So, as I understand how it went down, Charger quarterback Tyrod Taylor was receiving a pre-game injection for his chest/rib injury. Fate intervened, and LA’s erstwhile starting quarterback ended up with a puncture wound to the lungs. Moments before the game began, first-round draft pick Justin Herbert learned he was about to make his NFL debut.
And with that, a love affair was born. If not for the Chargers’ fans, then at least for analyst Tony Romo, who, after about three snaps, pronounced the kid as a quarterback prodigy.
Tony may have been jumping the gun a bit, but he wasn’t entirely wrong. Considering he was making his first start against the defending world champions from Kansas City, there was a lot to like in our first glimpse of Mr. Herbert.
He began his NFL career leading the Chargers on a 79-yard, 8-play touchdown drive – Justin himself covering the last 4 yards on a scramble. Before halftime of his first game, Justin had thrown for 195 yards and had a touchdown pass to go with his rushing touchdown.
And, he went into the locker room with a 14-6 lead. Much more than that, no one can really ask.
His second half was less polished. There were a few bad decisions sprinkled among his 13 throws – in particular a forced pass that led to his first career interception at the Chief 5-yard line in the waning seconds of the third quarter.
Beyond his numbers (and Herbert finished his first NFL game 22 for 33 for 311 yards) Justin had the look of someone who will do very well in the NFL. He’s a smart kid (I thought they said he was a biology major!) and it was clear that he understood what he was looking at as he scanned the Kansas City pass defenses. He delivered a good ball as well – crisp passes with good accuracy. The LA fans should be justly excited.
Which brings us to this. Still unable to play, Taylor will be sitting out Week Three, so Herbert will be under center for at least one more week. Eventually, though, Tyrod will be cleared to play, and coach Anthony Lynn will have a decision to make.
Taylor is one of the good guys of the NFL. He seems always (except when in pain as last week) to be wearing a bright smile, and to the best of my knowledge, everyone who has ever played with him is enormously fond of him.
After carrying a clipboard for his first four years in Baltimore, Tyrod came to Buffalo to be the starter, a position he held for 3 moderately successful seasons, directing them briefly into the playoffs after the 2017 season.
But, by 2018 he was holding a clipboard again – first in Cleveland and then last year he backed up Philip Rivers in LA. Tyrod was ecstatic for the opportunity to be the starter again. But this is now something Lynn is going to have to consider – especially if Herbert keeps doing well.
If the original plan was for Herbert to hold a clipboard for a year and soak up knowledge, then Taylor would be a more than adequate mentor to learn from. But that genie is out of the bottle now, and there may be no going back.
The fact is that Taylor is a solid system quarterback, but no more than that. His career record is 24-21-1 with an 89.5 lifetime passer rating. All are solid, if not spectacular numbers. For his career he has only had 1.4% of his passes intercepted – an excellent number. Tyrod is serviceable, but he is not the guy to lead Los Angeles into the promised land.
Whether Herbert is that guy (Tony Romo’s endorsements notwithstanding) remains to be seen. It is likely, though, that Herbert is already a better option than Taylor. Yes, he will certainly make mistakes along the way. But he will also make plays that Taylor won’t.
The more Justin plays – and, of course, the better he plays – the harder it will be to give the position back to Tyrod, who may very well be in for another season of holding a clipboard.
If Herbert struggles in his second start against Carolina, that would, of course, buoy Tyrod’s chances. But if Justin plays as well against the Panthers as he did against the Chiefs . . .
LA’s Other QB
If there is a brewing controversy in Charger Land, the Rams have no such dilemma. Jared Goff has never looked better. He completed 13 of 14 first-half passes against Philadelphia, on his way to a 142.1 rating performance in a 37-19 victory (gamebook) (summary).
The eye-catching numbers coming from the Rams, though, are the rushing numbers. With Todd Gurley moved on to Atlanta, the Rams no longer have a primary back. No matter. In their season opening win against Dallas, they ran the ball 40 times for 153 yards (Goff threw only 31 passes). Last week against Philly, they ran 39 more times for a seriously impressive 191 yards (Goff again with only 27 passes).
It seems that every year more and more clubs are toying with the idea of going Neanderthal (Neanderthal teams are those teams that run more than they throw). Two games into the season, the Rams – even with a committee approach to the running back position – seem intent on joining that throng.
Alpha Neanderthals Roll On
For 30 minutes last Sunday the Houston Texans gave as good as they got against the Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens’ sometimes unstoppable running attack was quite throttled – held to just 44 yards (just 28 from Lamar Jackson). Houston went into the locker room with a 200-172 yardage advantage, and might well have gone in with a 10-6 lead.
But – true to their MO – the Texans came up short on a fourth-and-one that set Baltimore up on the Houston 34 for a short touchdown drive. Then, seven-and-a-half football minutes later, a fumble after a pass reception found its way into the arms of L.J. Fort, who returned it for a touchdown, leaving Houston with a halftime deficit (their spirited play notwithstanding) of 20-10.
Whatever hopes Houston carried into the second half were immediately crushed by football’s Alpha Neanderthals. The Ravens opened the second half with a soul crushing 14-play, 60-yard drive that consumed 8:36. Even though Baltimore was forced to settle for a field goal, the blueprint for the final 30 minutes had been delivered.
Jackson tossed 4 short passes during that drive. After that drive, he would throw the ball only 3 more times on the day. Baltimore would finish the game with 17 consecutive running plays (counting the kneeldowns at the end). Undergirded by the relentless Baltimore ground attack, the Ravens held the ball for 18:17 of the second half, and ran away from the Texans 33-16 (gamebook) (summary).
By the final gun, Baltimore had gouged the Texans’ defense for 186 yards on 27 carries (6.9 yards per carry).
