Otto Graham, Cam Newton, and Justin Herbert. That’s the entire list of quarterbacks in NFL history that had over 300 yards passing to go along with at least one score on the ground and through the air in their NFL debut. The former Oregon standout had quite the debut on Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs. Outside of the one interception, he played an incredibly efficient game for his first start in the NFL. He looked calm and collected all game long. Tony Romo was an honorary Chargers fan as he was gushing about Herbert throughout the entire broadcast.
Perhaps the most impressive thing about his debut was the fact that he found out seconds before kickoff. He said after the game that he’s been preparing as if he were the starter, but he obviously was not getting those reps in practice. Tyrod Taylor was the team’s week one starter but was listed on the injury report on Friday despite being a full participant. Head Coach Anthony Lynn said there were complications with an injection which was intended to help him play through the rib injury. It was reported during the game that he had a chest injury, but after the game, the Chargers put out a statement saying he was suffering through chest pains and even had struggles breathing.
The details surrounding Taylor’s health remain unclear, but we are obviously sending out thoughts and well wishes to him. Hearing the phrase “chest pains” is always a scary thing. So hopefully Taylor is able to recover from whatever is ailing him.
Unfortunately, the NFL is a “what have you done for me lately” league, and Herbert came out and played an amazing game. Lynn said that IF Taylor is 100% healthy, he’s still their starter but that’s a big if. Hopefully, by the time this article is published, there will be some clarity on the situation. The one thing that is clear, though, is that Herbert is ready to go.
If you’ve been following me on Twitter for the last few months you know that I was a believer in what this team could do with Taylor. I was fully aware of his limitations, but I spent a large portion of the summer watching film from his days in Buffalo and felt like this team had the right players around him to get one season of the best version of him. Lynn has always wanted a mobile quarterback, and above all else, he wants to protect the football.
Week 1 was not pretty for the Chargers, but I saw the set up of some creative things that were yet to come. They ran play action at an exponentially higher rate than what they ever ran with Philip Rivers. They ran a few traditional speed options as well as read options. They ran a few bootlegs and Taylor escaped the pocket a few times and made some good throws. They obviously won the game, but the whole offense just seemed to lack an overall sense of urgency. Watching the Cleveland Browns torch the Bengals on Thursday did not help either.
The lack of urgency changed on Sunday for the Chargers. The entire team looked energized with the rookie making his first start. The Chargers marched down the field on the opening drive and Herbert finished it off with their first opening-drive touchdown in years. The game plan looked drastically different, as they leaned on Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler early and often. They were clearly making a concentrated effort to get the ball to their two best players in space, something that was severely lacking against the Bengals in week one.
Joshua Kelley followed up his own stellar debut by piling up 23 carries and demonstrated that he is no slouch in the passing game either. He caught a ball in the flat from Herbert and scampered 35 yards to really open things up.
Hunter Henry was his usual efficient self, contributing six catches for 83 yards.
The Chargers ultimately came up short against the Chiefs, losing 23-20 in overtime. Many will focus on Lynn’s decision to punt on fourth down in overtime, but the story is the start of the Herbert era in Los Angeles.
I personally had many doubts about the kind of upside Herbert would bring to the table. The physical traits are obvious, but he threw a screen pass on nearly 35% of plays at Oregon and didn’t show the ability on a consistent basis to go through progressions. He showed the tendency to become laser-focused on his number one reads, particularly when Dillon Mitchell was on the team. He also had one of the best offensive lines in the country and struggled against pressure. His decision making in those situations was not great at Oregon.
I know it’s just one game, but he squashed all of my concerns after his performance against the defending champs. The Chiefs brought more than four rushers against Herbert at a higher percentage than they ever did last year, and he handled it all beautifully.
It started early on as the Chargers motioned Ekeler out to the slot and the Chiefs brought six rushers, one too many for the Chargers offensive line. He took a few steps back and threw a dime to Ekeler off his back leg. Showing off both his arm talent and his poise under pressure.
Later on, in the third quarter, the Chiefs again overloaded one side and Daniel Sorensen had a free shot at Herbert. He calmly pump-faked, forcing Sorensen to jump, then took a couple of steps up in the pocket and delivered a strike to Henry for a big gain.
Perhaps his best play of the day came when he had to go through his progressions, stand strong in the pocket and drop a pass right over Tyrann Mathieu’s outstretched hands to Allen.
He showed off all the physical attributes we knew he had, showing off his mobility and rocket arm on numerous occasions. More importantly, he aced nearly every mental test the Chiefs threw at him.
Herbert had a calm and collected demeanor all game long. He did not flinch at the moment at all, and he won a lot of fans over that day. Myself included. As much as I like Taylor and feel for him being in this situation yet again, this needs to be the Herbert show going forward. You absolutely cannot watch the future face of your franchise play like THAT against the defending champs and go back to Taylor. Lynn has done a lot of good things in Los Angeles but this would by far be his greatest mistake, and likely cost him his job.