2020 has been a year of uncertainty, and constant unpredictability. For Justin Herbert, those two words have described the start of his career to an accurate degree. As the sixth overall pick in the 2020 Draft, it was expected that Herbert would sit and learn behind veteran starter Tyrod Taylor while taking over as the franchise quarterback when time called for it. However, a team doctor punctured Taylor’s lung before Week 2 taking him out of the starting lineup indefinitely.
In Herbert’s two starts since, he has shown incredible poise and has given Chargers fans reasons to be excited with him at the helm. Before his next start against the tough Buccaneers defense, let’s analyze where he has thrived and the shortcomings he has exhibited in the last two weeks.
Statistics (through two weeks): 57/82 for 641 Yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. 94.4 RTG and 66.7 CMP%
1. Poise under pressure/pocket movement
While the Chargers have plenty of offensive talent, their offensive line through Week 3 has shown to be a massive work in progress. Herbert has rarely had a clean pocket, and has been pressured consistently on his drop backs. However, an encouraging sign has been his ability to deliver the ball accurately under duress.
Justin Herbert 👀👀 pic.twitter.com/c2mR9ODy7l
— Geoff Schwartz (@geoffschwartz) September 22, 2020
In the play above the Chargers are in “trey” to the field, which is similar to trips however the third receiver is an in line Y tight end. The Chiefs are showing an eight-man simulated pressure prior to the snap. Four of them end up dropping post snap and they bring four. To combat the pressure look Hunter Henry and Austin Ekeler are in blocking, which makes it seven blockers versus four rush defenders.
Regarding the coverage, the defense rotates into a Tampa 2 with Tyrann Mathieu rotating to fulfill the Mike’s assignment as a deep middle defender. The Chargers are running a double post concept to the field with an out route from the single receiver side. Henry gets beat off the snap which allows Taco Charlton a free path to Herbert. Despite the pressure, Herbert stands tall and delivers an incredible ball into the bucket perfectly over the rotating defender. Herbert’s ability to throw an accurate football while under pressure is a sign of improvement, and it showcases signs of promise for what is ahead.
Herbert also showcased nuance in the way he maneuvers the pocket when it collapses, or when he has to step up.
Justin Herbert has thrown for 300 yards again today. That's two starts and two 300-yard games for a guy with no preseason games and no time on the grass until training camp, who got very limited first-team reps before this week. pic.twitter.com/n17SEpdqwb
— Grant Paulsen (@granthpaulsen) September 27, 2020
In this play, the Chargers are in an empty set with five receivers out wide. Keenan Allen, to the trips side, runs a post and the other side runs a modified smash concept. It is third-and-14 in the redzone toward the end of the game. Due to that, they rotate into a split safety match quarters look which is supposed to keep the play in front. Herbert feels pressure from Brian Burns on the edge, so he rips his shoulder forward, steps up, and delivers a precise ball for a touchdown to Allen with two over the top defenders.
Herbert recognizes the mismatch of a linebacker on Allen and lets it rip. This rep showcases legitimate pocket awareness and nuanced pocket movement that is much improved from his time at Oregon. Also, being a rookie in his first two starts, his ability late in the game to stay calm and give his team a chance to win is beyond his years.
2. Making plays with his feet/athleticism
Herbert, 6-foot-6 and 240 pounds, has plus athleticism that breaks stereotype for someone of his stature. Throughout his time at Oregon, he showcased the ability to extend plays with his feet and execute some zone reads to keep defenses on their heels.
Would've liked to see this end in a touchdown rather than a field goal, but this was a hell of a play by Justin Herbert. Busted play, Herbert pulls it down, makes Tanoh Kpassagnon miss, and picks up a first down. pic.twitter.com/HZC9Aub4co
— Gavino Borquez (@GavinoBorquez) September 21, 2020
Above, the Chargers are in a second-and-9 situation in the redzone. They are in pistol and they are aiming to execute a speed option. Herbert reads the front side end and makes the correct decision by tucking the ball and finishing the play for a first down.
In this scenario, the defensive end slow plays it and Herbert is crafty enough to fake the pitch and freeze the defender. Once the end moves outward slightly, Herbert keeps it and cuts inside after reading the block on Chris Jones. Herbert then converts a key first down due to his exceptional athleticism, vision and large stature. His ability to move — designed or not — will be an issue for defenses if the Chargers continue to use his rushing abilities.
the first drive of Justin Herbert's NFL career:
2-4, 51 passing yards
1 carry, 4 yards and a touchdown
a 7-0 lead against the defending NFL champions pic.twitter.com/mXWLzjZWk4
— Christian D'Andrea, Star V defender (@TrainIsland) September 20, 2020
This touchdown run was impressive for a variety of reasons, even if it was one of short yardage. After a tumultuous pregame, Herbert took his team right down the field on the opening drive. He looked confident and composed, while also showcasing detailed preparation.
