Paul Brown Stadium will host the battle between two 2020 first-round pick quarterbacks. Justin Herbert’s Los Angeles Chargers will take on Joe Burrow’s Cincinnati Bengals. Both have shown enough in a year and a bit to be considered their teams’ franchise QB, and look to be within a chance of leading their sides to this year’s playoffs. The pair have never met in college or the pros, so there’s no immediate history to look at.
Cincinnati welcomed Pittsburgh to Ohio last week and sent them packing 3 hours later having demolished their division rival 41-10. The Chargers also faced a division opponent in the Denver Broncos. They however came away with a much sour feeling having been sent home from the Mile High City 28-13 losers. Let’s delve into these teams a little deeper ahead of Sunday’s affair.
Herbert is being wasted in LA offense
Justin Herbert has had the better start to his career when you compare the two QB’s, even after being the third taken at his position. Both Burrow and Tua Tagovailoa were taken at picks 1 and 5 before the Chargers selected the former Oregon duck at number 6. He then went on to have one of the best rookie seasons by a quarterback ever last year and won the league’s offensive rookie of the year award at NFL Honors in February. Fast forward a year and the Chargers’ second-year quarterback hasn’t really taken the second-year leap many expected him to, but that’s not all on him. We’ve seen what he can do, Joe Lombardi’s offense just isn’t a great fit. His dink and dunk scheme is wasting Justin’s big arm.
The second-year QB is tied for 25th out of 30 eligible quarterbacks when looking at the average depth of the intended target (7.3 yards per ADOT.) He’s tied with Matt Ryan, Big Ben, and Daniel Jones, and only ahead of Tua and Jared Goff in that category. Herbert isn’t being asked to be overly aggressive, and consequently isn’t turning the ball over, but also isn’t pushing the ball downfield. He’s 23rd in PFF’s big-time throw percentage, but also 27th (5th best) at their turnover-worthy play percentage. He is up there when looking at yards thrown (4th with 3230), but that’s mainly because the Chargers pass the ball 69.1% of the time.
Burrow is better protected, looking very good
Herbert’s special rookie season perhaps overshadowed how good Burrow was last season before going down with a serious knee injury midway through the season. He won 2 games in 10 as the Cinci starter but looked like the future when we got the rare chance to see him rip it behind a bad offensive line. The Bengals then went out and controversially took his former LSU teammate Jamarr Chase instead of top offensive tackle Penei Sewell. That put faith in previous 1st round pick Jonah Williams and free-agent acquisition Riley Reiff to protect their guy. 13 weeks in that’s looking like a better decision than many would have expected. Williams has finally got healthy and is up there as one of the league’s top tackles this season, whilst Reiff also has a pretty decent PFF grade at 69.1.
Chase on the other hand started out very hot, before being better or double-covered lately and seeing his production fall. He’s a legit threat and is a huge contributing factor towards Burrow’s breakout year. Cinci’s QB 1 has completed 69.3 percent of his passes for 2835 yards, 22 TD’s, and 12 INT’s in 11 games. He’s been way more aggressive than Herbert this season, boasting an average depth of target of 8.7 yards, but that also means he’s got a higher turnover worthy play percentage, ranking 14th with a TWP 3.2% of the time. The 2019 Heisman Trophy winner is certainly putting up numbers when in a better situation, he’s 10th in big-time throw percentage (5.4% of throws) behind the league’s very best. The two of them meet for the first time on Sunday, I have a feeling they’ll meet again in a much more important game within the next few years.
What happened last week?
These two teams had differing fortunes just a week ago. Cincinnati beat up on the Steelers, whilst the Chargers were run all over by the Denver Broncos. The Bengals win was a little more seismic though because of who their opponent was. Those very Pittsburgh Steelers had won 11 straight vs the Ohio outfit between 2015 and 2020 before their Monday Night Football win with Ryan Finley under center last season. Sunday’s result meant that they had now swept their division rival for the first time since 2009. Times are changing. Joe Mixon had himself a day, averaging 5.8 yards per carry for a total of 165 rushing yards and 2 TD’s.
His first one opened the scoring, whilst on the next drive, Ben Roethlisberger was picked by Bengals CB Eli Apple, whose return got all the way to the PIT 4-yard line. The Steelers’ defense put up one of only a few stands in the game and forced a FG to make it a 10-0 game. Cinci took control from there and before you know it it’s 31-3 and game over before halftime. Even after a Minkah Fitzpatrick pick of Burrow when the Bengals were in the two-minute drill. That was because Big Ben was picked for the 2nd time, this time for a TD by his former teammate Mike Hilton on the very next play. The Bengals closed out the game by scoring 10 more points in the second half, whilst a 15 yard TD pass to TE Pat Freiermuth was all that Pittsburgh had to shout about. That produced a final score of 41-10 to Cincinnati
Over in Denver, it was a rough start for the Chargers who were down 14-0 early in the 2nd quarter after being unable to stop the one-two punch of Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams. Teddy Bridgewater rolled out to his right looking to pass from ten yards out, before taking it in himself on the first one, whilst Williams was there to run it in from the same distance a quarter later. Drew Lock came in midway through the 2nd TD drive as Teddy headed to the blue medical tent to be checked for a lower leg injury, and returned after the half. At that point, Austin Ekeler had pulled one back for the Chargers after capitalising from a Lock INT.
Herbert brought the team down the field after the two-minute warning in the 2nd quarter, scoring after 45 seconds. Look what happens when you give your superstar QB the freedom to stretch the field. LAC had a chance to tie the game early in the 4th, but a Patrick Surtain INT on a pass intended for Jared Cook in the endzone killed their momentum. A checkdown to Javonte Williams went for 42 yards and put the Broncos up two scores at 21-7 midway through the 4th. At this point, the Chargers were in desperation mode, and that showed when a Herbert short pass to Ekeler hit his hands and deflected right into those of Surtain for his second INT, but this time one that went for 6. A consolation TD wasn’t enough to stop Denver from winning. They came out on top 28-13 winners.
In all honesty, I have no clue if either of these teams are good or not. One week they’ll beat a contender, the next they’ll lose to a team like the Jets. The Bengals are favoured by 3 in this one, partly because they’re at home. I trust their defense more than the Chargers too, so I’m going to take that.
Cincinnati 31, Los Angeles 27