Justin Herbert has so much talent in his right arm that he is testing the limits of what his coaches can conceive.
Last week, Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said he and his staff “have to keep expanding our imaginations” when it comes to crafting plays for Herbert and his abundant gifts.
However, after a 27-20 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, the Chargers have to reflect on how to rekindle a potentially explosive offense that has faded after losing three of four games.
Against the Vikings, Herbert’s longest play was a 26-yard finish to Keenan Allen midway through the fourth quarter. The Chargers had only one other play that reached 20 yards.
The problem, Staley explained, is that the defenses have made “a concerted effort” to prevent Herbert from deploying his big arm. They keep preventing deep balls, which means the Chargers have to run on prolonged possessions.
“When you play against such a talented quarterback like him and against teams that have great ability,” Staley said, “you’re going to try to force them to throw short.”
Last season, Herbert quickly emerged as a rookie thanks to his ability to pitch deep. The Chargers finished with nine receptions of touchdown of at least 25 yards.
This year, they have only two such touchdowns, both coming from Mike Williams in the same game, a 47-42 victory in Week 5 over Cleveland.
Herbert is ranked 23rd in the NFL in pass attempts of 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s less than Jared Goff, Sam Darnold and Justin Fields.
Staley said the Chargers have to face plays designed to test defenses. The fact that opponents are not allowing those plays to materialize is the puzzle that he and his assistants are trying to solve.
“If that team is playing to prevent us from having depth in the pitches,” Staley said, “we have to be able to change our strategy and adapt it to the circumstances of the moment.”
It’s about being more creative, Staley said, to find the space needed for playmakers of the Chargers.
Defenses are also taking action against Williams after he opened the season as an All-Pro. Williams had 31 receptions in five games, but has 10 receptions in the last four. He had 165 yards against the Browns, but 137 since.
On Sunday, Williams dropped what would have been a reception from touchdown in the final six minutes as the Chargers struggled to come back.
“We have to keep getting him involved,” Staley said of Williams. “We play better when Mike is involved, that’s for sure.”
After Williams and Allen, the Chargers have also received little production from their wideouts.
In nine games a year ago, Jalen Guyton averaged 21 yards on 24 receptions with three touchdowns. He had receptions of 49, 70 and 72 yards. This year, he is averaging 14.4 yards on 11 receptions with a length of 22.
Rookie Joshua Palmer showed his big-play potential with a sack of touchdown in week 8 against New England. But it has made few notable plays while being used sporadically.
On Sunday, both Guyton and Palmer also dropped passes.
“We need to see some production from that third place in wideout… ”Staley said,“ so that people really respect that player out there, and we force them to defend everyone ”.
Staley said cornerback Michael Davis (hamstring) is expected to start training this week. He also said he hopes safety Nasir Adderley (ankle) can return to training. Linebacker Drue Tranquill remains on the COVID-19 list. … The availability of the three players for the Chargers game Sunday night against Pittsburgh will not be known until later in the week.
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The Chargers offense falls short for not being able to throw long distances