Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has been thrust into action in the wake of the team’s infamous poking incident with starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, and the first-round Oregon product has performed exactly how we would have expected so far. No more, no less — even if that may not fit the current narrative of the “breakout player” who has now gone toe-to-toe with three Super Bowl MVPs.
We have seen a slightly more refined version of the Herbert we saw at Oregon. The Chargers' playcalling is protecting him, but his accuracy is still hit or miss, and getting through his reads has been a struggle at times.
ELITE subscribers can view player grades, advanced statistics, positional snap counts and more in Premium Stats 2.0.
This is not meant to come off overtly negative. After all, taking second-team reps in a COVID-shortened offseason before being thrown to the wolves 10 minutes before kickoff against the defending Super Bowl champions is not a recipe for success. The good news is that he’s shown enough understanding in certain areas that the floor is relatively high for the young quarterback — he’s been able to throw outside the numbers in rhythm, and his deep ball has been excellent to start the season.
Yes, it's been written about before, but it truly cannot be overstated: the Chargers offensive line continues to be a complete liability. This first line of protection ranks 28th in the league in our cumulative pass-blocking efficiency metric, which, unfortunately, is a standing they are now more than accustomed to.
For context, here's what I wrote in my article about Philip Rivers moving to Indianapolis:
“There have been 192 team-seasons since 2014. According to our cumulative team pass-blocking efficiency metric, the Los Angeles Chargers' offensive lines have ranked 120th, 142nd, 168th, 170th, 186th and 190th — there's bad, and then there's whatever that is.”
The nice thing for the young quarterback was that he was going to learn the important aspects of NFL QB play — how to protect himself in the pocket with adjusting protections, knowing which receivers are hot, pocket maneuverability, etc. — behind a 10-year veteran who has starting experience with four different NFL teams and multiple offensive schemes.
That, of course, did not happen. Herbert became the starter in Week 2 after a certain unfortunate pregame event revolving around a certain pain-killing injection. Herbert has also had to play significant time without running back Austin Ekeler and played most of Monday night's loss to the New Orleans Saints without star receiver Keenan Allen. We simply cannot go forward without understanding that the pieces around Herbert are not making life easy for him.
What has made his life a little easier is the Chargers' playcalling from a macro perspective. Since Week 2, the Chargers have run the ball on 40% of their offensive snaps, the league's 11th-highest mark. They have also tried to protect him from taking straight dropbacks, as the team has called a screen or play-action attempt on 44% of his dropbacks, which rings in at eighth.
This means that only 37% of the Chargers' plays since he’s been thrust into the starting role have been straight dropbacks. As we know, play action helps a quarterback because it defines his reads and displaces linebackers and safety men in advantageous ways for the offense — this is how Jared Goff, who has a 60% combined screen and play-action rate, keeps creating positive plays for the Rams offense.
Herbert has been afforded similar opportunities, but interestingly enough, he has actually excelled on his straight-dropback plays — he's graded at 81.4, with eight big-time throws to only one turnover-worthy play — while his 52.5 play-action grade is actually the aspect of play that's holding him down. Overall, he’s just a 73.3-graded player, which is good enough for 15th in the league.
Justin Herbert: Passing grade and rank (among QBs with at least 25 dropbacks, Weeks 1-5)