For television purposes, the Los Angeles Chargers-Miami Dolphins had the promise of a potential shootout with hotshot rookies Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa running their respective teams from the quarterback position. When both players were taken early in the 2020 NFL Draft, it was assumed that Herbert and Tagovailoa would be the franchise QB of each organization.
Both men have achieved that milestone. Tagovailoa was taken with the fifth overall pick by the Dolphins. The Chargers, of course, nabbed Herbert with No. 6 selection. So far, so good for both the Chargers and Miami.
Herbert has already impressed the many eyeballs that have seen him take over the Chargers starting quarterback duties in Week 2. Before he took the field against the Dolphins, Herbert was taking the league by storm by throwing for 2,146 yards and 17 touchdowns in his first seven games as the new leading man for the Chargers.
On a game-by-game basis, Herbert averages 306 yards passing and was selected as the NFL’s Rookie Offensive Player of the Month for October when he recorded a 122.2 passer rating.
The way Herbert has played since he has taken over starting duties, the former Oregon star has minimized the exodus of longtime team signal-caller Philip Rivers and has made clear that he is the present and the future for the Chargers at the quarterback position.
After veteran Tyrod Taylor went down with an accidental injury in the second week of the season before the Chargers played the Kansas City Chiefs, Herbert stepped in and hasn’t looked back. Herbert has been a shining light for the Chargers despite the team coming into Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday with a 2-6 record.
For Tagovailoa, the route to the starting job has been different but he is now entrenched as the Dolphins’ franchise quarterback. Tagovailoa got his opportunity to strut his stuff three games ago. After the Ryan Fitzpatrick experience wound down to a final conclusion, Tagovailoa finally got his opportunity to start. The former University of Alabama star is now 3-0 since starting.
So the opportunity to see two of the top three quarterbacks taken in this year’s draft was a welcome opportunity. The results are mixed. What happened on the football field was two veteran defensive units mixing it up with their play-calling to throw the young quarterbacks off their game. In the end, Tagovailoa did just enough to help Miami (6-3) come away with a 29-21 win.
It was Miami’s fifth win in a row, and the Dolphins avenged a 30-10 defeat to the Chargers last season in their stadium. For the Chargers, Los Angeles didn’t have to wait until the final play of the game to know what their fate would be. After dropping the Jacksonville Jaguars in a Week 7 home win, the Chargers have now lost three games in a row.
“Today, I feel like we got outplayed,” Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said. “We got outplayed in all three phases. I take my hat off to the Dolphins. They did a heck of a job. Just disappointed in special teams and some of the things that went on there. When you go on the road, you can’t give opponents anything. And I feel like we started the game out with the blocked punt and then the offsides [penalty]. That was…not very smart. Put us in a hole off the bat. I thought the guys battled back. I loved when we came out at halftime when we said we needed a stop, we needed to go down the field and run the football and slow their pass rush, and I thought we did those two things. But then we gave up a couple of big plays on defense.”
For the first time since he took over as the Chargers quarterback, Herbert put up pedestrian numbers and was less impressive than he has been. Miami’s defense may have had something to do with this issue. For the game, Herbert completed 20 of 32 passes for just 187 yards. His passer rating hit 86.3 percent. That’s not a good benchmark to aspire to, especially considering the blistering pace that Herbert has been on this season.
One big deal that suffocated Herbert and the Chargers offense from executing the way they would have liked to was the relentless blitz package the Dolphins sent Herbert’s way. Normally, this would not be too much of a problem for Herbert and the Chargers to handle. Against the blitz this season, Herbert has posted the second-best passer-rating for a rookie since 2007 with a 121.3 mark. And coming into this game, Herbert had thrown for 565 yards and seven touchdowns when staring down a blitz scheme.
That didn’t work out too well Sunday for Herbert nor the Chargers.
“That team pressure more than any other team in the National Football League just about and they brought a lot of stuff,” Lynn said. “So it’s only so many things that you can do. They challenged our protection and at times, we did not protect very well. At times, they brought one more than we can block and they played the game with us. They got to us before we got to our guy. That’s the way it went.”
The Chargers are now 2-7 on the season. As a starter, as incredible as he has been in carrying the load of the team, Herbert, fair or unfair, has a running tab of a 1-7 mark as a starter this season. However, all seven of those defeats have been decided by one score. In the team’s last two games, Herbert and the Chargers lost contests to the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders.
Against the Dolphins, Herbert and his offensive buddies struggled to get any type of continuity until the Chargers’ final drive when he connected with Keenan Allen for a 13-yard scoring toss late in the fourth quarter. The one constant for the Chargers was running back Kalen Ballage, whom the team recently signed off the practice squad.
Ballage rushed 18 times for 68 yards to give the Chargers something to build on for future games. But as far as their defeat to the Dolphins, Herbert feels like the team left something out on the field.
“We definitely could have played better,” Herbert said. “We didn’t execute when we needed to and we didn’t put up enough points. It’s something that we have to work on. Definitely underperformed on offense for us.”
Herbert and the Chargers entered their matchup against the Dolphins with the AFC’s top-rated pass offense. That offense, with Allen catching just three passes and Mike Williams hauling in a grand total of two passes, was not able to take off in this game as Miami’s defense thwarted anything the Chargers tried to do.
“We knew the pressure was coming,” said Chargers tight end Hunter Henry. “The moment we were coming in we knew what they were going to hit us [with]. I felt like early on they didn’t bring it. They were really good at mixing some things up, showing some different looks, and then towards the end of the game, obviously, trying to get big stops, they brought some pressure. We weren’t able to execute.”
Editor’s note: Feature image caption: Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Justin Jones (93) attempts to tackle Miami Dolphins running back Malcolm Perry (10) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 15, 2020, in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)