What If Justin Herbert Isn't All That Great?
NFL Week 14 - Justin Herbert has the traits of an outstanding quarterback. Justin Herbert may be developing into an outstanding quarterback. But Justin Herbert is not yet an outstanding quarterback.
That's the mantra I have been using to maintain my sanity throughout a 2022 NFL quarterback conversation gone cuckoo-vanilla bananapants. It's called the Justin Herbert Doxology. It's a reminder that there's a difference between being predictive when evaluating players/teams and placing the cart 500 light years ahead of the horse.
Herbert may or may not have "arrived." I have no idea what "arriving" means, just as I had no idea what "elite" meant a decade ago. He's very good. No one with an opinion of merit claims otherwise. But he's the third-best quarterback in his own draft class, and it's hard to craft a serious argument to the contrary.
Still, the football world reacts to his every highlight as if they just heard angelic trumpets. It's hard to remember a quarterback who has received so much credit for accomplishing so little.
With Sunday night's Herbert-vs.-Tua Takeageddon looming, it's time to place some guardrails on the Justin Herbert conversation by setting some realistic goals for the Chosen One who has yet to achieve any.
Justin Herbert vs. the Raiders vs. Perceptions
Wins are not a quarterback stat. But neither are viral videos.
Justin Herbert leads the NFL in splooshy highlights and Twitter fawning, and it's not close. Week 13 provided a fine example. On an afternoon when Joe Burrow led a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the Chiefs and Jalen Hurts threw for 380 yards and three touchdowns in a blowout victory over a perennial playoff team, Twitter held a Herbert Rally to celebrate the Chargers' only offensive touchdown in their loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
on fourth down.... @Keenan13Allen | @NFLonCBS pic.twitter.com/LjM9liyqOH
— Los Angeles Chargers (@chargers) December 5, 2022
That's from the official account. Other fans/outlets/colleagues stopped just short of offering their first-born to the quarterback who courageously kept things close against the 31st-ranked pass defense. Throughout the night, everyone on my timeline lined up to pay homage.
It was, of course, a spectacular throw. Imagine if Herbert had played well all game: perhaps it might have mattered!
Herbert's Lone Highlight occurred on fourth-and-12 in the middle of the fourth quarter with the Chargers trailing by two scores. It was fourth down because Herbert tossed a flat pass to tight end Stone Smartt for a loss of 2 on first down, couldn't connect with Keenan Allen with a defender in his face on second down, and saw his third-and-12 pass swatted down easily by Chandler Jones, who dropped into coverage.
The Chargers trailed by two scores because, let's see…
- Herbert is stripped by Maxx Crosby on his first dropback of the game but recovers the fumble. The Chargers appear to go three-and-out but convert on a fake punt. They run three more plays before punting.
- The Chargers get the ball at the Raiders 17-yard line after a fumble but cannot pick up a first down. Herbert fails to connect with Austin Ekeler (fine pass, blanketed receiver) in the end zone after scrambling on third-and-2 and gets tripped up while trying to escape the pocket on fourth-and-2. Fortunately, the Raiders throw a pick-six almost immediately to give the Chargers a 7-0 lead.
- Herbert takes a sack at the end of the next series, forcing the Chargers to settle for a field goal. At this point, the Raiders have turned the ball over twice deep in their own territory, but the Chargers lead just 10-0.
- The Raiders drive 75 yards for a touchdown. The Chargers go three-and-out with another sack.
- Both teams trade field goals before halftime.
- Ekeler fumbles to start the third quarter. The Raiders answer with a quick touchdown. They suddenly lead 17-13.
- A fitful Chargers drive stalls at the 34-yard line, resulting in a missed field goal.
- The Raiders score another touchdown. The Chargers execute four plays (one more sack) before punting. The Raiders munch eight minutes and 40 seconds on a field-goal drive to take a 27-13 lead at the start of the fourth quarter. The Chargers grind away six minutes slowly mounting a drive that leaves them trying to convert fourth-and-12.
We have reached the Lone Highlight, which indeed gets the Chargers back into the game. Time for the great young quarterback to lead a fourth-quarter comeback, right?
The Chargers defense gets a stop. Herbert gets the ball back with 5:12 to play. The Chargers are playing hard, with Ekeler and Gerald Everett fighting for extra yards. But a first-down run by Ekeler from the Raiders 43-yard line goes nowhere, and a screen to Ekeler nets just 2 yards.
Allen stumbles running a sluggo route on third-and-9. There appears to be significant contact from the defender, but no flag. On fourth-and-9, Herbert leads DeAndre Carter a yard out of bounds on a go route up the right sideline.
That's all, folks, except for some tomfoolery in the final seconds. Herbert finished with 335 yards but 19 incompletions and five sacks. It was, charitably, a non-noteworthy game. DYAR preferred Tyler Huntley and Russell Wilson in Week 13, among many others:
Top QBs of Week 13 by DYAR 🎯 pic.twitter.com/3aFY2QAssr
— Football Outsiders (@fboutsiders) December 6, 2022
Sunday's loss was not unusual for Herbert and the Chargers. In fact, it was typical. Their loss to the 49ers was similar, as were victories over the Falcons and Cardinals, a pair of weak opponents who kept graciously giving the ball back to the Chargers until they got around to engineering late-game comebacks in low-scoring victories.
The Chargers passing offense has registered negative DVOA five times and single-digit positive DVOA three other times this season. The Chargers passing game's three big positive performances came against the Browns, Raiders (first meeting), and Texans.
Now, the Chargers offensive line is undeniably a mess. Someone named Foster Sarell is starting at right tackle, and he makes Storm Norton look like Lane Johnson. Rookie Jamaree Salyer filled in admirably for Rashawn Slater earlier in the season, but opponents now have a book on him. And the fact that Herbert is targeting people such as Stone Smartt and DeAndre Carter is a reminder of how thin the Chargers are at the skill positions.
Herbert is in a challenging offensive environment. But does that mean that he deserves hosannas just for showing up?
