Michael Lombardi: A look ahead to NFL Week 15

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A Look Ahead to Week 15

The essence of making good decisions in organizational football comes down to answering one basic question depending on the outcome: Why? Why did we win? Why did we lose?

For Chargers owner Dean Spanos, finding the answer from last night isn’t hard. His team didn’t try. They didn’t care. They didn’t want to be there and had no interest in competing.  It was painful for America to watch a team with no motivation, no desire, no willingness to accept the challenge. America saw what most Charger fans know, they have zero toughness as a team, which explains why they will fall short of their win total, set at 8.5. It also explains their inability to win close games while Brandon Staley has been the coach.

Analytics are an important tool in any head coach’s toolbox. They just are not as important as motivation, leading, inspiring, and getting the players to rise above their level of play. Last night, beyond the obvious, the Chargers have never been a team that plays above their level.

They have never been a tough-minded team, willing to accept the challenges. They have always been a team that has great talent yet doesn’t play great. They have a generational talent at quarterback but can’t win games. Justin Herbert is 30-32 in his 62 career starts as a Charger which falls well below his talent.

You can blame Herbert for not leading the team to comeback wins or closing out games. Yet that blame extends further than you might think—all the way to Spano’s suite. Spanos has accepted and embraced this “new” method of football—getting away from what matters most for any championship-level team—mental and physical toughness. Firing Staley is the easy decision. Hiring the right coach is the harder one. 

Wasn’t Kellen Moore, the new offensive coordinator, going to make everyone see the amazing talent Herbert possesses? Wasn’t Joe Lombardi (no relation), last year’s offensive coordinator, the problem?  Moore and Staley were supposed to become Batman and Robin, showing the world how they could dominate the league. Maybe they can. But they can’t without inspiring, leading, and demanding excellence. Coaches have to get players to “buy in.”  Talent is great to have, but without everyone understanding their roles and demanding more of themselves, talent will always fall short. And in the Chargers case, well short. 

Every great offensive mind will be linked to the Chargers’ job in the coming weeks, which makes sense to any Chargers fan. Yet, it doesn’t correctly answer the reason why they lost. The Chargers don’t need new plays; they don’t need new schemes to fix why they lost. They lost because they lacked a leader, a motivator, and a demander who could instill confidence and have all three phases of the game play in perfect harmony.  

They hired a numbers guy who might work a spreadsheet well, who was embraced by the analytical people for his willingness to go for it on fourth down while losing the confidence of his team with each game he gave away with his blunders. It’s easy for all of us to scream “go for it” on every fourth down. We don’t have to stand in front of the team the next day to explain why we lost. 

When any leader faces a bad outcome based on a good decision, it erodes the confidence in the team. From an analytical perspective, making the right decision even with a poor outcome is embraced. From a locker room view, it’s “What are we doing?”   And getting players to understand the difference is hard. They want wins. They don’t care about the slogans. 

As an example, when Pete Carroll decided to throw the ball on second and goal from the Patriots’ 1-yard line to win Super Bowl 49, everyone hated the decision. Why would Seattle throw? Why not run the ball with Marshawn Lynch?  In this case, with the Patriots front outnumbering the Seattle offensive line, Carroll made the right decision, but the outcome was bad. 

Was Carroll able to turn the tide of his team’s confidence claiming the analytical mantra “right decision, bad outcome?” No. The poor outcome overrides the right decision, which then eroded the team’s confidence, even though Carroll is a Hall of Fame coach and Super Bowl winner. 

Staley has zero skins on the wall, so when he makes a dumb decision that causes star wide receiver Keenan Allen sitting at home to tweet, “What are we doing,” then how is Staley going to win back their confidence?

Last night’s effort was an example of their lack of confidence and belief in him as a leader.  Old-school football people all knew Staley would fire himself because being old school isn’t old when “how to win” isn’t old or goes out of style.   

We can all say the game has changed.  Football is different now then it was twenty years ago, which I would agree from a scheme standpoint.  What’s not different is championship teams still require a leader, a motivator, a person who can sell winning to the team at the Wednesday team meeting. From Curly Lambeau until now, the main job of any head coach is to lead the organization, to inspire others with his knowledge, his understanding, and his decision-making, which benefits the team, not a piece of paper.  Plays help win, and having motivated players helps way more. 

Top Five Quarterbacks

1. Brock Purdy – You can call him a game manager; I’ll call him the best-playing quarterback in the league right now. He’s 15-3 straight up as a starter, and now the 49ers are the league leaders in yards per play, passing the Dolphins. 

2. Dak Prescott – He is now the favorite to win MVP and might seal the deal with a win in Buffalo this week. Dak is 16-12-1 ATS vs the AFC. 

3. Patrick Mahomes – Expect Mahomes and the Chiefs offense to play well, especially coming off a loss and being a big favorite. He is 29-8 SU as a road favorite of 3 or more points. 

4. Lamar Jackson – Jackson was great last week and will need to be great again this week to beat the Jags. Last year, he led the Ravens to a game-leading drive, only to watch the Jags score and convert the two-point play with four seconds left for the win. 

5. Josh Allen – Allen continues his interception streak and now has 74, the most of any quarterback since 2018. Yet, he makes up for those mistakes with plays no one else i capable of making.  He is a roller coaster at times, but the highs are amazing.

Bottom Five Quarterbacks

28. Tommy DeVito – Was working on his numbers. He and Kyler Murray have started four games—DeVito is 3-1, Murray is 2-2. DeVito is higher in every single category except yards per game. DeVito has a 96.5 rating, Murray has an 81.7, and DeVito has outgained him on the ground 154 to 106, 5.0 per carry to Murray’s 4.6. Murray was declared a Franchise player this week; DeVito was making more cutlets.

29. Will Levis – Levis shows flashes and leading his team back from down 14 was impressive. He is still inconsistent from down to down.  

30. Desmond Ridder – If he could only get rid of the two or three bad plays, he would move out of the bottom five. 

31. Bailey Zappe – Had a good first half against Pittsburgh last week. Can he put together a good game? Will be tough vs. the Chiefs front.

32A. Davis Mills – Might get his first start this week vs the Titans on the road. Has been mistake-prone in the past and worth betting against. 

32B. Bryce Young – He has lost his confidence, his timing and his accuracy, something he demonstrated in college. I feel bad for him and what he has been subjected to this season, but he shares some of the blame with his poor decisions and lack of accuracy. 

Power Ratings

The Eagles keep moving down, and the Bills keep moving up.