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Film room: How the Patriots can slow down Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert

Related: Patriots vs Chargers preview: How New England’s defense might find success against Los Angeles

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Buffalo Bills Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Patriots kick off their two-game West Coast road swing this weekend when they take on the Los Angeles Chargers. Despite their record, the Chargers are providing the NFL and its fans with perhaps one of the most surprising storylines this season: rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.

The summer before Herbert’s final season at the University of Oregon, many considered him to be in a race with Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa for the top quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft. Obviously, Joe Burrow had something to say about that. But while Burrow rose up draft boards and Tagovailoa’s injury led to speculation about his future, Herbert had another solid campaign for the Ducks and impressed evaluators at pre-draft events such as the Senior Bowl.

But nobody saw this coming.

Herbert has been impressive this season, and while the wins have not followed, his transformation into a solid NFL starting quarterback was immediate. What truly stands out watching him is how Herbert manages pressure in the pocket. That was a big question mark on his game coming out of Oregon, but now he hands the pocket better than some more experienced QBs.

We’ll dive into his film, looking at areas where he stands out, as well as areas that can cause him trouble.

First, the good stuff if you are a Chargers fan.

He was pressed into action against the Kansas City Chiefs, but was impressive even in a loss. In his debut you saw some of his pocket management skills, his placement under duress and a willingness to attack the middle of the field as a passer, something he rarely did at Oregon:

In a duel with Tom Brady, Herbert made a number of stand-out throws. You saw him challenge the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense downfield, respond to pressure, and create space in the pocket with his feet:

Herbert completed 27 of 43 passes for 347 yards and a touchdown in a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. In that win Herbert flashed his ability to make leverage throws, attack in the vertical passing game, and move with subtlety in the pocket:

The final bit of good play from Herbert we’ll look at is his performance in a win against the New York Jets. Once more you will see him attacking leverage, as well as some creativity and manipulation from the rookie quarterback:

So, how do you beat him? By changing the expectation in his mind. When Herbert has struggled this year it is when teams change things up on him and upset his pre-snap expectations from the defense. Take this interception against the Miami Dolphins. Perhaps worried about so many Cover 0 pressure looks he has been seeing from the defense, Herbert perhaps makes a mistake when the Dolphins instead drop into Cover 3:

Then there is this interception from last week against the Buffalo Bills. Once more, the defense shows Herbert one look before the play, switches to another after the snap, and the quarterback is baited into a mistake:

Herbert has certainly been impressive, and he is likely making a strong case for Offensive Rookie of the Year. But you best believe that Bill Belichick is going to have some tricks up those sleeves of his on Sunday afternoon.