Every quarterback has dud games. Herbert is unique because random highlights are cherry-picked from his dud games for OMG THIS MAN IS AN UNSTOPPABLE CYBORG viral videos, while all criticism is deflected or scoffed at. That's common for young prospects, and there's some merit to using, say, Justin Fields' highlights to support an argument that he could turn into a viable franchise cornerstone given better receivers. Herbert is a third-year starter for a team that entered the season with some Super Bowl buzz, and his isolated highlights are used by some to place him on a bronze medal platform beside Josh Allen and Patrick Mahomes.
Sorry, Herbert Nation: Walkthrough knows groupthink when we see it. And we're not going to wait for the end of the Sunday's takeocalypse to call it out.
Justin Herbert vs. DVOA
Neither wins nor Twittergasms are quarterback stats, but DVOA and DYAR are.
Herbert ranks 20th in DYAR and 21st in DVOA. He's in a neighborhood with freshly benched Marcus Mariota, Daniel Jones, and Andy Dalton, three other quarterbacks with shaky offensive lines and limited firepower.
Herbert is better than Mariota, Jones, or Dalton. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. But the grouping is revelatory. If Herbert is performing at a similar level to those quarterbacks under comparable circumstances, what's the justification for moving him 10 or 15 full rungs up the ladder? Highlights? Traits? Priors? Vibes?
DYAR also tells us that Herbert had the third-greatest early career of any quarterback in the last 40 years. The preseason Herbert hype was justified. So is the hope for a long, productive future: Herbert's 2020/2021 placed him on a list among Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Dak Prescott, and others. But neither the encouraging past nor promising future justifies rewriting the present.
There's a chance that Herbert is regressing, or at least stagnating: defensive pressure may be leading to suspect decisions, or his high success rate on "hero balls" is causing him to overlook some easy opportunities.
At the very least, it should be impossible to assert that Herbert is improving or progressing in the way Burrow, Hurts, and Tagovailoa have in their third seasons.
Ah, but have we considered the receivers, the scheme, the offensive line, the economy, and all the other factors holding Herbert back?
That's the very problem: if Herbert is holding the ball too long, selecting the wrong target, or making other tiny errors that could lead to bigger problems down the road, those errors will be blamed on every other factor but Herbert.
Quality quarterbacks are often pulled down by their circumstances. Outstanding quarterbacks overcome them; that's pretty much the definition of an outstanding quarterback. Right now, which kind—quality or outstanding—is Justin Herbert supposed to be?
Justin Herbert vs. the Ghosts of Quarterbacks Past
Remember when Baker Mayfield's only issue was a bum shoulder? Or was it a lack of weapons? Or a bad system? Baker Boosters, many of whom had plenty of GIFs and diagrams to back up their assertions, kept making excuses for Mayfield until he found himself on the waiver wire this week.
Remember when offensive genius Joe Brady was going to UNLOCK Sam Darnold's potential? Well-informed experts believed that would happen. Folks also insisted Brady was freakin' Einstein for designing game plans for Joe Burrow, Ja'Marr Chase, and Justin Jefferson that could rock Mississippi State, but I digress.
Remember when Carson Wentz was still a great quarterback in 2019, but his receivers were just terrible? Remember when Mac Jones was basically Tom Brady Jr.?
I'm old. I remember when Mark Sanchez was The Sanchize. I was still hearing about Sam Bradford's 2008 college scouting report in 2016. I remember the Dolphins swapping out everything in an effort to make Ryan Tannehill more than, well, Ryan Tannehill. I remember Vince Young's rise, fall, rise, and fall. Much of it all was documented here at Walkthrough, sometimes with detailed stats and diagrams. I was on both the right and wrong sides of debates.
Herbert is better than all of the quarterbacks just mentioned; DYAR made that clear in 2020/2021. But the "argument from absence" surrounding Herbert is all-too familiar after nearly 20 years in the take-mines. Tools-'n'-traits-based Herbert arguments have started to sound so much like mid-career Bradford and early (ultra-toolsy) Tannehill arguments that it leaves me wanting to scream "SHOW ME SOME ACTUAL RESULTS!"
The Chargers might not yet be a playoff team in Herbert's third season? Fine.
They at least have some signature wins, right? Oh, they beat the Chiefs once last September, and the 2021 Bengals before they got hot? That's not … nothing, I suppose.
But Herbert is taking care of business against weaker opponents, right? Oh, the Chargers lost 38-10 to the Jaguars a few months ago, with two Herbert turnovers. Well, he was playing hurt in that game, so it doesn't count. Everything must be perfect for it to count. And there was last week's Raiders game. And so on.
At least the Chargers are scoring lots of points. Oh, they are 14th in points per game in 2022? And 13th in yards per game? And 21st in yards per passing play? Damn that Joe Lombardi.
Still, the tape clearly shows that Herbert is better than his 2022 stats; I'm not some box-score scout or QB Winz philistine. Herbert deserves mention among the top 10 or 15 quarterbacks in the league. What? That's not enough? You want to place him above Burrow and Hurts, who are actually winning games and have led their team to the playoffs? You want to have Herbert-Mahomes debates?
Justin Herbert has the traits of an outstanding quarterback. Justin Herbert may be developing into an outstanding quarterback. Yet Justin Herbert is not yet an outstanding quarterback.
Justin Herbert vs. the Nature of the Business
Everyone in the sports media industry strives to be predictive. Fantasy gamers and gamblers want next week's winners and scorers. Editors insist on spinning everything forward. If you're writing about last Sunday for Friday (as I just did a few segments ago), you are doing it wrong. Yesterday doesn't click. Tomorrow does.
Everyone in our industry also strives to be bold, from the shoutiest talk show personality to the most methodical tape-grinder. "Maybe" doesn't get likes or shares.
Walkthrough likes to pretend to be above the fray, but I will prematurely bury Derrick Henry or Dan Campbell with the best of 'em. I wrote about Herbert in June purposely to be ahead of the conversation. I color within the lines of good taste and common sense, but sober and detailed reflections on the 1977 Houston Oilers or the Jaguars linebacker rotation don't really pay the bills.
