The league has seen an influx of young quarterbacks with special combinations of physical talents — they can make spectacular downfield throws into tight windows and also create with their legs. In the past few seasons, Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson have redefined offensive football, re-written record books, and dazzled us with highlight after highlight. Although second-year Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert hasn’t put up the type of numbers that his contemporaries have, he just might end up being the best out of the bunch because of his ability to do the mundane — play within the rhythm of the offense.
This season, we’ve seen Mahomes and Allen struggle against 2-deep shells and defenses playing with a pass-first mentality. Opponents have limited their ability to throw deep with efficiency and create out of structure by setting the second and third levels of their defenses deeper. There are other important factors for their struggles like the inability to run the ball effectively but the one they can control is throwing the ball short in rhythm, and they’ve failed to do that on a consistent basis. There will be stretches when they do and move the ball, and they inevitably go back to big-game hunting, which is a mentality you want from your quarterbacks, but not against the way defenses are playing them now.
Defenses can’t play this style against Jackson because of his ability as a runner — they can’t afford to lose numbers in the box or he’ll gash them with the option. Jackson has taken big strides as a passer this season. Even with the rash of injuries they’ve suffered, the Ravens have one of the most explosive passing games in the league. However, there’s still a playground element to the Ravens’ passing game with all the freedom that their receivers are given to convert their routes and how much they go downfield. Essentially, Jackson doesn’t need to pass short or check the ball down as often because his legs are his checkdown.
While I’m not down on Jackson’s future whatsoever, I do wonder how sustainable his playstyle is because we’ve never seen an offense like Baltimore’s in the NFL. There will be a time when Jackson will have to cut down on running. He’s already moved in that direction but he’ll have to continue to as his athleticism and durability diminishes with age.
Herbert has taken a reverse approach compared to Mahomes, Allen and Jackson. Rather than playing with a playmaking mentality, holding the ball to create opportunities downfield and then learning to reign it in, he’s learning to play the game traditionally early in his career. Since his first start, he’s routinely hit the last step of his drop and gets rid of the ball with no hitch or just one or two hitches. He has such immense arm talent that he can throw his first or second read open when there is just a small crease to fit the ball into and he does so in a way that’s safe.