In a career during which so much has been pronounced, few things ever have stood out so starkly for Justin Herbert.
On four occasions in his 44 NFL starts, the Chargers quarterback has been sacked as many as four times. Three of those occasions have happened in succession over the last three weeks.
“We have to get guys open faster,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Thursday. “There has been a lot of shuffling of the O-line and then facing some pretty good rush teams. It’s a combination of things but certainly something that we are aware of and need to do better.”
Herbert was sacked five times Sunday at Las Vegas, four times the week before at Arizona and five times the week before that at home against Kansas City. He has taken 37 hits during that stretch.
Going back one more game, Herbert has been sacked by a who’s who of pass rushers: Nick Bosa, Chris Jones, J.J. Watt and Chandler Jones, among others.
The pressure in the game against the Raiders set an early and ominous tone. On the Chargers’ first offensive snap, Maxx Crosby burst around right tackle Foster Sarell and knocked the ball from Herbert’s hand.
Herbert scrambled to recover the fumble, but a message had been sent.
The Chargers have been dealing with injuries along their offensive front, with center Corey Linsley (concussion) and right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee) both missing time recently.
Right guard Zion Johnson (shoulder) was sidelined for eight snaps against Las Vegas but managed to play through the pain in the second half.
Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater (biceps) has been out since getting hurt in Week 3.
Along with having their depth tested, the Chargers have been victimized repeatedly by blitzing and more exotic-type pressures. The looks have led to confusion and breakdowns in the schemes designed to protect Herbert.
“There were a couple of pressures that, when you don’t handle them well, people are going to try to keep doing it,” Lombardi said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to show that we can handle.
“We have had some good reps of it and then just a couple of times where the running backs have to fit in inside and take that A or B gap rusher out, which two weeks in a row, we have kind of failed at that. We have to prepare the guys better and get that part fixed.”
On Sunday, the Chargers will face a Miami defense that has produced at least one sack in 10 consecutive games and multiple sacks four games in a row.
Even more recently, the Dolphins have been getting to the quarterback much the same way opponents have been getting to Herbert. They have nine sacks the last two weeks.
Miami features Jaelan Phillips (drafted in the first round in 2021) and Bradley Chubb (traded for last month) at outside linebacker.
They also have Melvin Ingram, who was with the Chargers for nine years before departing in the summer of 2021 as a free agent.
Ingram, who was the AFC’s defensive player of the month in September, has sacks in four straight games.
“They have a number of good rushers,” Lombardi said. “We’re going to have to be on the screws with our protection plan, for sure.”
Throughout the early portion of his career, Herbert showed an ability to avoid sacks by getting rid of the football in efficient ways. He never was sacked more than three times through his first 27 starts.
But the pressure of late has intensified, a situation made more difficult by the absence of a reliable running attack and the loss of wide receiver Mike Williams, who has missed most of the last five games because of an ankle injury.
Thursday did bring some encouraging news for Herbert and the Chargers as Linsley, Johnson and Williams all were upgraded to full practice participants, suggesting each could play against Miami.
The injury news wasn’t as good for safety Derwin James Jr. (quadriceps) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) as neither practiced, casting doubt on their availability for Sunday. … The Chargers will be without Pipkins and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee), both of whom have been unable to practice this week.