So I get it. Sometimes, I feel the urge to type "He's the GOAT" atop a random highlight just to feel alive. Cheerleading for Herbert is a solid business model. He's still enough of an "up and comer" to drive engagement in a way Mahomes no longer does. But Herbert is in danger of getting trapped in perma-prospect puberty, and the cheerleading is starting to sound a little self-conscious and shrill.
In one sense, Justin Herbert is simply the subject of another runaway quarterback narrative. But he's also a unifying figure for stat nerds, film hipsters, thirst-Tweeters, draft geeks, anti-establishment doomers (never forget: Herbert was supposed to be "soft" coming out of Oregon), and anyone who doesn't want to be lumped among those who don't get it. They all think he's a righteous dude. Those disparate groups form the ultimate echo chamber, and gushing praise for Herbert becomes the secret handshake that everyone knows.
No one wants to stand up and say "Even accounting for all the offensive line and receiver injuries, Justin Herbert has been a little disappointing this season."
There, I just did. That wasn't so hard.
Justin Herbert vs. Reasonable Expectations
Sunday night will be excruciating on the socials. You are invited to hang out at the Football Outsiders Discord, where the conversation may still be painful, but in more of a "cousins arguing at Thanksgiving" way than a "weirdos shrieking to the mountaintops for four endless hours" way.
My guess is that Tagovailoa will mix a few big plays with lots of stalled drives because his offensive tackles are hurt, Herbert will do roughly the same thing for the same reasons. One of them will be treated like the Last Son of Krypton and the other like a toddler in a Gundam suit.
For the record: I think Herbert is a better quarterback than Tagovailoa right now. Little can happen on Sunday night which will change my mind or any other. I'm too old to get sucked into a manufactured conversation without getting paid extra for it.
But that just begs the question: what standards ARE we measuring Herbert against? There has to be some objective criteria for evaluating him. And Walkthrough is here to establish some guardrails.
- The Chargers face the Titans, Colts, Rams, and Broncos down the stretch. They need to win three of those games. They also need to claim a wild-card berth. Herbert would have led the Chargers to the playoffs but the Mike White Jets got TOO DARN HOT? Don't wanna here it.
- Herbert also needs to climb into the top 15 in DVOA and DYAR by season's end. He cannot stay on the Mariota/Dalton scrap heap. Both DVOA and DYAR are important because we need evidence from DVOA that Herbert is "above average" and from DYAR that his bulk production over a full year was worth more than two-thirds of a season from Jimmy Garoppolo or Jacoby Brissett.
If both of those things happen—a wild-card berth and a top-15 DVOA/DYAR finish—Walkthrough will drop the whole Twitter Teflon and Prince of Zero Expectations routine. Those are not huge lifts, even accounting for an offensive line full of rookies and randos.
As for "top 10" or "top five" quarterback status, Herbert needs to do a little more, especially in a season when Burrow and Hurts are outclassing him in every measurable way. Win a playoff game, surge back into the DVOA top 10, and we'll talk about glorious traits and miraculous throws. Until then: impressive young quarterback, need to see more results and fewer excuses.
And if Herbert fails to meet those meager milestones? The Chargers offensive line will be blamed. Joe Lombardi's head will be called for. A million mock drafts sending Jordan Addison to the Chargers will be posted. But perhaps the Herbert Hive will rediscover healthy skepticism. Three years is an awful long time to wait for a playoff appearance. The Next Big Thing should really produce better metrics than Andy Dalton. Perhaps Herbert was crowned a tad too swiftly, and his future is a little cloudier than we once thought.
Let's talk about one more quarterback of the "past" before we wrap: Matthew Stafford.
Stafford's first two seasons were marred by injuries, so he's not a typical comp for Herbert. He threw 41 touchdown passes for a 10-win Lions team in his third season, however, so he belatedly earned some Next Big Thing buzz. Young Stafford was as toolsy as Home Depot, and he had Calvin Johnson to throw to, yet he spent a decade accumulating stats, splashing mega-highlights, and only occasionally leading his team to the playoffs.
Stafford led the Rams to the Super Bowl last year, of course, but it takes some enthusiastic retrofitting to suggest he was anything more than a second-quartile quarterback for the entire decade before that. Before you blame the Lions for being the Lions, take a long look at their rosters from 2011 to about 2015: a capital-g Great quarterback would have led that team much further.
I am certain Herbert is better than all of the failed prospects cited earlier in this piece. I am not at all certain that he is better than the young Stafford.
And if the rest of the Internet plans to spend the next decade explaining how the Chargers just never quite surrounded Herbert with the perfect supporting cast needed to get past the wild-card round, then saying "I told you so" on whatever replaces Twitter when he has a great year in 2034: have fun with that! I'll be focused on the quarterbacks who do stuff.
85 comments, Last at 13 Dec 2022, 6:55pm
#1 by Mike B. In Va // Dec 09, 2022 - 10:26am
Reminder: Mahomes is an anomaly not just because of his success, but because he landed in the right place, with someone that could use his abilities. Lamar Jackson won an MVP with a good team around him that's slowly been rotting away, effecting his performance. Allen landed on a good team, but the road was longer. Tua was a bust until this year. Herbert hasn't been a massive disappointment this year, but he hasn't wowed anyone, either - and the team around him has been, ahem, a bit below playoff-caliber.
#5 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 09, 2022 - 10:42am
This was Herbert's MO in college, too.
He was crazy-talented, but never really seemed to progress and the offense he was on always seemed to underperform their level of talent. Which basically defines the Chargers.
#10 by Joey-Harringto… // Dec 09, 2022 - 11:56am
Not unjustified. Probably less of a takedown of Herbert, and more of a takedown of some of the film guys who think everyone else are idiots for disagreeing with them and not seeing their favorite quarterback's secret greatness (looking at you Steven Ruiz). It gets a little tiresome sometimes, so I enjoyed this piece.
