The Chargers beat the Browns on Sunday in an old-fashioned 47-42 shootout. The performance we saw from Justin Herbert is what you get when you surround a smart and supremely talented quarterback with weapons, a solid offensive line, and a great approach.
L.A. knows that if Herbert has time to throw, he will pick apart any secondary. That means the priority, especially against great pass rushing teams, has to be protection.
The Browns fit the bill as a great pass-rushing team. They entered Week 5 ranked 2nd in the NFL in sacks and 4th in pressure percentage. To neutralize Myles Garrett and company, Chargers Offensive Coordinator Joe Lombardi utilized a number of tactics.
He used screens to keep the defensive line guessing and off balance:
He used play-action to freeze pass rushers and manipulate defenders in coverage:
On the second play above, notice how the movement of Herbert and his two underneath routes to the right got the deep safety to continue drifting to the right as well. That’s where he anticipated the throw would go.
You don’t see many offenses call for designed throwbacks 45 yards downfield, which is one of the reasons why that safety wasn’t concerned about anything other than a throw toward the right sideline. That’s what defenders generally see on roll-out passes. But that’s what Justin Herbert does to defenses. He makes them have to account for all areas of the field. When they don’t, big plays happen.
Another tactic Lombardi used to slow Cleveland’s pass rush and help enable some of Herbert’s biggest plays was using backs and tight ends to chip Myles Garrett (#95):
Justin Herbert’s ability to get the ball out quickly, decisively, and accurately on short-to-intermediate passes also played a role in preventing Cleveland’s pass rush from being a factor:
These throws might seem nondescript, yet they’re the critical drive-sustaining plays that take place between the highlights. This is an encouraging aspect of Hebert’s game and an area where he is already ahead of other great young quarterbacks like Patrick Mahomes and Josh Allen.
And just like those quarterbacks, Herbert has some special play-making ability. When the Browns were able to get some pressure on him, not only was he able to escape, but he was also able to turn broken plays into successful ones:
Herbert is extremely athletic. You sometimes forget that he’s 6’6″. And when he escapes pressure, he doesn’t always just take off and look to run. Instead, he often moves with the intention of throwing, making him even more difficult to defend outside the pocket. Herbert made several ridiculous throws on the run on Sunday:
The Browns were able to get 2 sacks on the day, but they weren’t able to disrupt the Chargers’ passing game. Herbert finished with 398 yards through the air and 5 Touchdowns (4 passing, 1 rushing).
If you weren’t already aware after reading my Herbert breakdown last offseason, he is quickly on his way to becoming the NFL’s next star quarterback.