Can Chargers Step Up in Herbert vs. Mahomes IV?

Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Los Angeles Chargers QB Justin Herbert
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

NFL Week 2 - It's Mahomes vs. Herbert IV on Thursday night: time for Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers to really step up.

That's right: Walkthrough is breaking out the Roman numerals for the fourth meeting of Herbert's Chargers and Patrick Mahomes' Kansas City Chiefs. (Chad Henne, not Mahomes, started their Week 17 meeting in the 2020 season.) And why not? Mahomes and Herbert rank first and second in DYAR after Week 1, and this is a marquee matchup that thumbs its nose at the "Thursday Night Football sux" crowd, which admittedly includes most of us. We'll be looking forward to it again in Week 11, and again twice in 2023, and so on throughout the decade if we're lucky.

Walkthrough is also breaking out the cliches. Step up? WTF does that even mean?

It means that it's time for the Chargers to shed their indie cred and go from Next Big Thing set to legitimate Super Bowl contenders.

Oh, you think the Chargers are already there? Sorry, Walkthrough missed the part where they have accomplished anything yet. They almost made the playoffs in 2021, losing to a Las Vegas Raiders team with no head coach or first-round picks. Sure, they looked ever-so-plucky doing so. But the Chargers needed that Week 18 win because they lost to the Baltimore Ravens, the New England Patriots, and even the Houston Texans down the stretch. The Chargers beat a few good teams in 2021, too, but they were clearly still middleweights. Junior middleweights.

But all that has changed this year, right? Maybe. Khalil Mack looks like a helluva addition. But last week's 24-19 victory over the Raiders wasn't exactly a resounding statement. The Chargers aren't yet living up to their billing.

The offense, despite Herbert's brilliance, still sputters and stalls too often. While protecting a narrowing lead late in the third quarter, the Chargers went through the following series: Austin Ekeler run, Ekeler run, Herbert scrambling incompletion, punt. Asante Samuel got them the ball back with an interception at the goal line, but that just led to the following series from the 1-yard line: Ekeler for no gain, Tre McKitty don't-wanna-touch-it dropped pass, false start, underneath toss to Ekeler, punt. The defense got the ball back again, and the Chargers mustered a 20-yard drive for a missed field goal. Finally, now nursing a five-point lead after a Raiders touchdown: short waggle to Mike Williams, short run by Sony Michel, incomplete slant to a blanketed Williams, punt.

There's also more short-yardage nonsense afoot. Ekeler got stuffed on two different third-and-short conversion attempts. Herbert was snuffed on a fourth-down sneak after one of them. The Chargers needed three pass attempts to punch in a 1-yard touchdown; not damning in any sense, but troubling for a team that strives to redefine fourth-down aggressiveness but always seems to have the wrong play dialed up. (Here's a hint, Chargers: Michel is better in short-yardage situations than he is trying to bounce outside on early downs.)

The Chargers offense still feels somehow sub-optimized: too many high-leverage touches scattered among players such as McKitty or Jalen Guyton, not enough for Keenan Allen (doubtful for Thursday) and Mike Williams; a knack for keeping opponents in the game instead of delivering the haymaker. The defense is better with Mack spearheading the pass rush, but we need to see more from their run defense before declaring that problem solved.

As for Herbert? DYAR says he's among the greatest third-year quarterbacks in NFL history. He's +750 to win the 2022 Most Valuable Player award, as is Mahomes. (Josh Allen is +500.) But it's time for him to graduate from none of the Chargers problems are his fault to none of the Chargers problems really matter because he's there. That's the Mahomes MVP level Herbert is still aspiring to.

Contrast Week 1 Chargers with the Week 1 Chiefs, a team on the supposed decline that racked up seven touchdowns against the Cardinals. The Chiefs offered a glimpse of what life without Tyreek Hill would be like for Patrick Mahomes, and it was pretty darn awesome: more running, more ball distribution, more conventionality without any predictability.

The Chiefs have plenty of wrinkles of their own to iron out. But their defense looked much less leaky against the Cardinals, and their offense helped their defense with five-minute clock-munching touchdown drives powered by backup running backs at about the same time that the Chargers kept going three-and-out so we could see more of the Davante Adams showcase.

