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Justin Herbert Dominates in SNF Win, But Chargers Can't Rely On Greatness

Having a bonafide franchise quarterback is the most valuable asset in the NFL. There are only a handful of them in the league at any time, and seldom does one become available outside of the draft. However, a franchise quarterback can cover up a lot of flaws when it comes to coaching and the other talent available. Look no further than the Los Angeles Chargers, who have a regular-season record of 28-28 during the career of Justin Herbert.

There is no argument that Herbert is one of the NFL's best quarterbacks. Where he ranks among the top quarterbacks can be debated, but he is one of the few elite passers the league has this season. But because Herbert is so good, the Chargers ask a lot of him. Sometimes, too much. 

Because of the mistakes of the front office and the lackluster coaching staff, they need Herbert to be Superman every week. When Herbert is on top of his game, they can compete with any team in the league. But if he doesn't play an A+ game, the Chargers have almost no chance to defeat the NFL's better teams.

By the Numbers

In the three games the Chargers have won this season, Herbert has a passer rating of 115.1 with seven touchdowns and one interception. But in their four losses, he has a passer rating of 90.1 with a six-to-three touchdown to interception ratio. Even in their losses, Herbert has posted very respectable numbers (7.2 yards per passing attempt in losses). But that shows that the Chargers need Herbert to play level every week to have a chance, especially against better teams.

In Week 8, the Chargers faced a lesser team for the first time in several weeks. And to the surprise of no one, Herbert had a lights-out performance in primetime. Herbert finished  31 of 40 for 298 yards and three touchdowns. His passer rating of 122.7 was the second-highest of the season, and for the second time this year, he completed at least 77 percent of his passes. It was arguably his best performance of the season as the Chargers got the win to improve to 3-4. 

One of the reasons why the Chargers had so much success in Week 8 was due to the short passing attack. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, Herbert completed 27 of 30 passes for 222 yards and three TDs on throws fewer than 10 air yards. He only attempted three passes beyond 20 air yards all game, one of which was a completion to Keenan Allen down the sideline.


Replacing the Ground Game

Throwing the ball that close to the line of scrimmage is usually a bad sign for the offense, but Herbert did it so efficiently and at such a high rate that he could keep the offense afloat. The Chargers had no rushing attack against the Chicago Bears, with their running backs averaging just 2.2 yards per carry (24 carries for 53 yards from Austin Ekeler, Joshua Kelley and Isaiah Spiller).

In many ways, the Chargers asked Herbert to replace their lack of a rushing attack by throwing several short passes. And it worked. 

While a lot of the throws and completions weren’t difficult passes, it puts a lot of stress on the quarterback to make sure that he doesn’t make one poor throw or read. When a quarterback has to shoulder that much of the load on offense, he is prone to making one or two mistakes. But that didn’t happen to Herbert against the Bears. He accounted for nearly 85 percent of their total offense on Sunday, which is an enormous amount for any quarterback. And he did so without turning the ball over once.

The Road Ahead

Sitting at 3-4, the Chargers are still in the hunt in the AFC. They have a pivotal matchup against the New York Jets in Week 9 on Monday Night Football that might decide their fate. But here is what we know about the Chargers. As long as Herbert can stay healthy and play well, the Chargers will have a shot. He's the type of quarterback who can put a team on his back and win against any opponent.

But if the Chargers want to become genuine, legit contenders in the AFC, they must find ways to win when Hebert isn’t playing like Superman. That’s the difference between them and some of the other top teams in the conference right now. Herbert has covered up so many holes on the roster for years that it’s been detrimental to their long-term outlook. In many ways, Herbert has been too good for the Chargers. They've got to start getting him more help to close the gap between them and the other elite teams in the conference.

Marcus Mosher is an NFL writer with a decade of experience in podcasting and writing for various NFL websites, including Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and The Athletic. He’s currently a managing editor at USA Today Sports Media Group and host of the Locked On Cowboys Podcast. Marcus has been working full-time covering the NFL since 2015 and works as a betting expert for You can follow him at @Marcus_Mosher.