The Los Angeles Chargers had playoff aspirations and more heading into this season, especially when they made their franchise quarterback the highest-paid player at his position through the 2029 season.
However, things have not gone the Bolts’ way as they are 5-7 entering Week 14 and are coming off a 6-0 win in New England where Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and the offense were not on the field for those points.
The Chargers have lost five of their last eight games and find themselves tied with Las Vegas for the cellar in the AFC West and currently stand at No. 12 in the AFC playoff picture. Los Angeles is two games back of Indianapolis for the No. 7 spot and needs a lot to happen if they want to play later into January.
Los Angeles, who hosts Denver on Sunday afternoon, still has to face each of their AFC West opponents at least once, and a matchup against Buffalo on Christmas weekend.
Time is running out for the Chargers to make a late push for the playoffs and it comes with an offense that is struggling, having only scored one touchdown in two weeks.
Who should shoulder the blame for the offensive woes in Los Angeles?
We break that down right now.
Why Justin Herbert Is To Blame?
Herbert and the offense have not been playing to the level of their expectations, ranking 15th in the league in total yards per game and 11th in passing yards per game this season.
Last year, the Chargers were at the tail end of the top 10 in total yards and third in the NFL in passing yards.
The biggest on-the-field issue for Herbert has been the deep ball. So far this season, the former Oregon Duck has just four passes that have gone for more than 40 yards. Just two seasons ago, Herbert tied for second with Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow with 15 40-plus yard plays.
The ACL injury to wide receiver Mike Williams plays a factor in this, but even trying to connect with wide receiver Keenan Allen, specifically on deep go-routes has also been a challenge, especially during the Dallas game on Oct. 16 in a three-point home loss.
The connection between Herbert and the receivers on those go routes has been both good and bad on the 2021 Pro Bowler. At times, Herbert has missed on his deep throws but has also been right on the money but the receiver dropped the ball (which is a whole other issue with this offense).
Herbert said the drops from receivers happen and he and the receivers have to focus on the next play, whether it is during a game or during practice.
“They’ve made incredible catches before and they’ve saved me,” Herbert said Wednesday. “It’s part of the game. I know the next time we’re going to go to them, they’re going to make the play. That’s the trust and faith we have in each other.”
Specifically on Herbert, he is averaging 6.9 yards per attempt, which is on par with his 6.8 clip last year, but lower than his first two seasons when he averaged 7.3 and 7.5 yards per attempt, respectively.
The biggest statistic reflecting the struggles for Herbert is in yards gained per game played. That number has declined the past two seasons. According to Pro Football Reference, Herbert went from 294.9 yards gained per game played in 2021 to 278.8 last year and is currently at 253.2 yards, a decrease of 25 yards.
Part of his shorter pass distance per play is on the scheme the team is running as well as the way opposing defenses are playing Herbert and the receivers.
In addition, the hand injury he suffered earlier this season has played a part in the offensive woes, having only one game north of 300 passing yards in the last nine games, which came on Nov. 12 in the 41-38 loss to Detroit.
The injury brought Herbert more precaution to remain on the field and prevent any further injury.
Why Los Angeles Chargers Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore Is To Blame
This season marked the first year for Los Angeles Chargers offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who came from a high-powered offense in Dallas.
Moore entered this season already having coached a previous AP Offensive Rookie of the Year in Dak Prescott, who received the honor in 2016.
However, in Moore’s first season in Dallas, the Cowboys went 8-8. Although Prescott reached 4,902 passing yards that season in 2019, which still holds for the most in a season in his career, he threw 11 interceptions.
Seeing the correlation between Moore’s first year in Dallas compared to his first season in Los Angeles, based on quarterback play, is telling.
However, it is more evident in the run game, especially in the last few weeks.
Although running back Austin Ekeler has been sidelined for a few games this year, in the nine games he has played, his numbers have dropped.
Ekeler is currently averaging 3.5 yards per carry this season, which is his lowest mark in a season in his seven seasons.
In addition, his 49.6 rushing yards per game clip is lower than his last three games when averaged more than 50 yards per game. Although Ekeler has averaged two more carries his total yards per touch, including in the receiving aspect he provides, is 4.7 yards, which is the lowest mark in a season in his career.
The running game for the Chargers has been the difference maker, especially compared to the seasons Ekeler has had the previous two campaigns when he combined for 38 touchdowns.
Through nine games, Ekeler is only at five touchdowns, either on the ground or through the air.
In addition, Ekeler’s receiving numbers are also lower compared to years past. Over the last four seasons, he has averaged at least 4.4 receptions and 40 receiving yards per game in each of the last four seasons. This season that clip is only at 3.4 receptions for 32 yards with the lowest catch percentage in his career.
The way Ekeler is being used in the offense this year, compared to years past also plays a big role that is reflected in Moore as he continues to adjust to this team in his first year.
This also begs a bigger question, “if Ekeler is struggling, why not turn to another back?” We saw in Dallas Moore and the offense slowly transition from Ezekiel Elliott to Tony Pollard, and now Pollard is the featured back in the Big D.
Joshua Kelley is no Pollard, but he has flashed and has shown more explosiveness this year than Ekeler. Heach Coach Brandon Staley did hint this week that Kelley could see more carries, but is it too little too late?
12 games into the season, it is safe to say, whatever way you want to spin it, this offense is not where fans had hoped it’d be in Herbert’s 4th season, and with offensive guru Kellen Moore coming to town. Who is more to blame? Like with most things in life, the answer is probably a combination of both. But what do you think?