Maybe the Chargers really are stronger Super Bowl contenders than the Chiefs. But Week 1 just reaffirmed the sense Walkthrough got while researching and writing the AFC West chapters for Football Outsiders Almanac 2022: all of the Chiefs' 2021 miscues were broadcast on national television and universally dissected, while everything the Chargers did but the Herbert highlights and fourth-down whoopsies were buried on regional broadcasts until Week 18. And the sportsbooks have the Chiefs +130 to win the AFC West, the Chargers +170.

The Chargers are 1-2 in Mahomes-Herbert matchups: not bad for rising challengers facing former champions. The two Chiefs victories went to overtime. The Chargers victory came on a Herbert-to-Williams touchdown with 32 seconds to play in Week 3 of 2021. The final scores of the three games were 23-20, 30-24, and 34-28. The rivalry revs up with each matchup. The over of 54.5 looks vulnerable. Thursday night should be a blast.

Herbert and the Chargers still have much to prove. Let's see if they can go into Arrowhead and come away with a win to climb to 2-0 in the standings, conference and division. If so, Walkthrough will hop onto the bandwagon. Until then, they're just another cool band on the side stage.

News and Notes

Quick hitters on trending topics.

Denver Broncos lose Monday Night Football on a 64-yard field goal attempt instead of trusting Russell Wilson to convert fourth-and-5.

Nathaniel Hackett donned that Broncos cap and immediately became John Fox.

Russell Wilson says the 64-yard field goal attempt was not the "wrong decision."

Aaron Rodgers would have parachuted into a joint session of Congress to condemn it.

Seahawks fans boo Wilson on his return to Seattle.

Happy indeed are those who choose to reflect upon good memories instead of dwelling upon the bad.

Jamal Adams suffers knee injury in Monday Night Football win.

Jordyn Brooks to take on Adams' role of getting blamed for everything wrong with the Seahawks defense.

Tom Pelissero of NFL Media reports that Dak Prescott could return from thumb surgery in four to six weeks.

Sean Payton of FOX television reports that Prescott would be safer sitting out the rest of the 2022 season and leafing through that binder which was just FedEx'd to him.

Steelers hope T.J. Watt can return sometime this season.

They're willing to donate Mitch Trubisky's pectoral muscles if it will help.

Mac Jones is dealing with back spasms.

Old Belichick: No worries! I will task Josh with designing subtle game plans that Bailey Zappe could execute to keep us competitive in a pinch. New Belichick: Hmm, this could be my excuse to flush this whole season down the drain and then promote my dog to offensive coordinator!

Tom Brady says he woke up feeling sore on Monday.

Sleeping alone will do that to you.

Tennessee Titans Midweek Burn This Play Award

Look, it's tough calling plays for the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry can only do so much. And Hahaha Fooled You! It's Ryan Tannehill play-action! only really works when opponents aren't content to single-cover Robert Woods and Treylon Burks while just letting Henry grind out 4 yards per carry.

So third-and-1 rolls around, the Titans already burned their Henry Wildcat play in an earlier short-yardage situation (he bobbled the snap), and the Giants are ready to crash the line and slaughter anyone with a 22 on his jersey. What should offensive coordinator Todd Downing call?

Not this. For the love of all that's sacred, not this:

That's fourth-round rookie tight end Chigoziem Okonkwo on the sweep. Just the guy you want moving laterally in a short-yardage situation. Left tackle Taylor Lewan is tasked with sealing the edge, but defender Nick Williams blasts past him and blows up the play, with Tae Crowder and Austin Caitro (no, you aren't expected to recognize most of the names on the Giants defense) cleaning up.

The real issue is that neither Tannehill nor Henry really sell the run fake to the left side; any defender keying on Henry's body language saw his first step and thought, "yeah, that dude's going to get a Gatorade."

Good luck, Henry and the Titans. You just lost to Blue Rutgers. Hope better days are coming.

Chicago Bears Midweek Burn This Towel Award

Walkthrough salutes the HERO official who enforced the most obscure rule in the NFL playbook, penalizing the Bears 15 yards and knocking them out of field goal range when rookie holder Trenton Gill used a towel to try to dry off Soldier Field on Sunday:

Yes, rules are rules, says a nation which dutifully pays every speeding ticket. The Bears 1 trillion percent deserved to lose three potential points for this felony. But the highlight here is Gill trying to dry a muddy patch of grass with a hand towel like the world's most ambitious barback. It must have been like trying to mop up Bourbon Street on Ash Wednesday with a cocktail napkin.

