The Los Angeles Chargers are currently sitting at 2-7, and also most recently took their first loss by more than seven points in a 29-21 loss to the Miami Dolphins. A point of contention after the game was how passive (by today’s standards) the offense was. There was a lot of early-down running, even at ill-advised times; and while the star rookie quarterback Justin Herbert completed 20 passes, he didn’t cross the 200-yard mark – which is unusual for him as he is usually much more aggressive with his passing.
While the more non-aggressive style of the passing game is unusual for Herbert, them running the football quite a bit isn’t. Unfortunately, the running backs have had a hard time staying healthy this year, and some are less effective than others. But Sunday’s loss indirectly pointed to something which may have been overlooked for a while as the spotlight falls on head coach Anthony Lynn. While he hasn’t always gotten to do it for various reasons, Lynn’s always favored a more run-heavy offense. However, when you don’t have a higher-tier running back anymore and Herbert is the quarterback, this just doesn’t work. At this point, Lynn and Herbert are simply not a good fit for each other.
Anthony Lynn’s Run-First Style and Justin Herbert Do Not Mix
The Place of Run-Heavy Offenses
In recent years since the NFL evolved into a more pass-heavy league, there has started to be a growing sentiment against offenses that lean more on the run. In fact, some now view running backs as the most easily replaceable/disposable position. Whether that’s true or not, the running game is still a necessity mainly to keep the defense honest, and also sometimes to pick up short-distance downs. Just how much the running game needs to be involved is debatable. This also can vary depending on a team’s individual situation.
In the case of the previous Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, any offense involving him does need to have some measure of running – mainly because Rivers himself was/is ludicrously immobile, so you had to run sometimes with him or otherwise he’d get smashed on every play since he couldn’t extend the play very well.
Elsewhere, in the case of the Baltimore Ravens, a run-first offense works pretty well for them – since they have Lamar Jackson, who is arguably a better runner than he is a passer, and you have no idea a lot of the time if he’s going to hand it off or keep it himself. And while the Kansas City Chiefs do run the ball to switch things up sometimes, they don’t need to lean on the run since they have Patrick Mahomes. The running game does have its place, but it suits some teams better than others.
The Chargers and Running the Ball
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn is a former running backs coach. It does stand to reason that he would want to feature the running game a good amount. During the Rivers era, they had a pretty good balance (which was needed, as mentioned earlier). And when they started with Tyrod Taylor in Week 1 this year, featuring the run made sense then too as Taylor’s also more known for his running ability than his passing ability.
However, then Justin Herbert was thrown into action unexpectedly and excelled immediately. Since then, he has been setting various rookie records and hasn’t really looked like a rookie most of the time. He already looks to be one of the league’s best deep passers. And unlike his predecessor, he can extend the play and run for it sometimes. As such, it seems to stand to reason that the running game would take a back-seat and they would lean more on Herbert. Something closer to a Chiefs-style offense would seem to make more sense. But unfortunately, Lynn doesn’t seem to want to play it that way.
The Overlooked Conflict Between Anthony Lynn and Justin Herbert
This came to a bit of a head against the Dolphins. The Chargers were missing both Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson at this point, and they’d elected to make Kalen Ballage their top runner for now. Despite being down to third-stringers, they chose to keep running on early downs even when down two scores. And they weren’t doing much better than three yards a carry either.
Granted, the Dolphins defense is tough, but Justin Herbert has seemed to be up for most challenges. The fact that they didn’t rely on him as much was bizarre to the point where the team was questioned about this during postgame press conferences–and Lynn and Herbert gave directly conflicting answers (Lynn said Herbert checked into those plays, Herbert said it was the plan all along). This at best further suggests a big disconnect between Herbert and Lynn. (At worst–and probably more likely–somebody straight up lied, which is rather alarming.)
None of this should insinuate that Lynn is the sole problem with the Chargers – even just including the staff. Lynn does have his strengths. But he’s shown a bit of stubbornness and unwillingness to adjust to a situation in personnel where being more pass-heavy seems to be the clear solution. Lynn and Herbert, as such, do not seem to be a good fit for each other as head coach and quarterback. Lynn would benefit more from perhaps being the offensive coordinator of a team like the Ravens, while Herbert would benefit from having a coach that allowed him to unleash his passing ability even more.
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