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NFL roundtable: Does Justin Herbert deserve blame for Chargers’ woes?

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert congratulates Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8).
In the end, it was the Chargers’ Justin Herbert giving congratulations to the opposing quarterback again, this time to the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson (8).
(Ryan Sun / Associated Press)
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The Rams stayed in the playoff hunt in the NFC with a convincing 37-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals. The Chargers’ hung tough with the AFC-leading Baltimore Ravens but four turnovers ruined their chances for victory. Los Angeles Times Rams beat writer Gary Klein, Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller, and NFL columnist Sam Farmer discuss what happened and upcoming prospects:

How much blame goes to quarterback Justin Herbert for not being able to get a win in these close losses by the Chargers?

Miller: I’d place whatever percentage of blame that normally falls on the quarterback in these situations on Herbert but no more than that. In Week 11 at Green Bay, his record says he failed in a late-game opportunity when, in fact, he put an outcome-altering pass right on the hands of wide receiver Quentin Johnston and Johnston dropped it. This season, Herbert has been pressured at a ridiculous clip in these scenarios and, afterward, he always takes the blame. Quite simply, the Chargers and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore have failed to adequately protect Herbert when these games have been on the line.

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Farmer: There’s plenty of blame to go around. Herbert is obviously a rare talent and, like Jeff said, he doesn’t get the protection he needs. He makes throws a lot of quarterbacks can’t make, and he can pick up big chunks of yardage with his legs. But he hasn’t distinguished himself as a clutch player who routinely closes out games. Since the Chargers drafted him, they have lost 14 games by three points or fewer. That’s the NFL’s most such losses over that span. Part of that has to fall on the quarterback.

If told before the Chargers-Ravens game that Lamar Jackson would be held to 177 yards passing, would you have expected an L.A. victory?

Farmer: Not necessarily. The Ravens generally don’t put up gaudy passing numbers. They beat Seattle with 225 yards passing, Cincinnati with 237, Houston with 169, Arizona with 157.

Miller: Nope, not at all. The Ravens lead the NFL in rushing, which is what they stayed committed to Sunday night while rolling up 197 yards on the ground. Jackson is 3-0 in the regular season against the Chargers and has topped 200 passing yards in only one of those games, and that day — in December of 2018 — he finished with 204.

Keenan Allen continued his exceptional 2023 with 14 catches for 106 yards in a 20-10 loss to Baltimore, the Chargers’ third straight defeat.

Nov. 27, 2023

Why would you guess Baltimore, which scored at least 31 points in five straight games, would go to the ground against the NFL’s worst pass defense? Did the Chargers force that?

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Miller: See the above answer. Ravens coach John Harbaugh is smart enough to lean into what his team does well, rather than overthink things. I do think Baltimore could have thrown against the Chargers because every decent team they’ve played so far has. But Harbaugh knows his team and went on the road and won a key conference game as December football is set to arrive.

Farmer: The Ravens have nine wins and are atop their division. They do what they need to do, depending on the opponent. Sort of the opposite of what we’re seeing from the Chargers, who are finding new ways to lose every week.

Do you attribute Kyren Williams’ success to his patience running behind blockers or is the Rams’ offensive line just finally getting in a groove? The Rams ran well last week also.

Klein: Both. Williams appears to be doing a good job running behind blockers and through the holes they are creating. The challenge for Williams will be staying physically sound for the rest of the season.

Rams running back Kyren Williams (23) runs past  Cardinals Zaven Collins (25) and Josh Woods.
Rams running back Kyren Williams (23) runs past Cardinals Zaven Collins (25) and Josh Woods.
(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Farmer: The offensive line has done a solid job of run blocking all season, but the patience and vision of Williams makes the line look good. This was the best team rushing performance by the Rams since their 2018 playoff win over Dallas. Williams doesn’t have home-run speed, but he’s really savvy when it comes to setting up blocks.

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Can Tyler Higbee’s success against the Cardinals be attributed to the success of the running game? In seasons past, he had been a consistent red-zone target.

Klein: Higbee’s success on Sunday, I think, was either Sean McVay and Matthew Stafford realizing the Rams must get Higbee more involved. Or perhaps it was a reflection of attention paid to Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua in those situations. Regardless, Higbee caught his first two touchdown passes of the season.

Farmer: Higbee is certainly capable of rounding into a real red-zone threat in the fourth quarter of this season. But just as important, Matthew Stafford is spreading around the ball. Four touchdown passes Sunday, and none to wide receivers.

The Rams’ Lucas Havrisik missed a 50-yard attempt, made a 24-yard attempt and made four of five extra-point attempts against the Cardinals. Do you think the Rams might be looking at kickers again?

Farmer: It wasn’t a banner day for Havrisik for sure. He’ll be on a short leash, but the Rams like his raw potential. We’ve seen a lot of kickers pull out of these tailspins and get hot.

Klein: Hey, I was watching the end of the Chargers game and Ravens kicker Justin Tucker, a five-time All-Pro, missed a 44-yard attempt. It happens. You can be certain that the Rams always have a short list of position players and kickers they might pursue if necessary. But I don’t anticipate a move right now.

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Rams-Cardinals takeaways: It became very obvious in a 37-14 win over Arizona that L.A. needs a healthy Kyren Williams if they hope to make playoffs.

Nov. 27, 2023

Cleveland is next. Considering the Browns’ dominant defense and the fact they are starting a rookie at quarterback in UCLA product Dorian Thompson-Robinson, the game figures to be low scoring. How do you think the Rams are equipped for that kind of grind-it-out game?

Klein: Well, the Rams’ rushing attack has been good the last two games, McVay appears to have rediscovered the screen game with Williams, and Higbee now is apparently going to be more involved. So if the Rams can just get Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua going again, I’d say it looks promising. And Thompson-Robinson might be in for an eye-opener facing Aaron Donald for the first time.

Farmer: The Browns are limping out of this weekend with a lot of injuries. Dorian Thompson-Robinson, Myles Garrett and Amari Cooper are all banged up. The Rams have struggled against top-shelf pass rushers, so maintaining a running game will be paramount. In their last two games with a healthy Williams, they have scored 26 and 37 points so you can bet the offense will run through him.

The Patriots have just two wins, benched their quarterback and just lost to the now four-win Giants, who were starting their third-string quarterback. So, why won’t this be an easy Chargers win?

Farmer: Nothing seems to come easy for the Chargers. But yes, they should win at Foxborough.

Miller: The Chargers typically and somewhat annoyingly often play up to or down to the level of the opposition. But if they struggle for an extended period against the lousy Patriots, the entire team might want to consider relocating to the greater New England area rather than returning home.

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To have a remote chance of qualifying for the playoffs, the Chargers will need to win their last six games and the schedule does not bode well.

Nov. 27, 2023

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