Justin Herbert leads Chargers into Chase Young territory
Justin Herbert gets his first opportunity to show his impressive rookie season was not a fluke as the Los Angeles Chargers open the season on the road against the Washington Football Team on Sunday.
Selected No. 6 overall in the 2020 draft by the Chargers, the University of Oregon product showed poise, toughness and play-making ability last season. He completed 66.6 percent of his passes for 4,336 passing yards, with 31 touchdowns against 10 interceptions.
He’s going to need that toughness against reigning Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young, the No. 2 overall pick in the same draft.
Selected as the league’s Offensive Rookie of the Year, Herbert set league records for most passing touchdowns by a rookie quarterback (31), most total touchdowns by a rookie in league history (36), and most performances by a rookie quarterback with 300-plus passing yards (eight).
Herbert will be hard-pressed to duplicate those statistics in his sophomore campaign, but new offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi is more focused on creating a dynamic offense that can help L.A. consistently win games.
“We’re going to utilize his big arm,” Lombardi said. “We’re keeping the defense on their heels, especially when a new personnel group comes in while you’re in the huddle. By the time they figure out who’s in the huddle, they’re trying to get their call in. We’ll already be breaking and then the ball snaps. It gives (opposing defenses) less time to think, the faster you can change personnel groups.”
Named the 17th head coach in franchise history in January, Brandon Staley will attempt to turn things around after a 7-9 campaign last season under Anthony Lynn, who was fired after four seasons. The Bolts won the last four games of the season.
The former defensive coordinator for the Los Angeles Rams, Staley looks to improve a Chargers’ defense that allowed 26.6 points a game last season, No. 23 in the NFL.
L.A.’s most significant injury is to right tackle Bryan Bulaga, who’s dealing with a groin issue. However, the Iowa product fully participated in practice on Wednesday, and Staley said he’s trending toward playing this weekend.
However, running back Austin Ekeler was a late addition to the injury report after not practicing on Wednesday due to a hamstring injury.
Sunday’s contest will mark the third time (1973, 2001) the Chargers and Washington have met in the NFL’s opening week.
Washington owns a 7-4 advantage in the all-time series over the Chargers. However, L.A. has won four of the last five games. Los Angeles won the last matchup, a 30-13 victory over Washington in a 2017 home win.
Entering his second season, Washington head coach Ron Rivera’s team is led by Young. The Ohio State product finished with 7.5 sacks and 42 combined tackles last season.
Along with Young, Washington has one of the most talented defensive lines in the league, a lineup that includes Montez Sweat, Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen, all first-round selections.
Washington held opponents to just 4.85 yards per play last season, No. 2 in the NFL.
The defending NFC East champs will look to repeat as division winners for the first time since 1984, and they will do so with a new quarterback at the helm in journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick.
“This is a huge deal,” Fitzpatrick, 38, said about making a start for his ninth NFL team. “It’s a huge honor to be one of the 32 guys that is leading a team into action on Sunday. To be a starting quarterback in the NFL is such a privilege. … This is not something I take for granted. It’s something I’ve worked very hard to do.”
Rivera will have to figure out if receiver Curtis Samuel can play this week. Samuel has a lingering groin issue. He tweaked the injury during individual work on Wednesday and had to leave practice.
“We’ll continue to monitor him and see how he is (Thursday),” Rivera told reporters.
–Field Level Media