This site used to employ Cian Fahey, and I used to roll my eyes at him constantly putting out articles and film study pieces about how Sam Bradford is secretly great (despite constantly showing up in the bottom third of DYAR tables), and just needs to go to the right team.
For the record, I actually like Herbert, and think he's just having down year. And Joe Lombardi really does suck.
#77 by Jimmy // Dec 10, 2022 - 3:00pm
The crazy thing about Bradford is that the utter lack of ability to stay healthy was there as clear as daylight from his college days. He literally got injured enough to miss the rest of his season on his last two college plays. It was lunacy that he went number one.
#4 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 09, 2022 - 10:39am
It was, of course, a spectacular throw. Imagine if Herbert had played well all game: perhaps it might have mattered!
It reminds me of the play-in game last year against the Raiders. Everyone fawned over his 4th-down conversions, but conveniently ignored that he had just gone 0-3 on 1st-3rd downs.
#6 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 09, 2022 - 10:54am
Quality quarterbacks are often pulled down by their circumstances. Outstanding quarterbacks overcome them; that's pretty much the definition of an outstanding quarterback.
It would be interesting to attempt to quantity this sometime in the future.
We kind of see it this year with Rodgers, but it's hard to separate what's surrounding context and what's just Father Time showing up uninvited.
But it would be interesting to consider how guys we think of as Outstanding have handled bare-cupboard casts and how they handled it. As well as consider guys who were always escorted down only the cakiest of walks.
#11 by Noahrk // Dec 09, 2022 - 11:58am
The difference between Brady in his last year in New England and his first two in Tampa (and now this year) is one the most memorable things I've seen, as far as the way I look at QBs. We've all seen the games where the great ones struggle against great defense (pressure in particular). Well, what if the whole season was like that? What if a whole stretch of seasons were like that?
#12 by serutan // Dec 09, 2022 - 12:05pm
It would be interesting to attempt to quantity this sometime in the future.
I don't pretend this is quantifying, but I can think of an example that would make investigation worthwhile: the 2010 vs. 2011 Colts. The only real difference between a 10-6 team and a 2-14 team was that Manning was QB in 2010 and not in 2011.
#17 by Pat // Dec 09, 2022 - 12:20pm
It would be interesting to attempt to quantity this sometime in the future.
I don't think you can, because I don't think it's static. I don't think Patrick Mahomes could've handled losing Tyreek Hill for an entire season early in his career (yes, I know he did fantastic in the few games Hill missed while he was in KC, defenses take time). And I definitely don't think Jalen Hurts could handle losing AJ Brown or the OL he has right now, for instance.
I think what happens is that the best QBs are in fortunate situations early on, and they learn enough and have seen enough that they can adapt later in their careers. And then additionally I don't even think those "bad circumstances" problems are static - obviously, Tom Brady and the Receivers from Hell year ended with him doing great, but it's absolutely undeniable that having bad receivers pulled even Brady's performance way the hell down.
Said another way: I think the problem with Herbert here is that we're seeing him too early in his career to figure out how to deal with these issues. I think later in his career he would've struggled and been up and down, but finished the season much better than he is now.
#48 by Pat // Dec 09, 2022 - 3:27pm
The "Brady and the Receivers from Hell" comment was referring to 2013, when Brady finished 6th in DYAR and the Patriots went to the conference championship. That's... not really something I need to make excuses for.
I should've also clarified that I'm not saying Herbert would have necessarily worked his way through issues later in his career. I'm just saying that I think most QBs we think of as top tier would've had the same issues at this point in their career.
The difference is that Herbert got anointed "Next QB God" way too early, which is what I think everyone else is saying too. I don't think any quarterback this early in their career would be great in that situation.
#7 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 09, 2022 - 10:58am
Remember when Carson Wentz was still a great quarterback in 2019, but his receivers were just terrible?
I know you hate Wentz, but I think that was mostly true in 2019. His line was a shambles and his best receiver was a QB.
2020 Wentz had no excuses, though. He was seeing ghosts.
where the conversation may still be painful, but in more of a "cousins arguing at Thanksgiving" way than a "weirdos shrieking to the mountaintops for four endless hours" way.
You say that like those have to be different things.
and the other like a toddler in a Gundam suit
That's not going to end well.
Before you blame the Lions for being the Lions, take a long look at their rosters from 2011 to about 2015: a capital-g Great quarterback would have led that team much further.
I don't think Lions fans believe that. The only year in that stretch that was really disappointing was 2014 -- that Dallas game sticks in my craw. But not because Stafford didn't pull it out; because he did, but the same ref who had spent that week partying with Stephen Jones suddenly overturned a late 4th-quarter DPI that they had already marked off. That would have all but iced the game.
Those 2012-2013 teams were Stafford and Johnson and nothing else. (No, seriously. Brandon Pettigrew was their next best player. Brandon Pettigrew was Ebron before Ebron.) In 2011, they ran into Brees and the greatest playoff game ever. The Saints never punted. The Lions scored TDs on three of their first five drives and were down 10 in the 4th! Stafford had a huge game, but it didn't matter because the defense stopped playing after the 1st quarter.
Honestly, those years were a lot like this year's Rams -- you have three linemen who have ever played the position before and a really good WR1, and absolutely nothing else. If your defense gels and stays healthy, you might go 9-7 and make the 6-seed.
#16 by Pat // Dec 09, 2022 - 12:12pm
You're misremembering '19. Philly's line was fine in '19. Kelce, Seumalo, Brooks, all played ~90%+ snaps and only Peters missed a few games. The WR injuries were the only problem then - which obviously makes sense because it's not like Wentz was bad in '19: 0% DVOA throwing to guys off the street (and not the same guys off the street) is a totally solid year.
'20 is when Philly's line cratered into oblivion, so the whole "Wentz had no excuses in '20" is wrong. They went into the year thin hoping to skate through, then lost every single lineman except Jason Kelce and managed to earn Matt Pryor a $6M contract from the Colts (you're welcome, Indy!).
#23 by Pat // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:10pm
'18 was the year of defensive back hell. That's the year where only 1 DB on the team (Jenkins) made it through the year and Philly was literally starting guys off the street. OL was mostly fine in '18 too.
