Following an offseason of change, the Chargers are ready for the next stage of the Justin Herbert era. New arrivals, Kellen Moore and Quentin Johnston, will make all the difference.
The Chargers struck gold when the organization selected Justin Herbert as the third quarterback off the board at the 2020 NFL Draft. Since arriving to the franchise, Herbert has proven to be a steal and one of the best young signal-callers in the league.
Herbert and Co. have won more games in each season together, jumping up from seven wins as a rookie to nine in Year 2, while narrowly missing a postseason berth in the final week of the season. In 2022, the Chargers got over the hump by securing a spot in the AFC playoff field.
Chargers Suffer Embarrassment In Front Of National Audience
As the No. 1 ranked wildcard team, Los Angeles received the fifth seed, setting up a trip to Jacksonville to take on the upstart Jaguars. After storming out to a 27-point lead in the first half, the Chargers suffered an all-time collapse when Jacksonville outscored them 31-3 the rest of the way.
This embarrassing loss led to some changes for the Bolts. Perhaps the biggest move of the offseason came when Joe Lombardi was relieved of his duties as the team’s offensive coordinator. In his place, Kellen Moore signed on to craft a system around Herbert.
Kellen Moore Is Exactly What The Doctor Ordered
Moore, a former Boise State standout at quarterback, is a rising talent in the coaching ranks. He got his first break with the Cowboys in 2018 when Dallas hired the 29-year-old to replace Wade Wilson as the quarterbacks coach.
Only one offseason later, Moore earned a promotion and became the youngest offensive coordinator in the NFL. From 2019-2022, the first-time OC helped mold Dak Prescott into one of the most effective players at his position. A drastic uptick in completion percentage and overall production coincided with Moore’s hiring.
Citing a need for a fresh start on both sides, Dallas and Moore opted to mutually part ways this offseason. You know the age-old saying: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Now nearing the age of 35, the Cowboys will regret moving on from the ascending coach once they see how much of a difference he makes in Los Angeles.
As good as Prescott is at quarterback, Justin Herbert provides considerably more upside and arm talent to his new offensive coordinator. Finding a coach that knows what he has in Herbert was crucial, as Lombardi consistently failed to utilize the strength of his signal-caller during their tenure together.
To support this claim, look no further than the average depth of target for the Chargers’ pass catchers over recent years. Herbert’s 6.8 yards per attempt ranked 23rd in the league, while Prescott ranked 12th.
Going deeper, Mike Williams was the only receiver to net an ADOT north of 8.9 yards (minimum of seven games). In comparison, the three wideouts with the most targets in Dallas averaged anywhere from a 10.1 to 11.1 ADOT. In simpler terms: Kellen Moore pushes the ball down the field a lot more than Joe Lombardi.
Now, you might say the numbers are skewed because the Chargers employ Keenan Allen who thrives at attacking the short-to-intermediate areas in the passing game. To that, I would retort that the rest of the receiver room in LA features several players capable of stretching the field vertically. They simply just were not asked to do it often.
Quentin Johnston Gives Chargers A Potential Difference-Maker
Expect that to change instantly in 2023. Not only did the front office acquire an uber-talented play caller, but it also added a game-breaking pass catcher by drafting Quentin Johnston in Round 1. With Johnston, Moore will have no shortage of weapons at his disposal.
While Johnston and Williams may look similar in terms of build, the two receivers play very different games. Both excel at being deep threats and challenging defenses, but Johnston relies more on creating after the catch, while Williams is a jump ball savant.
Johnston boasts remarkable speed for his size and is still scratching the surface of what he could be as a route runner. At TCU, the 6-foot-2, 208-pounder terrorized defenders in the open field. His vision is not quite elite, but the way Johnston looks with the ball in his hands is reminiscent of A.J. Brown.
Thanks to their differing styles, Williams and Johnston complement each other perfectly. They both will free up the middle of the field for Keenan Allen, Austin Ekeler, and the tight end group. Furthermore, the dynamic duo on the boundary should unlock the next level of development for Herbert as he continues growing as an all-around quarterback.
Armed with Kellen Moore, an impressive ensemble of weapons, and a few premier players on the defense — the time is now for Justin Herbert to prove he’s worth all the hype. Here’s to hoping we get a full 17-game slate of healthy Herbert. Lord knows the Chargers could use some luck on the injury front.