Like the rest of the world, the NFL is evolving. There is no other place on the football field that epitomizes change than at the quarterback position.
The Los Angeles Chargers moved in that direction when they replaced Philip Rivers by hanging on to veteran signal-caller Tyrod Taylor and later drafting the team’s current starting quarterback Justin Herbert.
Taylor is now with the Houston Texans. Herbert, a more refined and more athletic version of Rivers, is now anchored as the Chargers franchise quarterback. Herbert, like all other quarterbacks in the NFL, makes his living slinging the football all over the field.
The Chargers’ 27-24 road win against the Philadelphia Eagles is a prime example of Herbert flinging the ball everywhere. For the game, Herbert completed 84 percent of his passes after making a connection on 32 of 38 passes for 356 yards and two touchdowns to give Los Angeles its first victory after two straight defeats.
Herbert was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his stellar performance against the Eagles.
“I think you hit it. 32-for-38 in a pro game – that’s really, really good,” Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said after the game.“ But what I liked about it is we got to the deep part of the field today and we were able to access all parts of the field in a lot of different ways. That’s what you have to do against a good defense and that [Eagles defensive] front is really, really good.”
“I felt like Justin was patient today,” Staley added. “I felt like he was extremely accurate. I thought he played with really good timing. The last two games, not his best stuff from a timing perspective. Today, really good timing and our offensive line had a lot to do with that. Justin was outstanding in the game today.”
Herbert also scooted for a touchdown as well. Running the football is a dimension that Rivers and a whole lot of quarterbacks in that era simply had no wish to do or could not do. That’s not the case today. Just look around the league.
Outside of a handful of outliers, including Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady and Pittsburgh Steelers longtime passer Ben Roethlisberger, the NFL has gradually become a league where if you operate under center, you had better have some wheels underneath you.
Most, if not all of the top quarterbacks in the league can tuck the ball and run with fluidity. With mixed results, Staley and the Chargers have had to face some of these dual-threat quarterbacks. In case you’re not sure what dual-threat means, it alludes to the fact that a quarterback can beat you with his passing arm as well as with his feet.
In the Chargers’ first eight games of the 2021 NFL season, Staley and his team encountered six starting quarterbacks with the mobile byline next to their names. Those names are pretty familiar.
Dallas Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys, Patrick Mahomes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Derek Carr of the Oakland Raiders, Baker Mayfield of the Cleveland Browns, Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens, and Jalen Hurts of the Philadelphia Eagles, can all bring trepidation to a defense because of their ability to run and throw.
The day after surviving the Jalen Hurts show, Staley talked at length about what it means to go up and try to strategize against a player like the Eagles’ second-year quarterback. Hurts threw for 162 yards but also ran for additional 62 yards during the game.
Hurts’ numbers running the football does not exactly tell the whole story of his ability to get out of trouble from being potentially sacked to escaping the pocket and scrambling for first downs.
“Because I coach that position and I know that it’s not an easy job, especially against someone that’s as talented as Jalen [Hurts], you don’t have a true sense of how deep that he bails to the right until you’re out there,” Staley said. “It’s very difficult to simulate in practice. That’s a tough lesson that we had to learn yesterday. I’m glad that we learned it.”
Staley would go on to say that the days of the immobile quarterback are part of a bygone era.
“You guys know the mobility that’s out there in the NFL. Those days of the quarterback being [in] one spot, it’s over,” Staley remarked. “That’s long gone. That’s why it’s incumbent upon you that your edges are secure, not only in the pass rush, but then in the read game, because it’s just a big part of the game. You can’t just pin your ears back anymore and play against some of these premium quarterbacks; Jalen Hurts, [Cardinals QB] Kyler Murray, [Seahawks QB] Russell Wilson, [Texans QB] Deshaun Watson, [Bills QB] Josh Allen, [Ravens QB] Lamar Jackson, Justin Herbert — you just keep going.”
Staley continued, “You’re like, ‘Well, this is here to stay.’ This is where the game is. We have to thrive when playing against a guy like that because we’re going to play people like that moving forward. I do think that there are some good lessons there to learn. Yeah, I feel like a couple of those calls could have helped us, too. We also have to know who we are playing against. We’re not going to use the officials as an excuse for anything.”
To play against the Chargers, it should not be out of the realm for defenses to gameplan for Staley’s flamethrower. On the season, Herbert has completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,350 yards and 18 touchdowns against six interceptions.
The ability of the former Oregon Ducks star to take off and run, though, makes him equally dangerous to an opponent. So, when it comes to dialing up the right play for Herbert to execute, everything is on the table.
“What we’re trying to do is take full advantage of his gifts,” Staley said. “And I think when you can access places on the field that some can’t, you have to do that, you have to explore that. It opens up so much more for your offense and it really changes the way defenses play you and assess you. Justin’s strength is his arm and accuracy in the deep part of the field.”
The story about Herbert is about his rifle arm and the pinpoint accuracy with which he throws the ball. However, when Staley talks about taking advantage of using Herbert’s gifts, he’s talking about the complete makeup of his star quarterback. That includes rolling Herbert out of the pocket at times and or calling for a quarterback sneak.
You can’t make those plays unless you have a player who can do those things and do them well enough to keep defenders at bay. Being mobile as a quarterback used to be a novelty in the NFL, something you would see pop up now and then with the likes of Kordell Stewart, Steve McNair, Daunte Culpepper, John Elway, Steve Grogan, and Michael Vick and Randall Cunningham flexing their two-way abilities.
Being mobile used to be an exception. It is almost a requirement for NFL quarterbacks today.
“It’s premium because you can’t have 280-pound guys on the edge anymore because they can’t catch these guys,” Staley said. “That’s just the reality, those days are over. Whether the quarterback is in one spot, and you can’t have those big defensive ends because those guys can’t grab the flags off these quarterbacks now. You have to have people that can play on their feet at the edge now because of the mobility of the quarterbacks and the passing game.”
Staley added, “In the quarterback read game, you have to play on your feet and key diagnose. There is a bunch of stuff going on with guys coming back at your knees, arc, bluffs — you have to manage a lot more on the edge than ever before. Athleticism is at a premium, and so is length. Because that’s how you cut the field with guys who are long, arm length, and guys that are athletic on the edge that is where the game is. That’s going to be something for the modern NFL, that’s just what it is. You have to respond to what you are defending and who you are defending. That’s just part of the game.”
Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Chargers head coach Brandon Staley pacing the sidelines during his team’s 47-42 win against the Cleveland Browns at SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 10, 2021. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline