Much has been made about the parallels between Tyrod Taylor’s situation with the Cleveland Browns and Baker Mayfield in 2018 and his presence on the LA Chargers ahead of Justin Herbert headed into 2020. In both cases, Taylor was pegged as a one-year bridge quarterback to hold the fort for a high draft pick and both times he was hurt (under much different circumstances of course) and opened the door for the rookie to start ahead of schedule.
However, I think Herbert’s proven himself to a degree through three games that Mayfield did not and he’s gone above expectations, entering a territory where it could be detrimental to Anthony Lynn’s offense and the team as a whole to keep him on the bench.
Let Justin win, Lynn.
In Mayfield’s first three starts for the Browns, against the Raiders, Ravens and Chargers, he had these numbers: 68 of 130 (52.3-percent), 875 yards, 4 TD, 5 INT, 67.9 rating, 12 sacks, 6.7 Y/A, 8 rush, 41 yards, 2 fumbles
In Herbert’s first three starters for the Chargers, against the Chiefs, Panthers and Buccaneers, he has these numbers: 77 of 107 (71.9-percent) 931 yards, 5 TD, 3 INT, 6 sacks, 12 rush, 47 yards, 1 TD, 2 fumbles
Statistically, we can see that Herbert has been much better than what Mayfield was at the beginning of his career, even accounting for the fact that NFL passing offenses have reached new levels in the last two years. But it’s not just the total results we’re looking at here, all three of Herbert’s starts appear to be better than all three of Mayfield’s first three starts with the Browns. I’m not picking on Mayfield, pardon the pun, but I’m only choosing the quarterback situation that is most often compared to the current one in Los Angeles.
And as it happens, Cleveland beat the Dallas Cowboys 41-30 on Sunday, scoring 30+ points in the third game in a row, a feat they last accomplished 52 years ago.
The Browns started 1-5 under Mayfield but his worst moments that season came early in the year and eventually Cleveland’s offense was one of the more potent ones in the league: from Week 10 to the end of the season, the Browns were 12th in scoring and point differential, posting a 5-2 record. Mayfield had his low moments (he threw three interceptions in each of those two losses) but a team that had gone 3-36-1 under Hue Jackson was finally scoring and winning.
Anthony Lynn is not a stranger to winning and it seems clear now that Herbert gives the Chargers their best chance at scoring.
everyone meet tyron johnson @_TBJXIII | #BoltUp pic.twitter.com/sI6c6PK6aO— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) October 4, 2020
In 2016 with the Buffalo Bills, and Lynn as his offensive coordinator, Tyrod Taylor had deep touchdown throws of 84 yards, 71 yards, 67 yards, 62 yards and 53 yards, going to Marquise Goodwin twice, Sammy Watkins twice and Greg Salas once.
Justin Herbert 53-yard touchdown to Tyron Johnson, an undrafted free agent playing for the first time, was longer than any passing play by Taylor since 2016.
In Week 1 of this season, Taylor did complete deep passes of 37 and 33 yards, but he was also credited with seven deep incompletions. Everything else he completed was short.
Herbert came into Week 4 having gone 6 of 12 on deep passes and then in the first quarter against the Bucs — one of the best pass defenses going into the week — he had that bomb to Johnson. Two drives later, he could throw the full 19 yards he needed to get a touchdown to Donald Parham, another UDFA making his debut.
Beautiful back-shoulder throw from Justin Herbert! Donald Parham Jr. comes down with the @Chargers TD.— NFL (@NFL) October 4, 2020
: #LACvsTB on CBS
: NFL app // Yahoo Sports app: https://t.co/wvEEn0SFTV pic.twitter.com/VO4Z20QpIQ
On the drive, Herbert also gained 20 yards on a deep pass to Keenan Allen that drew pass interference. Then on the drive after that, he did this with Allen:
a thing of beauty. @Keenan13Allen | #BoltUp pic.twitter.com/ELDNtR2Ai0— Los Angeles Chargers (@Chargers) October 4, 2020
The Chargers did not fall behind in the game because of Herbert. The fumble by Joshua Kelley gave away a touchdown to Tampa Bay and then a chop block penalty killed a third quarter drive, leading to LA trailing by four points in the second half. Which is when Herbert went deep again, this time for a 72-yard touchdown to a second year ... undrafted free agent.
HOLY CHARGERS ⚡️— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 4, 2020
Justin Herbert drops in a DIME to Jalen Guyton for a long TD
(via @Chargers) pic.twitter.com/wHOwaKNVv8
While Allen and Hunter Henry played their parts today too, Herbert was able to keep pace with Tom Brady against a great defense while hitting players like Guyton, Johnson and Parham for touchdowns and also losing Austin Ekeler to injury. Herbert had an overthrow that led to the game-sealing interception, but was only in that position because of the mistakes around him that he was now hoping to make up for.
Because that’s what great quarterbacks do. And Herbert did it. Herbert made up for a lot of mistakes around him and prior to that interception was relatively perfect against a probable playoff team in the NFC. That last mistake did not lose the game for the Chargers, Herbert was the main reason that they even had a chance to win.
@Chargers rookie QB Justin Herbert avoided mistakes for 3 quarters and throws a costly interception with 2 minutes remaining with a chance to tie the game in the 4th pic.twitter.com/gqPo6oxkaB— SAFEO INC (@SAFEO_INC) October 4, 2020
Though the Chargers have lost all three of Herbert’s starts, I can’t see a strong argument for why they would have won any of them with Taylor. LA scored 16 points in Week 1 against a Cincinnati Bengals team that is giving up 28 points per game since. They nearly scored as many points on Tampa Bay as what the New Orleans Saints scored (34) in Week 1 and Herbert passed for more yards on his own than what the entire Saints offense had against the Bucs.
He has faced better defenses than Cincinnati and has yet to show many cracks, relatively speaking. Compared to even the most recent rookie quarterbacks like Mayfield, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen, Sam Darnold, Kyler Murray, Daniel Jones, Dwayne Haskins, Drew Lock, Gardner Minshew and including both Lamar Jackson and Joe Burrow, Herbert’s first three games are a standout showcase.
It doesn’t mean we can predict the brightest future for Herbert now. Marcus Mariota’s first three starts were better than the highest of expectations. But it should mean that we can at least predict what happens next week: that Justin Herbert will give the Chargers the best chance to score and the best chance to win.