Three years, each with one position decimated so far down to eliminate the depth chart entirely. '18: DBs (playoffs), '19: WRs (playoffs), '20: OL (disaster, coach fired, QB career destroyed...). Draw your own conclusions.
#27 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:36pm
Yeah, no, that's wrong. Philly's line was fine in '20. Not great, not atrocious. Perfectly fine. Ranked 11th in Pass Block Win Rate. PFF had them 19th. Yeah FO has them 31st by adjusted sack rate. But I'm not sold that's all on the line. Wentz is responsible for a lot of sacks even with a top-5 O-Line.
As far as thin at line. No that's also wrong. They had some combination of Kelce, Peters, Johnson, Seumalo, Mailata, Herbig, Pryor, Driscoll, and Opeta in any given game. Of those, I think maybe only Pryor is below replacement level. But even that I'm not so sure of - he did great in 2021 with the Colts. Herbig is now a starter on the Jets and killing it. Mailata has blossomed into an Top-10 if not top-5 tackle. Seumalo is in the same tier at guard.
They had a lot of injuries yes, but they also have a secret weapon in Jeff Stoutland. He's the best offensive line coach in the league. The Eagles back-ups at OL consistently perform like starters.
#32 by Pat // Dec 09, 2022 - 2:00pm
19th for Philly on the year is atrocious. That's an average. They shuffled constantly the entire year. They had a few games that worked well, and games that were god-awful trash. But they were not anywhere near what they were in the bookending years.
PFF's metric there is also a bit more descriptive because PBWR is a really static metric. PBWR really has trouble distinguishing between scheme benefits and player ability (see: New England Patriots, Las Vegas Raiders defensive lines). If the line coordination is totally borked so 1 guy blows a block completely (because it's set up wrong) it's a horrendous sack but 4/5ths of the line won.
As far as thin at line. No that's also wrong.
I said they went into the season thin. They didn't even have Peters at the beginning of the season, Mailata was still not ready (so he was an empty roster spot), Driscoll and Opeta were rookies, and Herbig was only a year 2 player. They went into the season with a planned Dillard, Seumalo, Kelce, Brooks, Johnson plus "prospects." That's a thin line, and then Brooks and Dillard were lost for the year.
You're retroactively saying guys like Opeta, Driscoll, Mailata, etc. are above-replacement because of what they've developed into. They hadn't developed yet.
The Eagles back-ups at OL consistently perform like starters.
They perform like other team's starters. They don't perform like Philly's starters.
#37 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 09, 2022 - 2:34pm
I agree with you that 2020 was a bad O-line year by Philly standard's. But that's also a non-sensical argument for giving Wentz a pass for being the worst QB in the league. The O-line was only bad relative to Philly's O-line in other years. Wentz was bad not only relative to a unicorn 2017, he was straight-up trash. If going from a top-5 O-line to an average (by league standard) O-line is enough to turn Wentz into Nathan Peterman, then guess what, that means he's not a very good QB and probably never was.
This is Wentz's DVOA rank by from his rookie year through 2021: 27, 6, 13, 20, 34, 16. He was only the 6th best QB in 2017 - his supposed near-MVP year. If your ceiling is top-10 but not top-5 when everything is perfect, your floor is industrial-grade dumpster fire when you have replacement level players at O-line and your expectation is otherwise middling, then you're not even in Andy Dalton's tier.
#39 by Pat // Dec 09, 2022 - 2:38pm
I agree with you that 2020 was a bad O-line year by Philly standard's. But that's also a non-sensical argument for giving Wentz a pass for being the worst QB in the league.
Never said that I was...? It's a reasonable explanation for why he was worse, just not *that much* worse.
edit: if you actually want my guess as to Wentz's decline, I think it's a supremely-uninteresting combination of OL struggles (as mentioned), pandemic year (I think Wentz is the kind of QB who needs practice more than most since he's naturally so off-structure), and defenses figuring out what he tends to do off-structure.
#56 by Tyler S // Dec 09, 2022 - 4:24pm
I'd throw in declining athleticism from age/injury on the last point (I remember the beat guys noting he showed up to camp significantly heavier before the 2020 season), but think that's generally correct.
#20 by Joey-Harringto… // Dec 09, 2022 - 12:48pm
"The only year in that stretch that was really disappointing was 2014"
That 2014 defense was great, but they couldn't get past the Wildcard Round because an otherwise talented offense underacheived. Bringing it back to the Herbert conversation, I wonder who the OC for that offense was?
#30 by andy m // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:53pm
Yeah Wentz was still good (though not great) in 2019. He pretty much willed them into the playoffs with his play in the final 4 games throwing passes to guys like (checks notes) Deontay Burnett and Joshua Perkins.
#8 by johonny12 // Dec 09, 2022 - 11:05am
Word is that Tua's LT might play. They just signed the mortal remains of Eric Fisher to perhaps man the RT spot. Either way, I assume Tua will be balling as Tua versus Herbert is etched into all Miami fan's minds. Having seen Tua tossing the ball behind a terrible oline to special team gunners and practice squad wideouts for two years, and now seeing him occasionally behind a tolerable oline tossing the ball to probowl wideouts, I'm willing to hold off judgement on Herbert :) There is still an open question as to how good either QB actually is. And they get to play against each other. What fun!
#9 by ImNewAroundThe… // Dec 09, 2022 - 11:55am
They already played each other. And personally I think Keenan Allen and Mike Williams are better than Jakeem Grant and Devante Parker but it is an interesting debate.
It was a few weeks back that Tua surpassed Herbert in their career EPA + CPOE composite (sidenote Hurts is now tied with Herbert). Mostly due to lower CPOE, despite shorter adot.
#22 by JS // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:03pm
IDK, Mike. I think you just spend too much time on Twitter. But then, we knew that already.
I'm sure there exist people who think Herbert is a top-5 QB. "There exist people" who think just about anything.
