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Head coach Brandon Staley of the Los Angeles Chargers celebrates after a touchdown during the first half against the Cleveland Browns at FirstEnergy Stadium on Oct. 9, 2022 in Cleveland.Jason Miller/Getty Images

Get ready for the risk-taking, head-scratching and second-guessing when the Denver Broncos visit the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday night.

Brandon Staley and Nathaniel Hackett are among the most scrutinized head coaches in the NFL because of their sideline strategies, and both are coming off games where their calls loomed large in the outcome.

The Chargers (3-2) escaped Cleveland with a two-point win when Cade York’s 54-yard field-goal attempt sailed right, taking Staley off the hook for going for it on fourth-and-one in his own territory, up two with 1:14 left and the Browns out of timeouts.

What in the world “are we doing?” wondered sidelined star receiver Keenan Allen in a more colourful tweet he later deleted.

Staley’s aggressive fourth-down philosophy has rattled football traditionalists since he became the Chargers head coach in 2020.

Hackett has been grilled aplenty in his first season as a head coach for odds-defying decisions such as settling for a 64-yard field-goal attempt that ended in a 17-16 loss in Russell Wilson’s return to Seattle.

Hackett even had to lure long-time NFL assistant Jerry Rosburg out of retirement to help him navigate in-game decisions after his dawdling play-calling led to too many yellow flags, lots of red faces and fans mockingly counting down the play clock.

Even with the veteran strategist in his ear last week, Hackett called for a pass into the end zone on third-and-four at the Colts 13 just before the two-minute warning. A run could have either ended it or led to a field goal and a six-point lead against a team out of timeouts and which hadn’t reached the end zone all night.

The pass was intercepted, the Colts drove down for the tying field goal and then won it 12-9 in overtime when Wilson misfired into the end zone on fourth-and-inches from the Indianapolis five. A sneak or handoff likely would have given the Broncos (2-3) four more shots at the win.

Staley said at the beginning of training camp that the crucial decisions, particularly on fourth down, would be a mixture of mindset and math, and Hackett echoed that philosophy this week.

“There is this thing called analytics that are out there that give you a great starting point,” Hackett said. “I think for me and all the coaches, that is what we want to hear first. What are the true analytics on that one? But in the end, it’s about the play, it’s about the players and executing and making that play. In the end, we have to execute, and we have to convert, then it’s a great decision. If you don’t convert, it’s a really, really bad decision.”

Hackett said the scrutiny is such that “I think everyone is analyzing analytics now.”

Staley concurred: “When you’re in tight games, when it comes down to the wire, everything is magnified nowadays.”

“Even if we win the game: hey, it could have gone this way, it could have gone that way. And so all you can really do is respect your process, trust the people that you work with and trust your players,” Staley said.

What it really comes down to, Staley said, is knowing when to dismiss the data and go with your gut: “It’s important that we don’t go into it saying always and never.”

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