If you felt the first week of the NFL season lacked quarterback play, you were right. League passers set a four-year low on completion percentage, yards per pullback, EPA, success rate… I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. It’s been a tough week for the most important sporting position.
Of course, there were exceptions, namely Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. The two finished first and second in the league by the EPA at the end of the week, and they succeeded despite both facing pressure from more than 40 percent of their falls to finish fourth and seventh, respectively. The Chiefs-Chargers game on Thursday night should have caused a lot of buzz, no matter how the two superstar quarterbacks played on Sunday – the two best teams in the NFL’s toughest division – but they still set the bar terribly high. The total points scored per game, 54, is the highest in Week 2, according to Pro Football Focus, and 67 percent of tickets have already been sold at the time of this writing. People are waiting for a lot of points.
The game will have big implications for the AFC West, and it could be one of the deciding factors in the MVP race if Herbert and Mahomes can keep up the good work of the season (and they will). But it should also serve as the first big test for two offenses who, despite their debut success, still have to answer one big question: Can they access the deeper parts of the field in passing play?
Let’s start with the Chiefs and Mahomes, who only connected on one pass last week that went at least 25 yards through the air. Now the lack of completions in the outfield was not a problem on Sunday. Kansas City would definitely end the season first in scoring if they repeated that 16 more times. But I’m not sure we can learn from the crushing 44-21 win over Arizona because the Chiefs won’t play defense under Vance Joseph every week.
The Cardinals’ defensive coordinator was criticized for his aggressive approach – even though Sunday’s blitz worked better than traditional rushes – but the real problem was his recruiting. Typically, when the offense brings three receivers onto the field, the defense responds by replacing the linebacker with a third full-back to match speed with speed. The Cardinals, who honestly have limited corner depth, didn’t. Last week, no other team played base defense against three-receiver sets over five snaps. According to TruMedia, Arizona has done this 20 times:
Instead, Joseph asked linebacker Isaiah Simmons to cosplay the nickelback, and everything went as expected. The third-year pro was under the gun three times and gave up three receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes had a perfect passer rating when he threw to Simmons.
Aside from the heavier staff, Joseph mostly opted for a single-high surface, even after the football world has spent the last year and a half talking about the Chiefs’ problems with a double-high surface. We haven’t seen a team play Mahomes like this since 2019, when the league was still trying to figure out how to defend this fire-breathing offensive dragon. This allowed Andy Reed to dust off some of the tactics that had served him so well back then. Crossing routes, which were the bread and butter of Tyreke Hill from 2018 to 2020 before protective gear began to be sold to stop him, were back on the menu, with Mahomes completing four passes over them of 10 or more air yards.
Mahomes on Crossing Routes (more than 10 airfields)
|Season||Try/Game||Comp. %||Yards / Att||EPA/ATT||Success rate|
|Season||Try/Game||Comp. %||Yards / Att||EPA/ATT||Success rate|
But while the Chiefs’ offense looked like it turned back time on Sunday, the Cardinals actually let them do it. The Chargers, led by coach Brandon Staley, won’t be as generous. First, Staley won’t have to ask the linebacker to stay with Travis Kelsey for 60 minutes because he has all-around defender Derwin James to do so. And secondly, Staley’s defense is designed to handle the crosses that have given Arizona so much trouble. Whether the Chargers stick with two high line coverage or move to one high line, they usually have a player, usually on the weak side of the defense, who wants to help on these cross paths:
Facing a defense already structured to rob the Chiefs of what they do best and one that includes a formidable four-man rush with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack will show us if Reid’s offense is truly back to to what it was before the uneven 2021 campaign. , or if there are any adjustments that still need to be made.
Meanwhile, the Chargers will have to make some adjustments to their offense after Keenan Allen was sidelined with a hamstring injury. The offense moved the ball well after Allen was injured in Los Angeles’ win over Las Vegas in Week 1, but as they did in 2021, the Chargers had a hard time pushing the ball off the field. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted he was too conservative in the second half, but it’s not a one-time issue. Handling one of the strongest and most accurate hands in the NFL, Herbert ranked 21st in average weekly hitting depth, according to TruMedia. He also finished 21st in the aDOT a season ago, so we can’t just chalk it up to Allen’s injury and script.
Lombari is an easy scapegoat, and he certainly deserves to be censured for scheduling plays that seem to be geared towards moving downfield 5 yards at a time, but he does deal with certain staffing restrictions: namely the Chargers accepts the body. Look, it’s not a very fast band. Allen, when healthy, is more like a ball receiver than a long-range threat. Mike Williams plays on the bottom a lot, but he needs time to get there and doesn’t create a big gap in his path. Josh Palmer and DeAndre Carter, the only other wide receivers to hit more than 10 snaps on Sunday, are also not known for their speed. In 2021, Herbert had the fourth-highest average pass time in the NFL in 2021, according to Pro Football Focus. He had to wait until his zealous receiving corps descended onto the battlefield.
If the Chargers had a good offensive line, it wouldn’t be such a big problem. But they don’t, and that’s the way it is. It may seem harsh for a line of attack that kept Herbert from getting fired against a good Raider front, but the quarterback deserves more credit for it.
The best scores for bags prevented (or caused) by QB and blocking the team. Based on play-by-play time before pressure.
Herbert prevented over 3 sacks but blocked badly.
Barrow’s 7 sacks had more to do with him than blocking, plus he stepped back to pass 66 times. pic.twitter.com/GjHY8DShlr
â Kevin Cole (@KevinColePFF) September 13, 2022
The Chargers’ offensive line isn’t seen by many as a big problem, like, say, the Bengals’ offensive line, but it’s losing pressure at the same rate â it just has a quarterback that’s great at busting the pocket.
The Raiders pressured Herbert nearly 50 percent of the time he refused. And although this did not seem to affect Herbert, Lombardi was handcuffed. The Chargers offensive coordinator couldn’t throw a lot of shots in the outfield without putting his quarterback under pressure, and he couldn’t really use formation because that would leave his superior line without the help of running backs and tight ends.
The Chargers were the only team that didn’t have a single offensive run from Hollow in the first week.
â Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) September 12, 2022
We can’t tie Los Angeles’ inability to move the ball off the field in week one to one thing; it would be easier to fix if that was the case. It sounds bleak, but the Chargers aren’t going to face Max Crosby and Chandler Jones every week. Passing the Chiefs rush will be a more realistic challenge for this passing game. It may not be an elite unit, but under the leadership of Chris Jones and rookie George Karlaftis, it is good enough to create problems for a bad offensive line. If a medium passing rush can place similar limits on Lombardi’s offense, it’s time to raise a few red flags.
Millions will tune in for this dream matchup of two incredibly talented quarterbacks looking forward to an extravagant fireworks display, and Mahomes and Herbert are sure to be a lot of fun. One of…