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Chargers Talk: Jeff Miller, Los Angeles Times

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)
Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) passes in the first half of an NFL football game against the New Orleans Saints in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Brett Duke)

JACKSONVILLE – senior writer John Oehser each week during the 2020 regular season will speak with a writer or media member covering the Jaguars' opponent.

Up this week:

Jeff Miller, the Los Angeles Times' Los Angeles Chargers beat writer, on the Chargers' matchup with the Jaguars at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, Calif., Sunday at 4:25 p.m.

Question: The Chargers are 1-4 but seem to have found something in rookie quarterback Justin Herbert in recent weeks. How do the Chargers feel about themselves entering Sunday?

Answer: They have played awfully well for stretches for a team that's 1-4. They were hammering the New Orleans Saints [in a 30-27 Saints victory a week before last Sunday's bye] and they were hammering the Tampa Bay Buccaneers [in a 38-31 Buccaneers victory] the week before that. They were handling both teams in the first half, so they have stretches where they play well. Their issue is they don't play full games. Their second halves the last two games have been horrible, and the defense has been really bad, which no one really saw coming. The last two first halves were good defensively and the last two second halves were terrible. It's a weird team. They seem like they're pretty good for a team that has lost four games in a row. They have holes and they can't win close games.

Q: How much optimism is there that Herbert is the guy?

A: A ton. I would be shocked if in their own eyes they haven't been surprised by some of the stuff that Herbert has done. He has made some throws that only certain guys in the league can make. This kid is doing it in his first game. It's hyperbole, but [Buccaneers Head Coach] Bruce Arians compared him to [Kansas City Chiefs quarterback] Patrick Mahomes in that he can retreat and keep going backward and then he will just rip a pass. He's not close to Mahomes. He's not that kind of a threat, but he has that kind of arm. He has done something in every game where you're watching it and say, "Wow, that is really impressive." He's doing it right from the git-go. They did not want to keep playing him [ahead of Week 1 starter Tyrod Taylor], but he just gave them no choice. It got to a point where it was like, "This is stupid. We can't take him out." As much as [Chargers Head Coach] Anthony Lynn didn't want to play him, I'm sure there were meeting where they were watching film on this kid and they said, "We can't take him out. Why would we take this guy out?" He'll make some mistakes. He has made some horrible mistakes and he'll continue to do it. He'll probably make a couple Sunday where you say, "That was awful." But then he'll do the kind of stuff you can't coach. They're really fired up about him.

Q: Aside from Herbert, what are they offensively?

A: They're kind of falling apart. They've had a ton of injuries and that has certainly played a part. Without [injured running back] Austin Ekeler, they're not nearly as explosive as they are when they have him. When [wide receiver] Keenan Allen got hurt last game, now they don't have Ekeler and Allen – and they just stalled. They don't have a lot of weapons. Hunter Henry is a good pass-catching tight end, but he's not great. [Wide receiver] Mike Williams can do some things, but he's not a gamebreaker with speed; he can go over the middle and catch balls. They're pretty limited. You see highlights and think, "This team can really light it up." But they can stall, and they've done that the last two second halves. Ekeler is the one guy who's explosive. Without him, they're not as down-in and down-out dangerous as they could be. And they're missing the right side of the offensive line [with injuries to starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and starting right guard Trai Turner]. Herbert has been hit quite a bit.

Q: You mentioned the Chargers' defensive struggles lately. That's surprising.

A: Yes, because of how well they had played. For three weeks, they were really good. They didn't give up many points and looked great. Then, they looked great in the first half against the Buccaneers then [Buccaneers quarterback] Tom Brady just lit them up in the second half. They were awful. It was all mental stuff. There are some young guys playing and they have injuries, but they've had some glaring breakdowns in the second half where they just give up easy touchdowns. They had Mahomes third and 20, they're about to win the game and he scrambles for a touchdown. They've had some really brutal breakdowns and the Tom Brady second half might have been one of the best halves he ever has played. He had a perfect passer rating with five touchdowns. They just had a bunch of breakdowns and they did it against the Saints on a couple of plays. They'll give up some stuff, but they usually don't give up big plays. But in the last two second halves, they have had breakdowns that have really cost them. It's surprising because they didn't start the season that way.

Q: At 1-4, what is success for the Chargers the rest of the season? Is this playoffs or nothing?

A: If Herbert stays healthy and keeps developing and flashing what he has been flashing, I think they'll be competitive. These guys play hard for Anthony Lynn. They never stop playing hard and they compete. They don't quit and you don't wonder if guys are taking plays off. These guys have never gone down that road. They're going to have to win some games and if they can win a close game and make a play at the end, maybe it will kickstart something. I don't think they'll make it back and be a playoff team. They've buried themselves into too bad of a hole. But now that Herbert's playing, it's about, "Let's make the most out of the season we can. Let's develop him and get a better sense of what we need to build around him." They're 1-4 and who knows if Lynn will survive the season, but the future looks pretty good. For a team that has lost four in a row in some gut-wrenching games, in the big picture they feel good about where they are – mostly because of what Herbert has done.

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