And that was just the second half.
As for Jackson, he was in for 54 of the team total 230 rushing yards. And that’s the thing that I’m not sure people understand about Baltimore. Yes, Lamar Jackson is a terrifying sight when he has the ball in his hands in the open field. But the engine of this team isn’t Jackson.
Ronnie Stanley, Bradley Bozeman, Matt Skura, Tyre Phillips and Orlando Brown Jr. The five horses of the offensive line. They are far from household names, but may hold as much influence over the season as any quarterback or running back. As they go, so go the Ravens.
Neanderthals No More
In their season opening conquest of Miami, the New England Patriots unveiled – along with a new quarterback – a new offensive philosophy. They ran the ball down the Dolphins throats. For 30 minutes Sunday night (well, for the 11:20 that they possessed the ball in the first half on Monday night), they still smacked of Neanderthalism – running the ball 13 times while throwing only 11 passes.
But, coming out of the locker room after halftime, the Patriots shook off all pretense of being a running team. Putting the ball in Cam Newton’s hands, they watched as he threw 33 passes in the second half alone. He also ran 6 times for 33 yards and a touchdown. All other runners combined for only 6 other carries for a total of 2 yards.
In one of the weekends’ most entertaining games, the Patriots came up short against the Seattle Seahawks by a 35-30 score (gamebook) (summary). On display – especially in that second half – was the mixed bag that Newton brings to the position.
In that second half – in which Julian Edelman caught 7 passes for 171 yards – Newton showed off the arm, throwing 50-yard line drives up field. Perfectly on target when his mechanics were right. Not so much when they strayed.
Also on display was the occasional carelessness that always seems to be a part of his game. Especially the interception that he threw with 4:36 left in the third quarter and the Patriots trailing 21-17.
Damiere Byrd ran a quick out to the left sideline. Newton saw him and flipped the ball in that direction. He failed to check for the cornerback – Quinton Dunbar – who was lurking just off Byrd’s shoulder.
Even then, had it been a good pass, the most that Dunbar could probably have done was to bat it away.
But the throw wasn’t good. Newton’s flip tailed back into the defender – looking, actually, as though it were intended for Dunbar. The interception interrupted a Patriot drive that had reached mid-field and set Seattle up on their own 48. Five plays later, Russell Wilson found Freddie Swain running all alone up the left sideline. That 21-yard touchdown pass pushed the score to 28-17 and kept Newton in catch-up mode the rest of the night.
To his credit, Cam did almost bring them all the way back. He was stopped 2 yards short of the end zone on a draw play as time ran out. With Newton its almost always more good than bad. For the game, he threw for 397 yards and carried a 94.6 rating. All very good. And on most nights, Newton and the Patriots would have been good enough to beat most any other team. But . . .
The Newton Moment
Ever since the signing of Newton was announced, I have been dubious about the marriage of Cam and Bill. As the second quarter began, there was another one of those moments that, again, caused me to shake my head.
The Patriots had second-and-goal from the 6. Newton skirted right end and dove into the end zone for the touchdown that would put New England ahead 14-7. Except that the officials ruled him down at the one – erroneously, I believe, as it looked like Newton scored.
But Cam didn’t wait to hear the officials’ decision. In his mind, he had scored and it was time to worship at the shrine of Newton. So, while the refs were marking the ball for play and winding the play clock. The Patriots – following the command of Newton – were preening in front of a camera as Newton mimed pulling open his shirt to reveal the symbolic “S” that must adorn his chest (as no mere mortal could achieve the prodigious feats that Newton pulls off).
Fortunately, Newton was made aware of the fact that the game was still going on, so he was able to line the team up and run a play before the Patriots were either penalized five yards or forced to call a time out. Cam, of course, finished what he started with a one-yard draw (the same play that would fail at the end of the game) to score the actual touchdown.
And, once again, he and the entire offense went off in search of a camera to repeat the sacred ceremony.
Always with Newton I feel it’s more about his ego that it is about the game. It’s an oil that just will not mix well with the Belichick water.
Re-Inventing the On Side Kick
If the New England – Seattle game wasn’t the most entertaining of the weekend, then you would have to opt for Dallas’ 20-point comeback against Atlanta (summary). The pivotal moment of that game came on an onside kick the Cowboys executed with 1:49 left in the game.
In recent seasons, the onside kick has been reduced by a series of rule changes to an all but meaningless exercise. Until last Sunday afternoon, that is, when Dallas and their kicker Greg Zuerlein re-engineered the thing.
Instead of kicking down on the ball and trying to get a high bounce, Zuerlein laid down a bunt. Actually, the thing resembled more of a putt. Greg just nudged the ball forward, and he and the entire team followed along behind as it trickled slowly, resolutely toward the 45 yard line – at which point it would be a live ball.
The dumfounded Falcons – having never seen this before – didn’t know how to react. They watched with the Cowboys and the fans on TV as the ball trickled far enough up-field for C.J. Goodwin to dive on it.
Six plays later, Zuerlein kicked the game winning field goal.
Certainly, part of the success of the ploy was that no one had ever done it before. Atlanta didn’t know how to react. In the booth, they pointed out that Atlanta didn’t have to wait for it to go the full ten yards. They, in fact, could have moved in and made a play on the ball before that.
While that is true, it’s not clear that that would have made much difference. As soon as a member of the receiving team should touch the ball, it would automatically become a live ball. His touch would initiate a scrum for the ball that would be as likely to go to the kicking team as it would to the receiving team.
That is why I believe you will see more of this. Whether the receiving team comes up to make a play, or hangs back and waits, at the end of the play, the kicking team will get its opportunity to fight for the ball.
Which is all you’re hoping for in that situation.