LA Chargers: A failing run game means it’s time to let Justin Herbert cook

It’s time to reevaluate the LA Chargers’ offensive approach and give more responsibility to Justin Herbert.

In the first three games this season, the LA Chargers averaged 151.7 rushing yards per game. With Austin Ekeler playing at a high level plus an OK offensive line, the run game was excelling. Rookie running back Joshua Kelley was having a sizeable impact with high usage.

However, it’s become clear that they’ve hit the wall when it comes to the rushing attack in the last two games. They averaged 78.5 rushing yards per contest vs. Tampa Bay and New Orleans. If it wasn’t for Justin Jackson‘s 36-yard run, that average would be significantly lower. The Chargers simply aren’t getting efficient production out of the run game anymore.

Why is that? For starters, Ekeler suffered a knee hyperextension in the Tampa Bay game. He is by far the most efficient running back on the team. Yards per carry tells the story quite well. Ekeler has averaged 5.1 yards per carry this season.

Kelley, who got off to a hot start, is only averaging 3.2 yards per carry now. Jackson unfortunately isn’t that much more efficient, averaging around 3.7 YPC.

In addition to the loss of Ekeler, the offensive line has suffered catastrophic losses. Bryan Bulaga and Trai Turner have each been out for the last two weeks. The pair on the right side has not played together since Week 2.

As a result, the right guard and right tackle spots have gone to Ryan Groy and Trey Pipkins. Both have been extremely underwhelming in run blocking. Groy has scored a below-average 58.8 PFF run-blocking grade while Pipkins has managed to be so bad that he scored a 37.9 (!!!).

While Sam Tevi has improved as a pass blocker quite a bit this season, he still has some of the same struggles he’s had as a run blocker. Other than Tevi, the Chargers are currently missing quite a bit of their original line structure.

Shane Steichen can try his best to scheme open some holes, but there’s just no answer to the run game problem that will come from substituting another back or trying some sweeps. The real answer? It’s time to let Justin Herbert cook.

To me, letting Herbert cook means not being so beholden to the idea of handing the ball off on first and second down. Getting into 2nd and 10 or 3rd and long situations could be avoided by some quick slants or crossers. Some other options include RPO style downs in general or designed quarterback runs.

While I’m not sure if it was designed or not, Herbert did fake a handoff to Jackson and kept the ball for a five-yard gain.

In his four starts, Herbert has only thrown 35 or more passes one time. Against Carolina, he registered 49 passing attempts. That number is somewhat inflated by the fact the Chargers were down by two possessions or eight points for most of the second half.

The Chargers’ comfort zone for Herbert has been letting him approach 35 or so passes but they’re generally careful to not let him go over that total. Against Kansas City and New Orleans, Herbert had 33 and 34 passing attempts respectively.

There’s no need to overcompensate and go in the direction of what the Bengals are doing with Joe Burrow. Burrow has gone over that 35 passing attempt mark four times out of his five games. But, the Chargers could very reasonably throw three or four more early-down passes per game with one or two designed quarterback runs thrown in. That would be enough to get opposing defenses on their heels in terms of not knowing what to expect on traditional running downs.