Of greater importance than was emphasized in the article: Herbert had a very good first year. I don't want to start a war (and the mere fact that I am wary of one kind of proves my point), but QBs have always been subject to getting a rep early on, and then finding it very hard to shake it, for good or bad. Marino and Elway threw amazing numbers of interceptions, and never won a Super Bowl until Elway got a couple with a run-heavy team. I'm not saying they weren't great (I'd put them a notch below the top guys for the record), but I am saying that neither of them was ever blamed for an interception or a team failure. They were golden boys, and they hit the ground running (though Elway . . man, that guy had a reality distortion field or something), and that was it, forever.
#31 by Noahrk // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:57pm
For his career Marino has a 3.0% INT, while Elway had 3.1% and Montana 2.7%. The thing is Marino threw many more passes than either of them. Montana only threw more than 500 passes twice in his career (and even then just barely). Elway did it six times. And Marino did it eleven times, including three seasons with more than 600.
That pretty much tells the whole story, who had to do the heavy lifting and who had a team that did a lot of the lifting for him. Given that, the difference in INT% seems pretty small.
#59 by Duff Soviet Union // Dec 09, 2022 - 6:07pm
It wasn’t just Reeves, it was the wide receivers. Among quarterbacks who could be called “very good” or better, I’d say only Donovan McNabb (pre TO) and Phil Simms had worse wide receivers than Elway (pre Rod Smith)
#73 by mehllageman56 // Dec 10, 2022 - 2:31pm
I agree on McNabb, but I'm very uncertain about Phil Simms, who seems to me to be the carbon copy of Ken O'Brien, with the same strengths and flaws (cannon for an arm, immobility) but throwing a bunch more interceptions. O'Brien had great recievers, so some of the comparison is unfair, but part of the reason Lionel Manuel, Phil McConkey and Stephen Baker (the Touchdown Maker) are not remembered as well is because the Giants did not throw the ball all that much, especially by the last Parcells Super Bowl year, 1990, with only 398 attempts. Of course, a lot of those targets went to Mark Bavaro, who was one of the best tight ends in the league from 1986 to 1988.
#74 by mehllageman56 // Dec 10, 2022 - 2:34pm
He threw a lot period. Perhaps the Dolphins needed to run the ball a little more, or their inability to do so cost them wins, especially against the Jets. After all, Ken O'Brien ended up with a winning record against Marino, and it's not like he was better than his rival. Maybe the Jets having Freeman McNeil and Johnny Hector had something to do with it.
Of course, the Dolphins got swept by the Jets in 1988, and the 9 interceptions Marino threw in those two games mitigated the over a thousand yards he threw for. Perhaps.
#84 by BSK // Dec 11, 2022 - 8:11pm
“I'm sure there exist people who think Herbert is a top-5 QB. "There exist people" who think just about anything.”
Herbert is currently #2 on The Ringer’s QB power rankings.
Herbert the Great isn’t some fringe opinion you can only find via Twitter nut-picking. Lots of people hold the opinion and Mike is on solid ground to address it as a real thing.
#89 by greybeard // Dec 12, 2022 - 3:31pm
The Ringer’s QB power rankings is bizarre.
Their other writer (Solak) wrote that offenses that use play-action and pre-snap motions are using these as training wheels for their QBs.
They have a very interesting bunch of writers there that I found, quite frankly, terrible at analyzing football.
#28 by BroncFan07 // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:43pm
It's comforting to know in this day and age there are certain standards we can still rely on: The Raiders' ability to commit stupid penalties at the worst possible time, and the Chargers retaining their "I'll Believe It When I See It" belt for the 10th consecutive year.
#34 by Aaron Brooks G… // Dec 09, 2022 - 2:06pm
The existence of the Raiders serves as a counterpoint for the analytics argument that penalties are not predictable.
Really, the entire west coast seems to have a problem following the rules.
\Yeah, I see your 'outlier' asterisk. I don't care.
#29 by Oncorhynchus // Dec 09, 2022 - 1:50pm
Sure Justin Herbert is the second-coming of Philip Rivers, but I think it's a bit disingenuous to give Tua a pass for injuries in his first two years including a broken rib without at least mentioning that Justin Herbert played through a fractured rib cartilage with anything more than a vague reference to "he was hurt." The 38 - 10 loss to the Jaguars that's responsible for a whopping -66.8 DVOA for the Chargers? Yeah, that's the week right after the rib injury. The Houston game with a negative offensive DVOA was the next week. So that's 2 of the 5 negative DVOA games that are unmistakenly confounded with a rib injury.
Pretend he didn't play those games. What would his DVOA stats look like then? What would Tua's DVOA stats look like if he played through injury rather than being (rightfully) held out?
#33 by matter2003 // Dec 09, 2022 - 2:06pm
Leads the league in splooshy highlights and it's not close?
Don't watch Josh Allen very much do you? He has 3 or 4 of those type of plays every game and he wins too.
Here is pretty much the same throw from Allen on a play that didn't count against the Pats due to a holding call...
No matter...he also had this one that DID count.
#55 by Mike B. In Va // Dec 09, 2022 - 4:03pm
I did think it was funny that the Davis TD broke the minds of the TNF staff, who obviously don't watch Allen much since he does crap like that weekly.
That TD to Diggs that didn't count was art.
Herbert, Mahomes, and Allen are all human highlight reels. Only one of these players is on a losing team, so maybe the highlight reel stuff isn't what's important?
#36 by theslothook // Dec 09, 2022 - 2:31pm
Ill admit, I was one of those guys who annointed Herbert prematurely(with hindsight). His two year career arc was so sterling that he seemed locked in as a tier 2 player coming into the year. In fact, I effectively had him and Allen in the same boat; with both having a chance to leap into tier 1 status. Now, it seems I may have prematurely annointed Allen into that tier, but Herbert's disappointing season is definitely a surprise for me.
How much to read into it is a tricky thing. Great QBs have had hiccup seasons before. 2001 Manning. 2008 Roethlisberger. 2015 Rodgers. 2021 Allen. Favre had some wild swings in him a well. So there's definitely hope he shakes it off. I still remain optimistic about him.
