Dump-Off King? Diving Deep into Justin Herbert’s Reliance on Checkdown Passes

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Pro Football Focus broke down which quarterbacks rely on check-down passes the most and least over the last two seasons. It came as a shock to even the article’s author, Mason Cameron, to find Los Angeles Chargers signal caller, Justin Herbert used check-down passes at the 7th highest rate among quarterbacks in 2022 and 2023.

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Here is Cameron’s reasoning for Herbert’s reliance on checking down throws.

“Justin Herbert dealt with protection breakdowns— L.A. allowed the fourth-most pressures since 2022—as well as injuries and major instability among his offensive weapons,” Cameron writes, “The 2022 season was particularly tough for him, with key playmakers absent for stretches, leading to a sizable number of dump-offs to Austin Ekeler. That season, Herbert posted a rather large 10.86% checkdown rate.”

The Charger’s best separation wide receiver was Keenan Allen. Last season, he created 3.1 yards of separation, which was good for 50th most in the NFL. Cameron’s point is proven there.

Justin Herbert’s Conservative Nature

Justin Herbert
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But a look a little deeper compounds the issue. Herbert is thought of as a conservative quarterback, not a gunslinger and there are stats to back that up, as well. Herbert’s completion percentage over expected (CPOE) over the last two seasons shows that he isn’t taking many chances with his arm.

Completion Percentage Over Expected, as the name suggests, measures how much higher (or lower) a QB’s completion percentage is relative to what we’d expect it to be based on the types of passes they attempted.

Herbert’s CPOE over the last two seasons is .7 percent, 17th among passers. This means he is completing passes he should make, but not trying to thread the needle with difficult passes. Add in receivers that don’t look open (receivers without maximal separation) to Herbert’s conservative nature, you get a greater reliance on high-probability throws.

Checkdowns aren’t inherently bad, as Cameron points out in his article. ” When utilized correctly, they allow the quarterback to generate a positive play out of a negative situation.”

Having a receiving running back like Austin Ekeler makes the check-down into a viable big play. But even with Ekeler gone, don’t expect the Jim Harbaugh/Greg Roman offense to start asking Herbert to attempt those passes. Both of their most recent passing offenses relied on shorter easier passes, but they will need to find another release valve to throw to without a true pass-catching back on the Chargers roster.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at New England Patriots
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