As advanced as Justin Herbert’s play has been so far — he’s seventh in the NFL in passer rating — the Chargers continue to ease the rookie’s transition.
Coach Anthony Lynn explained Monday that veteran Philip Rivers routinely would break the huddle with three possible play calls and then decide on the best one based on what the defense was showing.
The coaching staff hasn’t asked that much of Herbert, who is five games into his career. The Chargers hope he will blossom as their quarterback for years to come.
“You don’t want to put that much on his plate because you want him to go and play and not think so much,” Lynn said. “But as the weeks go on, he will get more of that. … Right now, I think he’s doing fine.”
Herbert is averaging 308 yards passing per game and 8.4 yards per attempt, which is tied for third in the NFL. He has thrown for 12 touchdowns with three interceptions, none in his past two games.
Rivers quarterbacked the Chargers for 14 seasons before parting ways with the team in February. He is now with the Indianapolis Colts and has thrown for five fewer touchdowns with three more interceptions than Herbert.
Herbert’s ability to read defenses and in turn put the offense in the proper play is something that Lynn said develops with experience.
As it relates to the running game, he explained the Chargers have to be more productive with who's available to play. Their attack doesn’t include Austin Ekeler, who remains out with a hamstring strain.
The team has struggled to move the ball on the ground without Ekeler and behind an offensive line that has suffered from injuries and inconsistency.
Herbert was the Chargers’ leading rusher Sunday in a 39-29 victory over Jacksonville. He finished with 66 yards, setting a single-game franchise record at quarterback.
“For a man who is 6-6, he’s very nimble,” Lynn said. “In today’s NFL, with the speed of defenses, that’s pretty important. A guy who can do both, throw from the pocket and extend plays, that’s a pretty unique skill set to me.”
Against the Jaguars, the Chargers tried to ignite the running game by using receiver sweeps, short passes and, on one play, a wildcat formation. Backup quarterback Easton Stick even came in for two snaps in a failed attempt to dupe the defense.
The Chargers play at Denver on Sunday. The Broncos are among the top 10 in the NFL at stopping the run, giving up an average of only 109 yards.
Defense is run down
Defensively, the Chargers dominated Jacksonville early on, not allowing a completed pass or first down until the second quarter.
But then everything collapsed as the Jaguars needed only six plays to go 78 yards to secure their first touchdown. They added a second score 7½ minutes later with an 11-play drive that covered 67 yards.
Running back James Robinson, an undrafted rookie from Illinois State, punished the Chargers for 119 yards in 22 carries. He failed to reach 50 yards in Jacksonville’s previous two games.
“We made that young man look like Earl Campbell at times,” Lynn said. “It’s got to get better. … We weren’t that familiar with that running back, and we underestimated him.”
One of the most glaring mistakes against Robinson came on a nine-yard touchdown reception just before the end of the first half. Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward had an angle on the rookie and intended to push him out of bounds. Robinson instead powered his way just inside the front pylon.
“I missed him on a couple tackles,” Hayward said Monday. “That’s one thing I’ll definitely be cleaning up going forward.”
Hayward, a Pro Bowl selection in 2016 and 2017, also has struggled at times this season in coverage, getting beat deep. The Chargers' defense allowed only one touchdown after halftime, but that one again happened quickly, the Jaguars going 74 yards in six plays.
The drive was aided by a roughing-the-passer penalty on defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and an unnecessary roughness call against linebacker Denzel Perryman, who hit tight end James O’Shaughnessy after he was on the ground.
“Those are calls that are going to be called every single time,” Lynn said. “Jerry Tillery’s penalty was really an aggressive one. Denzel’s was, that was not smart. That was stupid.”
Green is out
The Chargers will be without tight end Virgil Green for the foreseeable future because of an ankle injury suffered Sunday. He was hurt making a 26-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter.
Lynn said Green could be a candidate for the injured reserve list, pending the results of tests. His absence should mean more opportunities for Donald Parham Jr. and Stephen Anderson.
Lynn said the Chargers will not bring in any kickers to try out this week with Michael Badgley struggling. Badgley has missed two extra-point tries and two field-goal attempts over the last two games. … Wide receivers coach Phil McGeoghan remains away from the team as he deals with a family matter.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.