Perhaps Joe Lombardi isn't the problem
Resident punching bag, and former offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi was not given any parades on his way to the airport (Lombardi calls plays for the Denver Broncos now). The depth-of-target stat that plagued the Chargers the previous two years was always hung around his neck. Fans and pundits alike see in Justin Herbert a unique physical specimen who can throw a raspberry through a battleship.
So why does he throw so many two yard passes?
Herbert has been given a pass. Lombardi was the idiot at the control panel telling him to take the 5 yard completion on his check down and stay ahead of the sticks. Only Lombardi is gone now and Herbert completed 70% of his passes against Miami but averaged only 6.9 yards per completion.
His Average Depth of Target (ADoT) against the Dolphins was 4.1 yards. ADoT is computed by dividing air yards by targets. It reveals how deep a receiver ran his routes and how many air yards he saw per target on average. Herbert's ADoT declined last season from 7.9 to 6.9 due to injuries and attrition and, many claimed, Lomardi's affinity for stick routes.
Herbert and his teammates never threw Lombardi under the bus. At some point we may need to acknowledge that the inner-perfectionist in Justin that hates putting the ball in harm's way might be impeding this team's fortunes. If this is just who Herbert is, is Justin the problem?
Did the Miami Dolphins dress a punter?
The Chargers have forced one punt in the last six quarters of football. Jake Bailey, who signed with Miami in the off-season on a one-year deal worth $1.23 million, did dress on Sunday.
He even punted. Once. The kick traveled 38 yards, or basically the average distance of one Tua Tagovailoa pass to Tyreek Hill.
Hyperbolic, sure. Hill averaged 19.5 yards a catch and seemed to be running five yards further than any of the defenders chasing him all day—so Bailey's punt equaled two of the Cheetah's pass routes! (The Dolphins will pay Bailey an average of $72K per punt at this rate.)
When the Titans watch the tape of the Chargers Dolphins game they will see the Vic Fangio Coaching Tree being used to roast smores in Hermosa Beach. The philosophy of "building a roof" over your opponents to keep their skill players from making explosive plays was pushed to the breaking point.
Miami quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who struggled against this team last season, threw for 466 yards, averaging more than 10 yards per attempt and nearly 17 yards per completion.
“Some days you’re the bug,” said defensive lineman Morgan Fox. “Some days you’re the windshield.”
The point being, given so little practice against a punting unit, the Chargers have to hope that Special Teams Coach Ryan Ficken's squad will not overlook Ryan Stonehouse. Stonehouse is a 2022 Second Team All Pro punter and has the coolest sounding name of a kicker since Errol Mann.
Do not underestimate Mike Vrabel's willingness to let Stonehouse kick it all over the yard.
Turnovers are overrated
The Chargers have won the turnover battle 7-0 in their last two games and gone 0-2, losing by a total of three points. One way to overcome a turnover margin that horrific is to never punt. Tagovailoa fumbled the snap on the Dolphins' opening drive inside the Chargers' 5-yard line and threw an interception in the end zone. The Dolphins recovered the other botched snap Tagovailoa put on the SoFi turf in the first quarter.
The Chargers won the time of possession by five minutes (32:41-27:19), converted 60% of their third downs (9-15), ran the ball for 234 yards while holding the Dolphins to 70 rushing yards and still lost. Baffling? Teams that had rushed for 200 yards, allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards, and won the turnover margin were 110-0 before Sunday since 2000.
Pro Football Focus will continue to reward Justin Herbert for how rarely he generates a turnover-worthy play, but a case can be made for putting the ball in harm's way. The modern game is beginning to tilt towards rewarding aggression.
There is nothing more aggressive than calling a timeout with 0:14 left in the second quarter to enable your quarterback to put the ball in the air at least two more times. Why take a knee and go into the intermission tied when you can wing it downfield and possibly draw a penalty? Which brings us to cornerback J.C. Jackson.
J.C. Jackson might have come back a week too soon
In his post game interview with the Chargers' radio team Brandon Staley was careful to protect his player. Staley was asked if he had benched Jackson in the 4th quarter because he was struggling to stay in coverage against the fleet of Ferrari-branded receivers Miami employs.
“It starts with me as the coach,” Staley said. “I got to do a better job.”
He steered clear of the term "benching" and suggested that the team was trying to keep the defensive backs fresh on a hot day. "We were looking for a combination that worked," said Staley.
No matter how Staley tries to deflect blame from one player it was evident that Mister INT (Jackson's nickname and social media avatar) was a liability in pass coverage and his mental errors tilted the game. His pass interference penalty before halftime gifted Miami three points in a game decided by two.
Tagovailoa pass was not even of the Hail Mary variety. He released the ball early and threw it short of the end zone. The Chargers could have allowed receiver Erik Ezukanma to catch it and the half would be over.
Inexplicably, Jackson shoved Ezukanma with both hands in the back. It was about as uncool as pushing your widowed grandmother out of the way so that you could catch the bride's bouquet.
The Chargers handed Jackson a five-year, $82.5 million contract in 2022 because they thought he could become a shutdown corner who erased the opponent's best receivers from week to week. The former New England Patriot leads the league in interceptions since his rookie season in 2018.
Mister INT picked off Tagovailoa in the end zone for his first interception in a Charger uniform, but even in his accomplishments Jackson managed to invite criticism. Had he stayed in the end zone the Chargers would have started their drive on the 20-yard line. Jackson foolishly elected to run the ball out and was pushed out of bounds on the 4-yard line.
This is the latest example of how poorly things have gone for Jackson since joining the team. He has looked lost in coverage and been targeted by opponents. After a preseason surgery to clean up his ankle he ruptured the patella tendon in his knee eleven months ago.
Social media clips have shown an inspirational work ethic to rehabilitate his rebuilt knee; Jackson has said and done all the right things off of the field. The commitment to doing everything in his power to be ready for the 2023 season opener truly is a marvel. Problem being, he isn't.
The go route that Hill ran on Jackson in the third quarter for a 35-yard touchdown looked like a UAP seen from the cockpit of an F-35 fighter plane.
It should be noted here that Tyreek Hill also cooked every other Chargers defender not named Jackson. Staley was indeed searching for a coverage, or a corner to match up and turn off the spigot. He never found it.
Hill ran by Ja’Sir Taylor for the back-breaking play of the game, a 47-yard reception on a wheel route out of the slot on the game-winning drive. A few plays later he beat Michael Davis on a fade pattern for the touchdown that put Miami ahead.
“Everybody on defense today that was covering did not have a good game,” said Staley.
That blanketing statement was the first blanketing the Chargers did all day.
The Las Vegas Raiders are going to the Super Bowl
Okay, I'm just kidding with this last one, but we all have to wear it for the next six days for all of the Raider fans in our lives. It is factual: The Silver and Black are in first place in the AFC West.
They don't print the T-shirts for that after Week 1, but for a fanbase that enjoys screaming "RAIIIIIIIIIDERS!" at pedestrians trying to get home after a Raiders loss it is never too soon to crow.