Justin Herbert has impressed in every way imaginable while filling in for Tyrod Taylor. Now, after going toe to toe with the greatest quarterback of all time, he has officially been named the starting quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers.
Herbert was drafted to be the heir apparent to Philip Rivers, and we all knew this day would eventually come. But Head Coach Anthony Lynn has a history of easing rookie players into starting roles. Not even Derwin James started his first game in the NFL, but similarly to Herbert, the immense talent was immediately evident and they both started their second NFL games. Today, Lynn announced that Herbert will be the starter going forward.
Teams can win in the NFL with quarterbacks like Taylor IF you have the right pieces around them. That was the hope coming into the season for the veteran quarterback. The Chargers on paper had/have an extremely talented defense, headlined by James and Joey Bosa. The offense was loaded with playmakers as well in Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, Hunter Henry, and Mike Williams. The strategy was simple: rely on an uber-talented roster, and win the turnover battle. This was the mantra all offseason, and although it was not pretty in week one against the Bengals, it worked in their favor.
That being said, it appears that it was simply not meant to be for Taylor and the Chargers(at least in terms of starting). He sustained a rib injury early in the first quarter against the Bengals and then by sheer misfortune and bad luck, the Chargers team doctor accidentally punctured his lung after giving him a pain-killing injection. What happened next, was the stuff of legend(mostly). Herbert found out seconds before kickoff against the defending world champs and had as good of a debut as historically possible. Taking the Kansas City Chiefs to overtime, won him a lot of respect around the league, including by yours truly.
Through his first three starts, Herbert has reinvigorated the Chargers offense with his eye-popping physical gifts, as well as his ability to thrive under pressure. He has put up insane numbers and came oh so close to being the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 300 yards in each of his first three starts. He’s currently tied for fifth in the league in yards per attempt, trailing only MVP candidates Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers, and Josh Allen. Kirk Cousins is also ahead of him, somehow. He’s seventh in the league in completion percentage behind Wilson, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Jared Goff, Gardner Minshew, and some guy named Philip Rivers. That’s some good company to be in. One interception a game isn’t ideal, but those will start coming down especially as he continues to learn how to manipulate and read the opposing defenses.
Perhaps the most impressive statistic for Herbert so far, is that he leads the league in passing yards while under pressure. That’s definitely a double-edged sword kind of scenario because it means he’s under pressure WAY too frequently. But the ability to handle that pressure was a major concern throughout his draft evaluation. Oftentimes at Oregon, he would come under pressure and he was unable to get the ball out fast enough. Other times he would rush passes when getting pressured, which would lead to erratic accuracy at times. Now, that concern has been squashed ten times over. Being pressured that often and still completing over 70% of his passes as a rookie is simply remarkable.
Feels like Justin Herbert was under pressure on every play and was still just slinging it. pic.twitter.com/5KasBLxo6h
— Jordan Dajani (@JordanDajani) October 5, 2020
The rest of the league has taken notice of just how special this rookie is too. He was the talk of the town after his performance from this Sunday, especially by Pat McAfee who has been talking about him non stop:
— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) October 7, 2020
After the game on Sunday, Tom Brady and Bruce Arians were asked about Herbert, and here’s what they had to say:
Bruce Arians told Anthony Lynn after the game: "You’ve got a great one," likening Justin Herbert to Patrick Mahomes on an all-out blitz. "He just kept retreating and threw a dime down the field. For rookies to make plays like that, you know they’re special.”
— JennaLaineESPN (@JennaLaineESPN) October 4, 2020
Tom Brady praises Justin Herbert, who’s 21 years younger: “He was very impressive today… he hung in there, made a lot of good throws on some big plays. We blitzed him a little bit and he just stood in there and took it. He's got obviously all the abilities, got a great arm.”
— Grace Remington (@GraceRemiWTSP) October 4, 2020
All of this is to say that Herbert unequivocally elevates the Chargers offense, and ultimately the Chargers as a whole. He threw two 50+ yard touchdowns to two undrafted free agents on Sunday. Both of those came while being pressured, one of which he threw off his back foot. His third touchdown was to a former XFL standout.
Williams was out on Sunday, Ekeler left on the second drive of the game and Henry was mostly a non-factor. All due respect to Taylor, but he simply cannot carry a team with his arm the way that Herbert clearly can. The crazy thing is that outside of his rushing touchdown on the opening drive against the Chiefs, we haven’t really seen him do a ton with his legs up to this point either. The Chargers have been sprinkling in some read options every now and then, but he showed the ability to make plays with his legs quite often at Oregon. They’ve been slowly adding more wrinkles to the offense each week, and maybe we see some more of that going forward.
Who knows what would have happened in the alternate universe in which Taylor doesn’t hurt his ribs, doesn’t get a punctured lung, and starts all sixteen games for the Chargers. In this timeline, it happened to work out that they had to throw Herbert to the wolves much sooner than they had hoped. But it has obviously worked out in their favor.
Lynn undoubtedly made the right decision for his football team, and one could argue for his own career. Mishandling a situation like this is how coaches get fired in the NFL. He took a lot of heat for what he said after the Chiefs game when he so vehemently backed Taylor, but it’s become clear that he handled the situation as best as he could. It would have been a really bad look to throw someone under the bus after your team doctor punctured his lung. These things tend to work themselves out, except for the incumbent player, unfortunately.
Herbert now knows that he has the full support of his coaches and teammates as the unquestioned starter. The wins should start following suit. Even if they don’t, the Chargers got their guy and he’s clearly a special player. Knowing that means more than the final record will indicate at the end of this bizarre year.