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Chargers HC Brandon Staley Says Defensive Gameplan Against 49ers Was Among the Best He's Called

Brandon Staley thinks his defensive gameplan against the 49ers was one of the best operations he's put together.

The Chargers fell short of defeating the 49ers Sunday night at Levi's Stadium, but it wasn't as a result of a lacking defense.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said Monday he felt the gameplan on defense was among the best he's called.

"I thought from an execution standpoint, considering the caliber of the rushing attack — the best attack we have seen, certainly — I felt like, schematically, that was as good of a plan that I have ever had since I have been calling defenses."

The Chargers defensive gameplan was, in fact, exceptional. They gave the 49ers a multitude of looks, some of which they haven’t previously put on film in the first nine weeks of the season.

For context, third-round pick JT Woods played his first dose of defensive snaps of his young career. Before Sunday night in Santa Clara, Woods had only contributed to special teams.

But against the 49ers, Woods took the first snap of the game as the deep safety. Woods saw just a total of five defensive snaps as he was called upon in very specific looks, exclusively when Derwin James was deployed in the box, serving the role of a linebacker.

Staley also used a rotating variation of looks across the Chargers defensive line. They changed personnel groupings regularly to keep the 49ers off balance and it worked accordingly until further injuries in the game prevented them from being able to do so.

"I felt like our guys executed it and knew what we wanted out of it. You need to have that type of mixture against them," Staley said of his gameplan. "I felt like we were able to keep them off balance to an extent and really kind of play that chess match, I felt. Give them some tough things to prep for and then make those in-game adjustments, kind of carry some things to utilize later in the game."

The 49ers have one of – if not the best – trio of weapons in the NFL with Christian McCaffrey at running back, Deebo Samuel at wide receiver role and George Kittle at tight end.

But San Francisco's offense is predicated off its run game. And the Chargers had a quality plan of attack in slowing it down.

McCaffrey had 14 carries for 38 yards, Samuel had two catches for 24 yards and Kittle had one catch for 21 yards. As a pass-catcher McCaffrey added 39 yards and Samuel, as a runner, tacked on 27 yards. The big three of San Francisco was largely held in check.

The Chargers, who've proven to be vulnerable in allowing chunk plays on the ground, allowing runs of 40-plus yards in six of their previous seven games, kept the 49ers' running game contained from sparking a long run. The 49ers longest run of the night went for 15 yards.

"The one takeaway for you guys is there weren’t the explosions," Staley said of not allowing the big runs. "I think there were 41 runs, but it was like 3.8 yards per carry and that’s high-quality defense against the number one rushing attack in the league. 

"We can hopefully take a lot from that. I thought that our guys really competed in the run game in all three levels. We need to build on it because our guys did play at a high level.”

As the Chargers held San Francisco to 51 yards on 16 rushing attempts as they went into halftime, the 49ers found ways to be more productive in the final two quarters. 

Reason being, the Chargers weren't able to get into some of the personnel packages they used early in the game following the patella tendon injury to Otito Ogbonnia and pectoral injury to Christian Covington in which neither player returned to the game.

"It's definitely tough," James said in losing Ogbonnia and Covington mid-game. "Especially those big guys against that type of team that's in and out of personnels. It's tough when you can't rotate those guys. We can't make excuses, just have to man up to it."

The Chargers offense also sputtered in the second half, putting more weight on the defense's shoulders. Down the stretch of the final two quarters, the offense punted three times, failed to convert a fourth down attempt and turned the ball over with an interception, that ultimately forced the defense onto the field far too often in the second half.

The 49ers converted four third downs in the second half after facing many third-and-long situations. It was clear at that point, the Chargers defense began to tire out after spending large portions of the second half on the field. 49ers running back Elijah Mitchell found his rhythm late in the game, capping off the contest with 89 rushing yards and a 4.9-yard average per attempt, becoming San Francisco's biggest contributor on offense.

Staley and several players stated after the game they aren’t into subscribing to the idea of a moral victory. And while they didn’t end up in the win column this week, Staley's gameplan for the 49ers offense was certainly a quality operation that gave them the opportunity to win it late.

Had the offense not been shutout in the second half, the Chargers are probably sitting with a 6-3 record heading into Sunday's Week 11 game against the Chiefs.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.