Brandon Staley and his 0-2 Los Angeles Chargers come to Minneapolis in Week 3, in what should be pegged as the Desperation Tilt between two one-and-done playoff teams from last year. The loser will fall to a miserable 0-3. Despite having All-Pros in Derwin James, J.C. Jackson, and Khalil Mack, and Pro Bowler Joey Bosa, Staley is one of the worst statistical defensive head coaches in recent memory, and his defense continues to be this organization’s Achilles heel. Below are the Chargers’ defensive ranks since Staley took the big chair in 2021.
- 29th in points allowed
- 23rd in yards allowed
- 21st in points allowed
- 20th in yards allowed
- 30th in points allowed
- 32nd in yards allowed
With Justin Herbert officially in Year 4 of his five-year rookie contract, the clock is ticking for Staley to turn this team into the contender they ought to be — at least on paper. So what did Staley do this past offseason to help overcome his self-imposed defensive woes? Hire Kellen Moore as his offensive coordinator.
After missing out on the Minnesota Vikings’ head coaching position during the 2021-22 coaching cycle, Moore returned to the Dallas Cowboys and called plays for the league’s fourth-highest-scoring offense. That came after the Cowboys led the NFL in both yards and points in the previous year. Speaking of on paper, Moore’s resumé as a play-calling offensive coordinator should’ve landed him a head coaching position by now. And Moore continues to orchestrate a high-level offense since arriving in Los Angeles. His Chargers currently rank sixth in points and fourth in yards.
Skoldiers are no stranger to witnessing Moore’s offensive greatness firsthand. After all, in each of the past three seasons, Moore’s Cowboys came into U.S. Bank Stadium and left victorious. And Moore’s wins against the Vikings in 2020 and 2021 weren’t without adversity. Down multiple starters and featuring Andy Dalton as his quarterback for the 2020 Week 11 matchup, Moore lit up the scoreboard with 31 points and 180 rushing yards.
The following year was eerily similar. After Dak Prescott was ruled inactive for the Sunday Night Football matchup on Halloween, Moore and backup quarterback Cooper Rush threw for 325 yards en route to a game-winning drive in the final minute of the 20-17 Cowboys’ victory.
And last year, with little to no injury adversity to deal with, Moore hung a 40-burger and 458 yards on Ed Donatell’s defense. Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard combined for 236 scrimmage yards and four touchdowns.
Moore has an opportunity in Week 3 to do something that I have to imagine has rarely (if ever) been done in the modern NFL. As a non-divisional opponent, Moore could go into the same opposing stadium and win for the fourth consecutive year. And here’s the fun part for Moore: So far he’s done it with a different starting quarterback in each contest. When has any other offensive coordinator and/or offensive play-calling head coach ever pulled this off?
With Dalton, Rush, and Prescott, Moore’s quarterbacks in each of the past three matchups at U.S. Bank Stadium have combined for the following:
- 68/97 (70.1 completion percentage)
- 804 yards
- 7 touchdowns
- 2 interceptions
- 107.1 passer rating
Now armed with by far his best quarterback to date in Herbert, Moore has all the necessary ingredients to cook up another offensive masterpiece at the Vikings’ expense. The biggest wild card in Moore’s hand will be whether or not he gets his star running back, Austin Ekeler, back for the seemingly must-win game for the Chargers to keep pace in the loaded AFC.
With images of Pollard blowing past Jordan Hicks in last year’s contest against the Cowboys already seared into Skoldiers’ brains, you know that Moore will have a plan to identify mismatch opportunities for Ekeler, especially given run-stopper Hicks’ vulnerability through the air. Although he’s only been targeted four times (according to Pro Football Focus) across Minnesota’s first two games this year, Hicks was one of the worst linebackers in the league at defending the pass last season. Out of 42 linebackers who played 400-plus coverage snaps in 2022, Hicks allowed the fourth-highest passer rating when targeted (119.1).
Although Staley said on Monday that Ekeler has “no timeline” on his return from the ankle injury he suffered in Week 1, it wouldn’t be the first time that an NFL head coach decided to play coy to muck up his opponent’s game plan. If the Chargers’ medical staff gives Ekeler the green light before Sunday’s noon kickoff, Vikings defensive coordinator Brian Flores simply can’t get caught with Hicks isolated onto the shifty running back in coverage. If he does, Moore and LA’s offense will certainly make them pay.
But Minnesota’s defense can’t relax if Joshua Kelley gets the nod to lead the Chargers’ backfield for the second consecutive week. Although he and his offensive line struggled to generate much of a presence on the ground last week, it needs to be mentioned that the Tennessee Titans’ front is one of the more difficult to run on. The Titans held Kelley to just 39 yards on 16 carries in Week 2. That shouldn’t come as a surprise after Mike Vrabel‘s defense ranked No. 1 in both rushing yards and yards per carry allowed last season. In Week 1 against the now 2-0 Miami Dolphins, Moore’s running game didn’t skip a beat when injury forced Ekeler to the sideline. Kelley amassed 91 yards on 16 carries and found paydirt. In total, the Chargers ran for 233 yards and three touchdowns in the entertaining Week 1 shootout loss.
Need I remind you of what transpired with Minnesota’s run defense last Thursday at Philadelphia?
Suffice it to say, the Vikings will certainly have their hands full defending Moore’s offense, regardless of Ekeler’s status. Whether it’s through the air with Herbert and his wide receiver triplets Keenan Allen, (Big) Mike Williams, and first-round rookie Quentin Johnston, or on the ground with Ekeler and/or Kelley, Moore has plenty of weapons at his disposal. Kevin O’Connell and his offense will have no choice but to keep the drive-stalling lulls to a minimum if the Vikings want to avoid a catastrophic 0-3 start.
If they don’t, Moore’s Wikipedia page will likely read that he’s the owner of both U.S. Bank Stadium and the Minnesota Vikings come 4 p.m. on Sunday afternoon.