Chargers’ Staley faces Rams, former boss McVay for 1st time

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Brandon Staley didn’t know Sean McVay when McVay interviewed him to be the Los Angeles Rams’ defensive coordinator in 2020.

And even though Staley spent only one year on McVay’s staff before becoming the Los Angeles Chargers’ coach in 2021, the two have developed a deep friendship.

Staley faces his former boss for the first time on Sunday when the Chargers host the Rams in the battle of SoFi Stadium co-tenants.

Staley said he still exchanges texts with McVay during the season, but those conversations have been put on hold this week.

“There’s not too much time to talk on the phone. When you do have time, you’re talking to your family most of the time,” Staley said. “It’s great to have those types of allies and those people that know you well.”

Staley got the interview with the Rams through his friendship with Rams assistant Chris Shula. Even though he and McVay spent only a year together, they clearly saw the game the same way.

“I certainly wouldn’t be here without him. There’s a lifelong friend there,” Staley said. “At the same time, we’re great competitors, even though we’re good friends. This game is going to be about competition.”

McVay said he wasn’t surprised Staley went from coordinator to head coach in only one year.

“He had a drive, motivation, love, and passion for the game that’s as strong as anybody I’ve been around. So, tremendous respect,” McVay said.

Staley and the Chargers (9-6) are heading to the playoffs for the first time in four years, while McVay and the Rams (5-10) have tied the 1999 Denver Broncos for the most losses by a defending Super Bowl champion.

Even though the Rams have been out of the postseason chase for a while, McVay said the season’s challenges have reinvigorated him.

“I think it’s about a shift in perspective,” said McVay, who is 2-3 in the regular season and playoffs against his former assistants. “It doesn’t mean that this doesn’t wear on you. … I think it’s about controlling what you can and when you haven’t been through those types of things before.”

OFFENSE NEEDS WORK

The Chargers’ main focus over the remaining two games is trying to improve an offense that is still struggling despite the return of wide receivers Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.

Justin Herbert hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass in consecutive games for the first time in his three-year career. The Chargers have the fifth-lowest touchdown rate on goal-to-goal situations at 60.7% (17 TDs in 28 trips). They also have been held without a touchdown in the third quarter in 11 straight games.

BAKER COOKING

Baker Mayfield will attempt to lead the Rams to a third victory at SoFi Stadium since he joined the team off waivers from Carolina. He has completed more than 69% of his passes in three games in McVay’s offense, with 571 passing yards, four touchdowns and one interception. A strong effort against the Chargers would bolster Mayfield as a valuable commodity when he hits free agency in March — something that seemed unlikely only a month ago.

SURGING AT THE RIGHT TIME

The Chargers’ defense has finally put everything together over its last three games. The Bolts have allowed a league-low 34 points and 225.3 yards per game in wins over Miami, Tennessee and Indianapolis. The pass rush has also generated 13 sacks, which is second to Philadelphia’s 19 during that span. During that span, the Chargers have improved from 26th to 19th in total defense.

Those numbers could continue to trend upward over the next two games. The Rams have the league’s 31st-ranked offense while the Broncos — who host the Chargers in Week 18 — are 25th.

TURNOVER SURGE

The Rams rarely created turnovers during the six-game losing streak that wrecked their season, but the defense has belatedly produced 12 takeaways in its last five games. After making four interceptions while blowing out the Broncos, the Rams’ defense is primed to face Herbert, who has thrown three interceptions in the past two games.

KEEP AN EYE ON …

The running backs. The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler leads the NFL with 16 touchdowns and could become the first player in 16 years with at least 20 in consecutive seasons. Cam Akers of the Rams is coming off a season-high 118 yards last week against Denver.

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AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in Thousand Oaks, California, contributed to this report.

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