In this play by the goal line, the Chargers are running a naked bootleg to the right. As Herbert goes through his progressions, he realizes that there is nobody open. Instead of forcing the football into a tight area, Herbert takes off, puts his body on the line and runs for the score. Herbert’s savvy in the run game makes him more of a threat as the offense nears the endzone.
3. Velocity to get the ball into tight windows
One of Herbert’s most impressive traits is his ability to rip a pass into a small window. He has incredible arm talent, which allows him to make high risk throws with considerable success.
3rd and 9, five minutes left, down by two scores, gotta have it.
Herbert slots it. He's fearless right to that edge of reckless, but he's got the arm to back it up. pic.twitter.com/HgoS4z1F03
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 29, 2020
In this play, the Chargers are in 11 personnel with “trey” to the right and a single receiver to the backside. The Panthers are seen here playing a variation of Cover 2, and the Chargers are running three curl routes with a block and release from the tight end. As the play evolves, Allen finds a soft spot in between the linebackers that are executing their “middle run through” assignment. Herbert throws a rope splitting the soft spot in the zone to convert on third down. Not a lot of quarterback’s can make this throw comfortably, but Herbert is comfortable enough and trusting in his arm to make the play.
1. Forcing the issue/not understanding situational football
Herbert, as stated above, likes to use his arm in order to push the ball into tight spaces trying to make a big play. However, that can come at a cost. Despite the impressive trait, his two interceptions were a result of this. At times, Herbert needs to either move the chains with his feet, throw it away or throw it to his check down.
🤔 After Justin Herbert shined against the Chiefs last week he is now struggling against the Panthers.
The Panthers were +225 underdogs before the game.pic.twitter.com/go64MgOkOj
— BetOnline.ag (@betonline_ag) September 27, 2020
Here is a prime example. It is first-and-10, and he is close to field goal range as the second quarter is winding down. The Chargers are in 11 here, and they run a play action pass. Herbert, though, does not utilize his eyes to try and manipulate the defender. Instead, he stares down his target and forces a throw right into Dante Jackson who is sitting right on top of the outbreaking route.
Situationally, if Herbert throws the ball away, it is only second down and Los Angeles still has a timeout. There is still a chance to get the yardage necessary to give his kicker a high percentage opportunity. However, he throws the interception and allows the Panthers to put more points on the board before half. Going forward, Herbert needs to just let the game come to him and make higher percentage decisions that fit the situation.
This play is another key example of forcing the issue, and not understanding how to manage the situation at hand. It is second-and-2, and the Chargers have an eight point lead. The Chargers are running play action here, and the left tackle gets beat on an inside move. Herbert escapes the pocket effectively, and has plenty of room to move the chains and convert on the play.
Instead of taking an easy first down, Herbert throws a deep ball across his body into coverage which gets intercepted. When you have the ability to move the chains past midfield and get into field goal range to increase your lead, you cannot make this decision. In this situation, Herbert will benefit from using his above average athleticism to extend plays rather than forcing the issue.
2. Leading his receivers to the spot
Herbert shows flashes of pinpoint accuracy, but can struggle with sideline throws.
also: still Herbert pic.twitter.com/H0H2frRPec
— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) September 29, 2020
In the second clip, Herbert does make the right decision to throw this drag route. It is a high percentage throw, and there was a definitive window of opportunity to get that ball in there.
However, there are rules to follow when throwing a drag route with a trailing defensive back. Herbert, in this rep, needs to get the ball out in front of his receiver and lead him to the desired spot. Throwing a drag route low and inside like he does here can lead to mistakes. If the defensive back catches this, there is a high likelihood that this would have been returned for a touchdown. Leading his targets on outbreaking and drag routes will only increase Herbert’s success.
Herbert, so far, has given the Chargers a promising return on investment. He was thrown into the starting role five minutes before kickoff on Week 2 and has largely impressed since.
His live arm and plus mobility has given the Chargers a new dimension on offense. Despite his admirable traits, he needs to take into account the flow of the game and make smarter decisions. Herbert needs to keep a firm understanding of situational football, and if he does that, the turnovers will dissipate soon enough. The Chargers have a new face of the franchise, and there is a ton of room for excitement going forward.