener, and this was a group expected to produce fireworks.

Instead, the Chargers have fizzled. Barely half of their 31 drives this year have lasted past 25 yards. Seven drives didn’t even net 10 yards.

“Last year, we were so explosive,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “I felt like we could score any time we wanted to. Right now, I just don’t feel like we’re looking like the same offense we did last year.”

Getting Gordon going could be one solution. Lynn wants a strong run game to be part of the Chargers’ offensive identity, and the recently minted Pro Bowler put 55 rushing yards on Kansas City in the first quarter at StubHub Center. Gordon sat out most of the second half with a sore left knee — the same one he had microfracture surgery in early 2016 — but appears on track to play in Week 4.

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If he does suit up, he will get to face an Eagles defense that is allowing 5.8 yards per carry. Only five NFL teams have been more generous.

“I think we just have to execute,” Gordon said. “Just find out way to make it happen. No pointing fingers at anybody — ‘The play-calling is not what it was.’ We’ve got the same people. We’ve just got to figure it out.”

Into the wind

Early in the fourth quarter on Sunday, Kansas City’s failed fake punt gave Chargers the ball just 35 yards away from the end zone. But three plays later, the offense hadn’t moved at all.

That left Lynn with a choice: Give rookie kicker Younghoe Koo — who is 2 of 5 on field goal attempts — a shot from 53 yards away, or put his defense in better position to make a stop. He chose the latter.

“It was kind of into the wind,” Lynn said. “The way the defense was playing, I felt like I wanted to take the delay of game penalty, back it up a little bit, pin them inside the 5 and make them punt to us and give us a short field.”

Cornerback Michael Davis downed Drew Kaser’s punt at the 6-yard line, and Kansas City only netted 21 yards on the ensuing drive.

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Jack Wang

Reach the author at jwang@scng.com or follow Jack on Twitter: @thejackwang.