Gill himself explained his heinous deed to ESPN's Coutney Cronin. "I'd never done it before, but I never played in a game where it's been rain the whole time, a couple of inches on the field," Gill said. "You saw at the end, there was about like 2 inches of water on the field." A-plus effort for Gill, who probably tried to bail out the ocean with a bucket as a child.

No foreign object can be used to impact the playing surface in any way, according to NFL rules. Gill could have tried to slosh the water away with his foot without penalty. He probably could have laid down and used his body as a human squeegee if he thought it could help. Heck, here's an idea: slip an adult diaper on under the uniform pants, plop down in the puddle where your expected to hold for a field goal, roll around a bit, pop up looking a little thiccer but no worse for wear, have Cairo Santos buy you dinner after the game: a little prime rib can make up for any incremental loss of dignity.

Or, you know, just do things 1980s style:

On second thought, if someone tried to drive a snowplow onto Soldier Field on Sunday, it would have just gotten stuck in the mud.

Preseason Hall of Famers: In Memoriam

George Pickens caught one pass for 3 yards for the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday.

Romeo Doubs caught four passes for 37 yards for the Green Bay Packers, all of them after halftime, when the Vikings led 17-0 and Aaron Rodgers gave Christian Watson a nickel and told him to go play in traffic.

Walkthrough favorite Isaiah Likely? Zero catches on four targets for the Baltimore Ravens.

Walkthrough absolute favorite Dameon "Three Pitbulls" Pierce? Eleven rushes for 33 yards. Not bad, but not as many carries or yards as Houston Texans teammate Rex Burkhead.

How suddenly reality sets in for preseason Hall of Famers, the guys we gush about on August weekends. Some really do shine right away: Isiah Pacheco was productive in mop-up duty for the Chiefs, for example. All still have very bright futures. But most of the hype surrounding them was just the result of how training camp news is processed and ingested. They were new guys to interview. They got extra opportunities with starters resting. The fantasy community weighed in. They began trending, which prompted additional attention, creating a feedback loop.

But now: real game plans, real starters, and the rookies are forgotten, at least temporarily, like some summer fad.

Walkthrough hopes to have a real reason to talk about all of these rookies again soon. For now, we didn't want them to vanish without a whisper, because it feels like summer itself disappearing behind autumn's veil. Good luck, midround rookie legends of August. Especially you, Pierce. Walkthrough's got prop bets riding on you.

Comments

20 comments, Last at 15 Sep 2022, 3:54pm

1 Russell Wilson says the 64…

Russell Wilson says the 64-yard field goal attempt was not the "wrong decision."

Aaron Rodgers would have parachuted into a joint session of Congress to condemn it.

Green Bay has no business attempting a 34-yard FG, let alone a 64-yard FG.

New Belichick: Hmm, this could be my excuse to flush this whole season down the drain and then promote my dog to offensive coordinator!

The dog would be an improvement.

11 Another Hall of Fame for Russell Wilson

The coach admits that this was the wrong decision. Russell Wilson has an excellent chance of making the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  Does he really need to make the Ass - Kissers Hall of Fame as well?  I have so many former co-workers to nominate, I would hate to have a spot take by Russell Wilson.  Thank you autocorrect, I never knew that Ass - Kisser was a word that required a hyphen.  I know that Aaron hates poor grammar and misspelled words, I do the best that I can.

https://www.si.com/nfl/2022/09/13/broncos-hackett-says-he-made-wrong-decision-on-late-field-goal-seahawks

13 Hackett was actually…

Hackett was actually claiming it was the wrong decision in hindsight. Because they missed the field goal.

“It’s one of those things where you look back at it and you say, ‘Of course we should go for it,’” Hackett added. “We missed the field goal."

See also:

"It’s just one of those things that’s unfortunate, but that was our plan going into it. Obviously, looking back at it, if you missed the field goal, you’re always going to wish you would have gone for it. If you would have gone for it and not gotten it, you wish you would have given him a chance."

He stressed over and over in that press conference that their plan was to get to the 46, because that's where McManus said he wanted them to get to, and that "It’s about listening to the players, finding out where they are at, and what they can do." So, important lesson for Hackett: kickers saying they can make it is like receivers saying they're open. You take it with a grain of salt.

14 Clearly Hacket doesn't think…

Clearly Hacket doesn't think in terms of probabilities. I can even forgive his decisions if they weren't so hard to justify ex post. Punting on 4th and two, for example, because you didn't anticipate the team receiving the ball would score a touchdown is one thing, even if EV says it's on net an inferior choice. 

