(News4usonline) – The talent level across the AFC is off the charts and was on full display in the Chargers opening game against Miami. The Chargers are Super Bowl contenders, but their name will only remain in that conversation if Justin Herbert performs at an elite level.
Herbert played elite in Week 3 in a game the Chargers desperately needed to win. Starting the season off at 0-2, the Chargers got a herculean effort from Herbert in their 28-24 win against the Minnesota Vikings. Herbert completed 40 of 47 passes (85.1 percent) for 405 yards and three touchdowns in the victory.
Herbert’s third touchdown of the game (to Joshua Palmer) turned out to be the 100th scoring pass of his NFL career.
Considering the standard he has already set for himself, last year was a down year for the quarterback. Herbert signed a new contract this summer and is entering his fourth season as the franchise QB. Surrounded by some of the best playmakers in the game, it is on Herbert to outpace opposing teams.
“I don’t think anything has changed over the past couple of years. I think we’ve had that emphasis on trying to throw the ball downfield. Injuries and adversity and things happened like that last year, so we didn’t exactly play the way we wanted to play, but going into this year, we know that we’ve got the guys to be able to push the ball downfield and the guys that especially are able to make the plays downfield,” said Herbert.
The 25 touchdown passes Herbert registered in 2022 were somewhat underwhelming after he threw for 38 scores in 2021. He also posted the lowest passer rating of his career (93.2). Most quarterbacks would be satisfied with these numbers, but Herbert is not most quarterbacks.
He did progress in some of the most critical areas with a career-best completion percentage (68.2) and interception rate (1.4), and most importantly, his best record as a starter (10-7).
This will be a bounce-back campaign for Herbert. Injuries were the main reason for his statistical dip. Keenan Allen, who caught 18 passes from Herbert for 215 yards in Week 3 against the Vikings, dealt with a nagging hamstring injury for much of the year. Mike Williams dealt with an ankle sprain that kept him out of four games. Herbert also played through a rib injury that affected his play down the season’s stretch.
The Chargers drafted rookie Quentin Johnson in the first round to add some depth in case they deal with injuries to the wide receiver room again. The addition of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator should also work wonders, as he did for Dak and the Cowboys’ offense.
“(Kellen) has brought a lot to our football team offensively. I think what he has done for Justin is just getting him to play fast, and that sounds so simple, but that is what the best coaches do, and I think that is what the best quarterbacks do,” said head coach Brandon Staley. “If you can get a player like Justin to play fast and free, then I think that you are going to see the production and results that you are looking for.”
Playing fast is easy for Austin Ekeler, who led the team with 164 total yards against the Dolphins. The star running back is in line for another massive year and will serve as Herbert’s super safety valve after catching 107 passes in 2022. Not having Ekeler in the backfield, though, may cause Herbert and the Chargers some discomfort.
Because of an ankle injury, Ekeler sat out games in Week 2 and Week 3. The Chargers lost to the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 and survived beating Minnesota, despite getting just 30 yards rushing. This is a signal that Herbert nor the Chargers can afford to lose Ekeler for too long.
Herbert showed up to camp with confidence and is on a mission to erase the memory of the brutal loss suffered last year to Jacksonville in the playoffs. His veteran receiver has taken notice of the signal caller’s approach.
“He is way more comfortable. He is changing plays at the line of scrimmage, he is putting guys in spots, he is vocal,” said Keenan Allen. “It takes time. You gotta find your way in this league. The more you do it, the more you see, the better you get.”
Now is the time for Justin Herbert to take the leap and establish himself as one of, if not the best, quarterbacks in the league. If he can accomplish this by the regular season’s end, his name will be in the MVP conversation, and the Chargers will be gearing up for a playoff run.
Benjamin Verbrugge is a student at CSU Dominguez Hill studying journalism. “Sports have brought me much joy throughout my life, and I want to be able to give a little back to something that has meant so much to me. I grew up in Los Angeles primarily following the Lakers and Dodgers, but I am also an avid fan of sporting events, news, and stories in general.”