Facing pressure appears to be old hat for young Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert
The breakdowns were unfortunate, glaring and — in the words of offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi — “really silly.”
Twice Monday, Justin Herbert faced almost instant pressure because of failures in the Chargers’ pass protection.
The plays resulted in a short completion and a sack, the sum total being a loss of one yard.
But despite his offense going backward, Lombardi explained that what Herbert avoided on those plays was much more significant: calamity.
“That’s not easy to do, what he did in those situations,” Lombardi said. “So his ball security and clock in his head, those things were just outstanding.”
Herbert has gone back-to-back games — victories over AFC West rivals Kansas City and Las Vegas — without a turnover.
With 38 attempts by Herbert in each game, the Chiefs and Raiders sacked him only three times, that number aided by the quarterback’s ability to make quick decisions and even quicker passes.
“He’s just got that instinct, that feel, that awareness that I’m not sure you can really teach,” Lombardi said. “It’s a nice security blanket as a play caller to know that he’s gonna not let a lot of bad things happen if something breaks down in front of him.”
At Oregon, Herbert was known as a quarterback who could make plays in structure. NFL scouts were less convinced of his ability to salvage situations gone wrong.
Since debuting with the Chargers in Week 2 last season, Herbert repeatedly has mocked any such concerns. He has been among the league’s best when under pressure or off script.
“The most impressive thing about him is how quickly he processes the information,” Lombardi said, “how quickly he gets rid of the ball.”
After the Chargers’ Week 3 win at Kansas City, Lombardi said a late-game situation involving the clock reminded him that Herbert is in only his second season.
On Thursday, Lombardi says the opposite is true when it comes to Herbert recognizing and solving issues that arise in a sudden moment.
“He seems like a 10-year veteran when you get to that aspect of the game,” Lombardi said, “just his ability to figure out where the ball should go.”
Last year, before the Chargers played at New Orleans, Lombardi said he met on the field with Shane Steichen. At the time, Steichen was the Chargers’ offensive coordinator and Lombardi was a Saints assistant.
During their conversation, Lombardi said he asked Steichen when he realized the Chargers had something special in Herbert. The answer: right away.
“You could just tell he had an instinct for who was open and where to go with the ball,” Lombardi said. “I don’t know how to explain it. It’s pretty rare for someone as young as he is.”
Herbert will make just his 20th NFL start Sunday when the Chargers play the Cleveland Browns at SoFi Stadium. He won’t turn 24 until March.
Head coach Brandon Staley this week praised his decisiveness and strength in securing the football when he does get hit, calling Herbert’s calm amid chaos “the beauty of Justin.”
After some early issues in the red zone, the Chargers have scored touchdowns on eight of their last 10 trips inside the opposing 20-yard line. One of those failures came when Herbert took a knee to end the game Monday.
Herbert has seven touchdown passes — to five different receivers — over the last two weeks.
For the season, the Chargers’ offense is four for four on fourth down. Herbert has passed for three of those conversions and run for the other.
Since he took over as their starting quarterback, the Chargers are 7-2 — with six wins in a row — when Herbert doesn’t turn over the ball.
“You can’t minimize the importance of him taking care of the football,” Staley said. “It’s an 11-man operation, but he’s at the heart of it all.”
Defensive back Chris Harris Jr. (shoulder) was a full participant in practice, an indication that he’ll return Sunday after sitting out the last three games. … Reserve running back Justin Jackson (groin) did not practice after being limited Wednesday.
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