Chargers' defensive leaders defend embattled coach Brandon Staley, vow to improve

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Brandon Staley’s unyielding confidence — his burning belief in himself — drove him to where he is today.

He became an NFL coach after only one season as a coordinator and four years in the league because he so thoroughly was convinced this was his destiny.

That conviction now is threatening his future with the Chargers as he remains wholly committed to the schemes and play calling that so far have resulted in the NFL’s worst pass defense.

Staley is facing nearly daily calls for his job as his underachieving team skids into Week 12 on its third two-game losing streak this season.

“We know who he is,” veteran edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “We know his leadership and his capabilities and all those different things. It’s just up to us, as the players, to step in and win these close games.”

The Chargers sit at 4-6, last in their division and 13th in the AFC. Five losses have come by a combined 14 points, adding torture to their torment. And what comes next might be their most difficult assignment yet.

They are matched against 8-3 Baltimore — owner of the conference’s top playoff position — on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium. More specifically, the Chargers must contend with dynamic quarterback Lamar Jackson and a defense that can smother. When these teams most recently met, in October 2021, the Chargers lost 34-6.

“They on you when you’re hot. But they want you fired when you’re not,” Mack said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t focus on the outside noise. You can only control what you can control … and that’s getting ready for the Ravens.”

The Chargers lost to teams that were a combined 38-25 entering this week, and beaten teams that were a combined 18-25. They had a losing record at home and on the road, against the AFC and the NFC.

They were among the league leaders in sacks and turnover margin, yet still ranked worst in passing yards given up per game. Five quarterbacks have thrown for 300 yards against the Chargers; none have done so against the Ravens.

For weeks, this defense has heard about its shortcomings, about everything it hasn’t done, about how it’s bringing down the team. Changing the narrative now means slowing one of the NFL’s most powerful offenses.

“If you let that outside noise trickle into your ear, you can become what you’re thinking,” safety Dean Marlowe said. “If we, as a group, believe in that outside noise, then that’s what we’re going to become.”

Marlowe has known Staley longer than any of his teammates. He played for Staley when both were at James Madison nearly a decade ago. He called Staley “an amazing coach” and “super smart.”

Asked about Staley’s standing in the NFL, Marlowe said simply, “He belongs here.”

“When teams aren’t winning, they want to blame the coach,” Marlowe continued. “But there’s a lot of plays out there where players messed up and it had nothing to do with the coaches.”

Mack made a reference to overthinking before he clarified that he believes the Chargers, in key moments, might be trying to not mess up more than trying to thrive.

He talked about the need for more excitement on the field, describing a scenario in which the defense plays freer and with positive energy that flows rather than being forced.

Staley’s scheme is complex and full of rules, the design meant to stress the opposition through disguise. He has embraced the concepts from the perspective of a former college quarterback, Staley having played at Dayton.

But similar to Mack, Marlowe suggested the Chargers at times might be processing more than playing, something that has appeared starkly obvious for a defense too often a step behind.

“I do think there is a little bit of that going on on our side of the ball,” Marlowe said. “Our jobs are about taking accountability for yourself but also helping the people around you. We need to just worry about playing fearless and fast …

“Our main objective is sticking together whether we win, lose, draw. Let’s stick together and not worry about any firings, any this or that. Let’s stay present and focus on everything together.”

The Chargers will need all of that and more against the Ravens, who have won five of six and scored at least 31 points five weeks in a row.

Baltimore is the NFL’s best running team, and Chargers defensive coordinator Derrick Ansley called Jackson “Houdini back there.”

Staley described Baltimore as having a “complete” offense, adding, “When you have Lamar at quarterback, it’s as tough of a cover as you’re going to have in the league.”

The Chargers have had plenty of tough covers to date. The results have not been encouraging.

On Sunday night, the howls of discontent could grow even louder.

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