#96 by t.d. // Dec 13, 2022 - 6:55pm
I think it's injury in both cases; Herbert was clearly, severely limited by the rib injury (the supporting cast has also gotten gradually worse over his time there), and they were talking about Tommy John surgery for Allen's elbow that he's just playing through (which is why the Chiefs/Bengals should be AFC favorites right now); this year was a really interesting test case for supporting casts and how responsible they are for quarterback success (as Brady-in-Tampa versus end-stage New England was the past few seasons)-- guys like Tua, Hurts, and even Geno Smith are having unprecedented career seasons in just awesome circumstances, Rodgers and Brady (but not Mahomes) have really suffered from a diminished supporting casts, and Burrow has demonstrated his leap forward wasn't just 'adding the best rookie wide receiver since Randy Moss'; it'll be interesting to see test cases of whether Purdy can maintain his solid start in Shanahan's plug-and-play system and if the Cowboys' offense is back to the terrifying level it had previously been at when Dak had two good receivers with the addition of TY Hilton (who was seemingly a major loss in Indy); until Favre's late career sojourn it had been virtually unprecedented that teams had let even late-career not-yet-washed quarterbacks hit the market, but now, with Manning, Brady, and maybe in coming months Rodgers it's becoming surprisingly common, which will provide more and more qb-vs-system data points (ftr, I think that while Geno's success and dangeruss's struggles make it seem like the supporting cast was carrying russ, its more a case of a rookie head coach being in over his head and russ will bounce back when hackett's fired)
#42 by johnfcarter // Dec 09, 2022 - 3:05pm
I think you were far too easy on Herbert. I think it's time to give up on the Herbert experiment and trade him for someone who can really take this team deep into the playoffs. I think the Chargers should trade straight across Herbert for Wilson. (please, I'm begging you)
#44 by greybeard // Dec 09, 2022 - 3:12pm
I watched Herbert play an lot and I think he would go to multiple AFC Championship games and super bowls if Chargers hire Jim Harbaugh.
Chargers team has so much talent, not only in Herbert but in Bosa, Mack, James, Allen and so on and that is being wasted away.
#58 by lenny65 // Dec 09, 2022 - 5:38pm
I watched Herbert quite a bit when he played at Oregon, and I thought his best comparison was Drew Bledsoe. Of course he's "good"...BUT...I was never totally blown away by him, either. Now it has to be said that lots of spectacularly awesome college QBs go nowhere in the pros, it happens all the time. Herbert had obvious NFL potential, but I never saw him as anywhere near a "sure thing". The way people anointed him as "the new Dan Marino" last year was ludicrous, as obviously everyone had forgotten what Dan Marino was really like.
#60 by Raiderfan // Dec 09, 2022 - 10:03pm
The only numbers he doesn’t have are the WINZ.
Fastest to reach 1,000 career completions (38 games).
Most completions -- 1,062 -- through the first three seasons of a career, passing former Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
20 career games with 300-plus passing yards, the most by any player in his first three seasons.
Next for Justin Herbert: 90 touchdowns through his first three seasons -- he needs one more to join Hall of Famer Dan Marino as the only players in history to reach that mark.
Last season, Herbert's total quarterback rating (70.9) ranked him among the best in the NFL, third to future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (74.1) and Tom Brady (73.1), and just ahead of Super Bowl-winning quarterback Matthew Stafford.
#66 by Jetspete // Dec 10, 2022 - 8:49am
How many fan bases would trade their current qb for Herbert? 29? Is that being too generous to Burrow? I understand the need for a Herbert hot take, but the guy is having the best start to a career since Marino. He hasn’t regressed at all and basically took the year 3 leap by the middle of his rookie season.
#70 by theslothook // Dec 10, 2022 - 12:22pm
How many fan bases would trade their current qb for Herbert? 29
Obv, KC and Buf wouldn't. And I doubt Cincy would either at this time. Also, given how recency bias plagues everything in the NFL, I bet the Eagles wouldn't either. So that's 4 teams. Maybe Lamar too but his contract and future health situation makes it murky.
In a world where off the field behavior wasn't an issue, you could make a real argument for a 6th team which I will leave at that.
After that, people can talk themselves into Tua or Prescott, but I don't think most people here believe either is better in a vacuum.
#67 by mehnsrea // Dec 10, 2022 - 10:09am
You know who else was anointed before ever really doing anything of substance (other than aLmOsT wiNNiNG mVp)? Tanier’s all time favorite QB, Carson Wentz. Rocket arm, hero plays, lots of luck in a flash in the pan 3/4 season, and excuses made for him left and right.
#79 by LionInAZ // Dec 10, 2022 - 8:29pm
So the list keeps growing.
Tanier is a hater of:
Carson Wentz, Justin Fields, Tua, Mac Jones, Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, and now Herbert. I may have missed one or two.
The fact that no one has called out Tanier for being a Herbert hater testifies to the small number of Charger fanatics on this site.
Maybe there's a point to all this calling out of QBs who either 1) underperform their expectations or 2) weird out and screw up.
#80 by riri // Dec 10, 2022 - 10:17pm
Keep in mind that Tanier consumes more Twitter/media discourse about the NFL than is good for one's mental health. In some cases (e.g. with Herbert) what he's really hating on is what he perceives to be the consensus from that discourse.
#81 by theslothook // Dec 10, 2022 - 10:20pm
Tanier doesn't have to hate any of my favorite QBs so maybe that's why I don't notice the ire.
But he's only pointing out something we should all be thinking. This season from Herbert is definitely unexpected.
The hype he got was certainly more than justified, but his performance this year suggests we all need to think hard about what it means. Blaming it all on circumstances besides him is certainly possible, but also feels too easy to do.
I don't think Tanier is being a hater personally. Really Tanier is asking if Herbert is more likely to be Stafford level and not Mahomes level.
