Is something wrong with Justin Herbert? Chargers’ game at Eagles could answer that
The first 20 starts of his career were all about what’s right with Justin Herbert.
Following the last two, some observers are pondering a question that would have seemed absurd just three weeks ago:
Is there something wrong with Justin Herbert?
The NFL’s reigning offensive rookie of the year has had consecutive unimpressive performances as the Chargers’ offense has looked, for the first time in his young career, off balance for a stretch.
The group did little in a four-touchdown loss at Baltimore before having a week off. The offense returned to score on its first and final possessions against New England — while producing not nearly enough in between.
Set to play Sunday in Philadelphia’s boisterous Lincoln Financial Field, Herbert will be looking to silence the questions, which is not to suggest the Chargers themselves are asking anything.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has had two subpar games in a row, and now he is dealing with a hand injury before the team travels to Philadelphia to play the Eagles.
“I’m not really worried about Justin,” veteran tight end Jared Cook said. “… I know he’s a gamer. I know he’s a baller.”
As the quarterback, Herbert — fairly or unfairly — shoulders most of the responsibility for the offense’s showing. But he has had plenty of help in producing the uneven results.
He faced increased heat against the Patriots, who pressured him 17 times. Coach Brandon Staley noted that the right side of the offensive line — tackle Storm Norton and guard Michael Schofield — need to be better.
Herbert’s top two wide receivers, Keenan Allen and Mike Williams, have combined to drop 11 passes, according to Pro Football Focus. No receiver duo in the league has more.
Over the last three weeks, Staley repeatedly has mentioned how the offense’s shortcomings on first and second downs have led to too many uphill third downs. He has referenced everything from the play calling to the execution.
“The type of offense that we have,” Cook said, “I’m pretty sure a lot of guys are frustrated.”
Justin Herbert and the Chargers look to get back on track against a Philadelphia Eagles team that is trying to somehow catch the Dallas Cowboys.
In the back-to-back defeats, Herbert experienced his career low in completions and two of his three worst totals in quarterback rating and completion percentage
The Chargers scored four touchdowns and had three turnovers. They converted 31% of their third and fourth downs. They lost the time-of-possession game by 16 and 10 minutes, respectively.
Under first-year coordinator Joe Lombardi, the Chargers are running a new offense, one that can include elaborate verbiage and require the quarterback to be a quick processor. The transition appeared to be nearly seamless as they opened 4-1. Herbert began to be mentioned among the early most-valuable-player candidates.
But then the schedule brought the Ravens and Patriots — teams with experienced, well-regarded defensive coaching staffs — and Herbert and the offense skidded.
Lombardi was asked if, over the last eight quarters, he has identified anything lacking in his quarterback.
“Maybe just some experience things that can help him with the timing on some throws,” Lombardi said. “But his performance hasn’t been something I’ve been super disappointed in.”
The Times’ Sam Farmer analyzes each matchup and predicts the winners of Week 9 of the 2021 NFL season.
As for Herbert’s timing being off, Lombardi pointed to missed connection with Cook against New England on a fourth-quarter play that resulted in an interception and touchdown return, giving the Patriots the lead for good.
Herbert threw the ball to Cook’s right before the tight end had turned around. When Cook did turn, he did so to his left.
“It was a good learning experience on that play …” Lombardi said. “One of those lessons that unfortunately wasn’t learned with an incompletion. It was learned with an interception.”
Herbert dismissed a suggestion that his confidence could be shaken. This is a quarterback who lost seven of his first eight starts, and whose college team finished 4-8 his freshman year.
Herbert has dealt with defeat and questions about performances gone sour. Only now he’s doing so on a national stage.
“I don’t want to make mistakes, but it’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s all about how you react. I can look back to high school and college, throwing picks and losing games. … I think going through those mistakes, as unfortunate as they are, you have to learn from them.”
Keenan Allen has struggled at catching the ball in recent games, and Chargers coach Brandon Staley isn’t too concerned about the receiver’s struggles.
Given the new offensive system, a rookie coach and the Chargers’ last two opponents, a rough patch isn’t shocking. Herbert set standards so high for 20 games that two hiccups now echo louder.
Since the loss to New England, Staley has talked about how he and Herbert are learning together, how they still are figuring things out, how they are dealing with circumstances to date unforeseen.
“We’ve lost two games in a row,” Staley said. “That’s the first time that’s happened for me. What are you going to do to respond? That’s what we’ve been working hard at this week with our players and coaches.”
Their response Sunday could say a lot about where Herbert and the Chargers are heading.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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