Coming out of the University of Oregon, Justin Herbert had a lot of questions around him that were going to play key roles in the NFL Draft. Despite some of the noise that he wasn’t a vocal enough leader or that his accuracy was going to be an issue, Herbert has put together, in my opinion, the best rookie season through eight weeks of the National Football League Season.
Herbert is playing out of his mind for the Los Angeles Chargers and I think it’s safe to say that Oregon fans could have seen this coming. This is the same quarterback that played at least eight games in all four years at Oregon, never had a QB Rating under 144 and put up monster numbers in his senior season: 3471 passing yards, 36 passing touchdowns to six interceptions and four rushing scores. Oh, and don’t forget that Rose Bowl win.
Herbert has translated that success to his rookie season with the Chargers too. So far through just six games played, he has the third most passing yards in the league (1,820) the ninth best QBR (76.4), has thrown 15 touchdowns to five interceptions and is connecting on 67.4 percent of his passes thrown. He ranks second in touchdowns on balls thrown 20 yards or more (8) this season and second in yards thrown while under pressure (581), two stats that really show how comfortable Herbert feels at the next level.
Despite these numbers, the Chargers sit dead last in the AFC West with a 2-5 record. Herbert has only recorded one win as the starting quarterback for the Chargers and that came against a very bad Jacksonville Jaguars team. Herbert has done his best to go blow-for-blow with quarterbacks like Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes. In those three games, his team has lead at one point but they lost each of them by just seven points or less. It took overtime and a field goal for Brees and Mahomes to beat him.
Herbert has done his part. In four of his six games, he has helped his team score 27 points or more. He got a ton of praise from the greatest of all-time, Tom Brady.
“He was very impressive. He played great,” Brady told reporters after their game on October 4. “He’s got all the ability. He’s got a great arm. Moves really well. The team believes in him. “He hung in there and made a lot of good throws. We blitzed him a little bit and he just stood in there and took it.”
Even Drew Brees acknowledged how impressive Herbert was, saying that he has a bright future ahead of him. The Oregon QB put up four passing touchdowns and 264 yards on the road against Brees and company.
“He’s a good young talent,” Saints coach Sean Payton said via nola.com. “You don’t feel like you’re playing against a young player. He’s someone that gets the ball out of his hands. I think he’s got a promising future, and he’s impressive to watch.”
So after all this great play from a rookie quarterback going against some of the top guys in the league, how are the Chargers sitting there with just two wins? I don’t think the blame should be put on Herbert.
For one, they can’t hold on to a lead to save their lives. In four separate games this year, the Chargers have led by 17,17,16 and 21 points. They lost each of those games. Most recently to the Denver Broncos, the Chargers led by 21 points with just seven minutes to play in the third quarter. Herbert threw an interception that led to a score in the second half, but it still doesn’t excuse the defense giving up those points. The Broncos ended up winning as time expired by a score of 31-30.
Against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Los Angeles took a 24-3 lead into halftime. It looked like the game was going to be a bloodbath if the Chargers could keep up the pace in the second half but the Bucs went on a tear, they scored 21 unanswered points to tie things up and eventually won by a full touchdown score.
One thing that has plagued the Chargers has been the second half defense. They are currently allowing the fourth most second half points amongst all NFL teams with 15.3 allowed and 20 in the last three, which also ranks first in the entire AFC. While some blame could be put on Herbert for slowing down production in the second half, it is hard to overlook the fact that the defense has allowed opponents back into games after building a lead in the first half.
Another aspect that can’t be put on Herbert is the lack of aggressiveness in the second half of games. After building these solid leads, the Chargers have fallen back on the run game to pick up yards. Sure, this will waste some clock, but it isn’t helpful when points aren’t being scored. The Chargers are scoring the ninth fewest points in the NFL at 11.1. The top team, the Seattle Seahawks are averaging 18.9 in the second half of games this season. Seattle is a team with a bad defense and a good offense, similar to LA’s but the difference can be seen in the numbers they put up in the third and fourth quarters of games.
And finally, I want to focus on the offensive weapons that Herbert has had at his disposal. Make no mistake about it, the offense has not been the issue in these five losses. But what Herbert has had to work with makes his performances all the more impressive. In the Bucs game, where he threw three touchdowns, they went to Jalen Guyton, Tyron Johnson and Donald Parham Jr.
Have you heard of any of those guys? Neither have I. These three guys were practice squad members or low depth chart guys that were called up at the last minute to make up for the absence of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. On top of that, Austin Ekeler has been sidelined for weeks now and the Chargers backfield has struggled because of it.
The Chargers may be 2-5 but it’s wise to look beyond Justin Herbert for all the struggles that the team has endured. For a rookie quarterback thrown into a situation in the most bizarre of ways, playing under a coach who seems to be in over his head and pleading with a defense that can’t hold a lead, he’s playing exceptionally well.