#85 by penguin07 // Dec 11, 2022 - 11:24pm
Hey Mike. Watching the SNF game. Subsequent article idea. Can you look into YAC for Chargers skill players relative to the Chiefs or Bills? Normalizing for down/distance and situation. I’m of the opinion Herbert isn’t on the Mahomes or Allen level, but the more I watch his games, the more I wonder if it’s him or the team. Seems like the Chargers don’t execute unless he throws past the sticks (inherently a more difficult ask) vs Mahomes often can throw behind the sticks counting on YAC from the Chiefs skill players or better play design.
#86 by occams_pointed… // Dec 12, 2022 - 12:17am
By YAC totals at NBC sports:
1Kansas City Chiefs1900
2Los Angeles Chargers1828
4San Francisco 49ers1675
That doesn't seem to support your thesis
#92 by lightsout85 // Dec 13, 2022 - 3:11am
Through this week (14), the ranks for those 3 teams in % of receptions that gained at least the expected average-YAC/Median-YAC, is KC (2/2), BUF (8/7), LAC (19/15). If you only want the % gaining OVER expected, the ranks by over-median** are KC (3), BUF (8) & LAC (10). I'd say there's something to your idea. Chargers do well enough for above-median, but they're only average when "avoiding" below-median YAC gains. If there were 25 receptions in a single game, the Chargers would fail to reach median-YAC on 1 more reception than BUF, and 3 more than KC.
Looking only at 1st & 2nd down (because who cares if a 3rd down catch gets above median YAC, if it's still short of a 1st down), for % >=median, KC is still 2, BUF drops to 12, and LAC actually rises to 13th. You know what, why should we care about 1st or 2nd passes that aren't short of the sticks? When we remove those (& stick with % meeting or exceeding median, I think that's the best one), KC sticks at 2, BUF jumps to 4th (so, they're not as great with YAC on deeper passes, it seems) and LAC drops to 17th. (Like before, if we only look at over-median, KC & BUF are stable, but Chargers jump to 10th. So they rarely get the median YAC). The 49ers are #1 in every way I have measured it (that Shanahan offense!).
Since I have the needed numbers, the Chargers also rank dead last in % of those 1st & 2nd down receptions that came past the sticks. (KC & BUF are 10 & 9th respectively. SF is 31st, but luckily have that great YAC). Since Tua is also a subject of these discussions - MIA is 3rd in % >=Median (on early SOS), and 1st in early-past-sticks%.
But sure, % of attempts past the sticks is more meaningful here than completed passes only, so I pulled those too, haha. Chargers &SF swap (now 31st & 32nd), MIA 2nd (close enough), but now BUF is 7th and KC 12th. What I like more than 1st down/sticks rates, is using the point of success (whether picking up a success, or at least passing deep enough that there's no YAC needed for a positive EPA gain). By % of 1st & 2nd down passes that meet-or-pass the air-point of success, LAC & SF swap back (32nd & 31st), MIA doesn't move, KC jumps to 5th, and BUF drops to 16th (so they don't pass "past success" a ton on early downs, but when they do it's often fully past the sticks as well). The majority of the teams at the bottom of the Past-Success% list are pretty bad, and while there are bad/unsuccessful teams in the top 1/3, as well, I'd venture to say this super passive strategy is playing a big part in the Chargers' offensive struggles this season.
The only thing saving them is they're one of the more "aggressive" teams in the league, in terms of Passing% >expected on early downs (as even short passes are more likely to be successful than run plays). 5th on 1st down, 2nd on 2nd down, and 3rd for them combined. (In fact, for 1st+2nd, the top 3 are KC, BUF, LAC)
**(the avg one stays the same, since YAC is only whole numbers and the averages are not, none from the previous numbers were exactly the expected average YAC)
#91 by lightsout85 // Dec 13, 2022 - 1:07am
Justin Herbert leads the NFL in splooshy highlights
This (splooshy highlight) is obviously just a description and not a definition, but according to PFF's Big Time Throw%, so far he's actually near the bottom of the league in highlight plays. He IS near the top of the league in Turnover Worthy Play% (ie: top% = good), and in % of pressure that become sacks (again, top =good). This was similarly true last year (when he was also near the top of the league in Accuracy%>expected), meaning his play** is too safe if anything. Similar to last year, the Chargers' offense is average-at-best on 1st & 2nd down (possibly due to this too-safe nature), and having to rely on 3rd/4th down magic - which is not consistent year to year. Last year the production on those late downs was often extraordinary, leading to an overall high ranked offense. This year that declined as you'd expect, while the 1st & 2nd downs remained poor, so the overall product has become fairly average.
I don't know the 1st & 2nd % of passes X-yards-or-more in the air off hand, but his overall % of passes 10yd+ in the air is near the bottom of the league. I don't like averages as much as % over/under X, but by ADOT he's dead last on 1st & 2nd down (according to RBSDM's stats, min 175 dropbacks). (Now, obviously adjusting for distance would worsen his TWP% just as it would improve his BTT%, but I'd imagine the increase in positive plays would increase the overall offensive production).
**his play/tons of pressure (& no viable deep threats) forcing shorter throws/Lombardi's passive play-calling that really only works with Drew Brees' all-time accuracy levels (you're doing really short passes, but you're missing virtually none of them).
So...my defense is, if we're going to criticize his game (end result, whether it's his fault or not) it's that it's actually too safe.
#94 by ctjp86 // Dec 13, 2022 - 4:13pm
It is sad how many people try cut Herbert down for a few clicks. His stats this year are evidence for why he is bonkers SPECIAL as a QB, not that he is regressing or 'lacks something' as a QB. That Herbert has been as effective this year as he has been, given the absurd amount of adversity, is cause for otherworldly praise you jokers. No other QB in the league would be putting up his numbers in the same turdball Lombardi system, with the rib injury, and the absurd amount of injuries on the Oline, to say nothing of the WRs missed throughout the season. Who precisely would be performing better under these conditions? And historically, find me just one QB in the history of the league that has performed as well under similar conditions? Just one. Yet allegedly serious football thinkers have the audacity to pick apart Herbert's merit, ignoring their own eyes? Pathetic. You all will look seriously foolish as the years go by.