What the Chiefs-Chargers will mean for QBs and their deep passing games

If you felt like the quarterback’s game was lacking in the first week of the NFL season, you were right. League passers have set four-year lows in completion percentage, yards per recoil, EPA, completion rate… I could go on and on, but I think you get it. It’s been a tough week for the sport’s most important job.

There were of course exceptions, namely Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert. These two came out of the week ranked first and second in the EPA league, and they pulled it off while facing the pressure of more than 40% of their setbacks, placing fourth and seventh, respectively. Thursday night’s Chiefs-Chargers game was going to get a lot of hype no matter how the two superstar quarterbacks played on Sunday — they’re the top two teams in the NFL’s most stacked division — but they still place the very high bar. The 54 point total for the game is the highest on the Week 2 roster, and 67% of the tickets are on top as of this writing, according to Pro Football Focus. People expect a lot of points.

The game will have big ramifications for AFC West, and it could be one of the deciding factors in the MVP race if Herbert and Mahomes can keep it going all season (they will). But it should also serve as the first big test for two attacks who, despite their success in Game 1, still have a big question to answer: will they be able to access the deepest parts of the pitch in the passing game?

Let’s start with the Chiefs and Mahomes, who connected on a single pass that went at least 25 yards through the air last week. Now, the lack of field completions wasn’t much of an issue on Sunday. Kansas City would absolutely finish the season first in scoring if they replicated that performance 16 more times. But I don’t know what we can learn from the blowout 44-21 win over Arizona since the Chiefs won’t face a defense led by Vance Joseph every week.

The Cardinals defensive coordinator was criticized for his blitz-intensive approach — even though blitzes worked better than traditional Sunday rushes — but the real issue was his personal choices. Typically, when an offense puts three receivers on the field, the defense will respond by replacing a linebacker with a third cornerback to match speed with speed. The Cardinals – who, to be fair, have limited corner depth – didn’t. No other team played base defense against three sets of receivers over five snaps last week. Arizona has done it 20 times, according to TruMedia:

Instead, Joseph had linebacker Isaiah Simmons dress up as a nickelback, and everything went as planned. The third-year pro was targeted three times and allowed three receptions for 53 yards and a touchdown. Mahomes had a perfect passer rating when throwing at Simmons, according to Pro Football Focus.

In addition to the heavier personnel, Joseph has mostly opted for single-tier coverage, even after the footballing world has spent the past year and a half talking about the Chiefs’ problems against two-tier coverage. We hadn’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 dragon from an offense. It allowed Andy Reid to dust off some of the tactics that served him so well back in the day. Crossing routes – which had been the bread and butter of Tyreek Hill from 2018-2020 before defenses started selling out to stop him – were back on the menu, and Mahomes made four passes over them for 10 aerial meters or more.

Mahomes on Pass Routes (over 10 airyards)

Season Attempts/Game Comp. % Yards/Att EPA/Att Success rate
Season Attempts/Game Comp. % Yards/Att EPA/Att Success rate
2019 2.2 58.3% 12.5 0.42 58.3%
2020 2.0 63.3% 14.2 0.86 63.3%
2021 1.4 47.6% 8.8 0.24 47.6%
2022 4.0 75.0% 18.2 1.28 75.0%

But while the Chiefs’ offense seemed to turn the clock back on Sunday, really, the Cardinals just allowed them to. The Chargers, led by coach Brandon Staley, won’t be as generous. First, Staley won’t have to ask a linebacker to stay with Travis Kelce for 60 minutes because he’s got all-out safety Derwin James to do it. And, second, Staley’s defense is designed to handle those cruisers that have given Arizona so much trouble. Whether the Chargers stay in two-high coverage or rotate one-high, they usually have a player, usually on the weak side of defense, looking to help on those cross roads:

Facing a defense that’s already structured to take out what the Chiefs do best — and which features a terrific four-way run with Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack — will tell us if Reid’s offense is truly back to what it was. was before the uneven 2021 campaign, or if there are still adjustments to be made.

The Chargers, meanwhile, will need to make some adjustments to their offense after Keenan Allen was ruled out of the game with a hamstring injury. The offense moved the ball well after Allen sustained the injury in Los Angeles’ Week 1 win over Las Vegas, but as was the case in 2021, the Chargers struggled to push the ball to the bottom. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi admitted he got a little too conservative in the second half, but it’s not a one-time issue. Herbert, who has one of the strongest and most accurate arms in the NFL, finished 21st in average target depth for the week, according to TruMedia. He also finished 21st in the aDOT a season ago, so we can’t just see him as a product of Allen’s injury and the game’s storyline.

Lombari is the easy scapegoat, and he certainly deserves blame for calling plays that apparently aim to move up the court 5 yards at a time, but he faces some personnel limitations: namely, the chargers that receive the body. Look, it’s not a very fast band. Allen, when healthy, is more of a possession receiver than a threat on the field. Mike Williams makes a lot of plays on the court, but it takes him a while to get there and he doesn’t create much separation along the way. Josh Palmer and DeAndre Carter, the only other receivers who played more than 10 snaps on Sunday, aren’t known for their speed either. In 2021, Herbert’s average time to throw deep passes was the fourth slowest in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. He had to wait for his painful receiving body to descend.

If the Chargers had a good offensive line, that wouldn’t be such a big deal. But they don’t, that’s the way it is. That might sound harsh for an offensive line that didn’t allow Herbert to be sacked against a good Raiders front, but the quarterback deserves most of the credit for it.

The Chargers’ offensive line isn’t widely seen as a big deal like, say, the Bengals’ offensive line, but it’s shedding pressure at a similar rate — it just has a quarterback who’s exceptional at navigating a pocket. which is collapsing.

The Raiders put Herbert under pressure on almost 50% of his losses. And while it didn’t seem to affect Herbert, it did handcuff Lombardi. The Chargers offensive coordinator couldn’t call many down shots without exposing his quarterback to hits, and he couldn’t really use wide formations because that would have left his line outclassed without help from the carriers. ball and tight ends.

We can’t attribute LA’s inability to push the ball down in Week 1 to just one thing; it would be an easier solution if it did. It sounds grim, but the Chargers won’t face Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones every week. The Chiefs’ passing rush will provide a more realistic test for this passing game. It may not be an elite unit, but, led by Chris Jones and rookie George Karlaftis, it’s good enough to give a poor offensive line problems. If a mediocre passing rush is able to place similar strains on Lombardi’s attack, it’ll be time to raise some red flags.

Millions will tune in to this dream match of two incredibly talented quarterbacks expecting extravagant fireworks – and Mahomes and Herbert will no doubt provide plenty of entertainment. One of the benefits of employing an elite quarterback is that he can produce no matter what surrounds him. But Thursday night’s game, and, really, this very competitive AFC West run, can be boiled down to which of these two offenses is able to find a way to consistently create explosive plays and how fast they are able to do it.

Leave a Comment