But to willingly sign up for a ridiculously long field goal just because the kicker said he could make it is just bad process and bad logic. 

 

 

17 You would think coaches…

You would think coaches would have some sort of table for how far their kicker can go. Even if you up it a bit for the guy having a good leg your looking at what, 5% at the absolute best case and that's probably "I made this table in Denver".  Hard  to think your odds of the 4th down + gaining say another 5 on a new set of downs + making are worse. 

I would expect coaches to have prepped for this sort of situation honestly. Kinda head scratching. 

18 I think the problem is that…

I think the problem is that there are two issues involved: distance and accuracy. Distance is pretty much a brick wall: there are very few kicks that end up short anymore. Accuracy is different. Accuracy drops off pretty smoothly with distance because it's basically angle. And I think most kickers tell the coach distance, and the coach forgets about accuracy.

Like, I don't care if you've got the distance to make a 64-yard field goal, a 50 yard one is just going to be better. Because McManus did have the distance on both of his attempts.

Interesting note: ESPN's win probability calculator suggested that kicking the field goal had a 30% win chance, meaning they figure that the kicker had a 30% chance to make it. This is almost certainly an overestimate, because McManus missed twice. Meaning from a "best guess" standpoint you'd figure his accuracy at that distance is probably between 0-30% (since missing twice becomes more likely than not at around 30% accuracy).

That being said: the fact that McManus's kick when he was iced did have the distance (and so did the second) is actually a bit of a point in Hackett's favor. I actually think that was a big mistake by Carroll: because a 64-yard field goal's so rare, the last thing you want to do is give the kicker any information. I think if McManus would've had a third kick he probably would've hit it.

20 Yes, but I don't think it's…

Yes, but I don't think it's the dominant factor. Distance is just way worse. There's a detailed biomechanical study out there for kickers, and you're right, you definitely see a control/power tradeoff but not only is it small, it's probably a bad idea: if memory serves, the best kicker they had barely budged the maximum launch speed from college PAT to 50-yard field goal even though the variation increased.

If you think about it, it doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense to try harder from farther distances. You're just not going to get a big increase in your foot speed and the launch angles depend super strong on where the ball's hit. If your foot's 5% faster but you're off by 5 cm, the ball doesn't actually go farther.

15 Get to exactly the farthest…

Get to exactly the farthest yard line you think your kicker might make it and stop trying? As one Jason Garrett leaves, another one emerges. The cycle of life is beautiful, in its own way.

2 Heck, here's an idea: slip…

Heck, here's an idea: slip an adult diaper on under the uniform pants, plop down in the puddle where your expected to hold for a field goal, roll around a bit, pop up looking a little thiccer but no worse for wear, have Cairo Santos buy you dinner after the game: a little prime rib can make up for any incremental loss of dignity.

That's...kind of brilliant.

3 File under:

File under: Saying What Everyone In The Upper Midwest Has Been Saying All Along:

 

...all of the Chiefs' 2021 miscues were broadcast on national television and universally dissected, while everything the Chargers did but the Herbert highlights and fourth-down whoopsies were buried on regional broadcasts until Week 18.

 

But panning the Chiefs in favor of the Chargers goes back beyond Herbert, even....it started basically right when the team and league announced the LA move.

7 Pierce? Eleven rushes for 33…

Pierce? Eleven rushes for 33 yards. Not bad 

More than Najee Harris. Who already looks like his wheels have fallen off.

 

 

 

8 Terrible Towel Penalty

1) The funny thing is that Bears fans watching the game were like "well, that sucks, but at least it won't affect the outcome." And indeed it did not, but in the exact opposite way we thought.

2) The refs made up for it with a mess of home cooking, the likes of which I have not seen for a very long time. Almost (not quite) compensates for that nutso Steelers game last year.

16 Indeed. There were several…

Indeed. There were several gems; as a Cowboys fan, this made me actually laugh out loud:

Sean Payton of FOX television reports that Prescott would be safer sitting out the rest of the 2022 season and leafing through that binder which was just FedEx'd to him.

 

12 I remember watching that…

I remember watching that snow plow game as a lad, and even 40 years later, I love seeing that clip.  Mark Henderson is immortal.  We should all be so lucky.

 

Although now that I reflect, Steve Bartman would probably disagree.

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