December 3, 2021

Chargers get creative to utilize Justin Herbert’s strengths as a passer

View Original Notice ? Chargers get creative to utilize Justin Herbert’s strengths as a passer

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COSTA MESA — Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi didn’t want to disrupt Justin Herbert’s rhythm because the quarterback was gaining 6 to 7 yards on most of his throws last week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Occasionally, Lombardi gives himself reminders to utilize Herbert’s strong arm with the play calling, but he needed an extra nudge from tight ends coach Kevin Koger to go away from the successful underneath throws in Philadelphia.

With the score tied, 10-10, in the third quarter, Koger told Lombardi it’s time to take a shot downfield. Lombardi then dialed up a play-action throw with wide receiver Mike Williams going deep.

Herbert scrambled to his right to give Williams time to run downfield and unleashed a throw that traveled 60 yards in the air before Wiliams dove to complete the memorable 49-yard play.

The Chargers finished the drive with a touchdown and eventually defeated the Eagles, 27-24, with an efficient performance from Herbert, who completed 32 of 38 passes for 356 yards, two touchdowns and a completion percentage of 84.2.

“I call this play there’s a 90% chance we’re getting six, seven yards and it’s just like an extension of the run game because of the efficiency,” Lombardi said of all of those underneath throws. “That can cause you to kind of play it safe sometimes. … Kevin Koger, our tight ends coach, was like, ‘Hey, I think that one’s here.’ I’ll give him credit for calling that (Herbert’s deep throw).

“When he’s (Herbert) just firing away that efficient it’s hard to (throw deep) because that’s not a high-percentage throw. … Would I rather be second-and-2 here or second-and-10? But you got to force yourself to do it and we did some of that on Sunday.”

It probably didn’t take Koger much to convince Lombardi to call the deep play. Lombardi knows Herbert has one of the strongest arms in the NFL, but it’s rare when a quarterback in his second season is able to complete throws anywhere on the field at a high rate.

“It’s not easy,” Lombardi said of Herbert’s memorable completion to Williams. “You know, not many people can do it, but he can. We just have to continue to expand our imagination and know that those things are possible with this guy. Not every team can have their quarterback do it.

“We just got to keep using that arm as a weapon. He’s so efficient throwing underneath, and you saw it on Sunday where his completion percentage is so high and there’s a comfort level.”

The Chargers’ offensive line made Herbert comfortable by protecting him in the pocket and not allowing a sack against the Eagles.

The Chargers’ coaching staff also made adjustments after Herbert struggled to find his rhythm with poor protection in the back-to-back losses to the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. They incorporated max-protection plays with offensive lineman Senio Kelemete as the extra blocker and had designed boot-action plays to move Herbert in the pocket, as he did on the 49-yard throw to Williams.

These adjustments disrupted the timing of the Eagles’ defensive linemen.

“We felt like that would be a good strategy against that front,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said. “I felt like there were a lot of completion plays within those types of designs and that it would also change the launch point, so that those rushers wouldn’t be able to get into a rhythm. That was a big part of the game plan. I felt like it was a winning edge for us.”

The Chargers executed a game-winning protection plan against the Eagles to utilize Herbert’s many strengths as a passer, but they likely won’t be able to copy that game plan against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.

“Every team presents a different challenge,” Lombardi said. “Sometimes it works out that you’re able to play like that. Other times, it doesn’t. And so it just happened to be one of those Sundays where it worked out according to plan.”


Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list, according to the league’s transactions wire Thursday.

Tranquill tweeted before the season that he was vaccinated, and if that’s the case, he has a chance to play against the Vikings, but Tranquill would need to provide two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart if he’s asymptomatic.

If he is symptomatic, Tranquill would need two consecutive negative tests at least 24 hours apart and not show signs of COVID-19 symptoms for at least 48 hours apart before he can be cleared to play Sunday at SoFi Stadium.


Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa was added to the injury report Thursday with an ankle injury. He was listed as a limited participant at practice.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen returned to practice as a limited participant after missing the prior day with a knee injury.

Safety Nasir Adderley (ankle), cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring) and running back Justin Jackson (quadricep) missed practice for the second consecutive day this week.

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