Chargers need to rush to protect Justin Herbert vs. Dolphins

In a career where so much has been said, few things have stood out so strongly for Justin Herbert.

On four occasions in his 44 NFL starts, the Chargers quarterback has been sacked as many as four times. Three of these opportunities have happened in a row in the last three weeks.

“We need to open up the guys faster,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said Thursday. “There was a lot of shuffling on the O line and then facing some pretty good rush teams. It’s a combination of things, but certainly something we are aware of and need to do better.”

Herbert was sacked five times Sunday in Las Vegas, four times the week before in Arizona, and five times the week before at home against Kansas City. He took 37 hits during that stretch.

Going back another game, Herbert was fired by a who’s who of pass rushers including Nick Bosa, Chris Jones, JJ Watt and Chandler Jones.

The pressure in the game against the Raiders hit early and ominously. On the Chargers’ first offensive snap, Maxx Crosby busted around Foster Sarell’s right tackle and knocked the ball out of Herbert’s hand.

Herbert tried to find the fumble, but a message had been sent.

The Chargers have been grappling with injuries on their offensive front, with center Corey Linsley (concussion) and right tackle Trey Pipkins III (knee) both missing time recently.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) chases his fumble in the first half against the Raiders last week.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) chases his fumble in the first half against the Raiders last week.

(David Becker/Associated Press)

Right defender Zion Johnson (shoulder) was sidelined for eight snaps against Las Vegas but managed to weather the soreness in the second half.

Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater (biceps) has been out since injuring himself in Week 3.

Aside from testing their depth, the Chargers have repeatedly fallen victim to blitz attacks and more exotic pressure. The looks have caused confusion and breakdowns in the systems designed to protect Herbert.

“There have been a few strains that people will try to move on with if you don’t handle them well,” Lombardi said. “We have to show that we can handle it.

“We’ve had some good reps of that and then just a couple of times where the running backs fit in and have to take out the A or B gap rusher, which kind of failed us two weeks in a row. We need to prepare the guys better and get that part fixed.”

On Sunday, the Chargers face a Miami defense that has produced at least one sack in 10 straight games and multiple sacks in four straight games.

More recently, the Dolphins have reached quarterback in much the same way opponents have reached Herbert. They have nine sacks in the last two weeks.

Miami features Jaelan Phillips (drafted in the first round in 2021) and Bradley Chubb (traded for last month) as outside linebackers.

They also have Melvin Ingram, who was with the Chargers for nine years before departing as a free agent in the summer of 2021.

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,” said Lombardi. “We definitely have to be on the right track with our protection plan.”

During the early part of his career, Herbert showed an ability to avoid sacks by getting rid of football in an efficient manner. In his first 27 starts, he was never fired more than three times.

But the pressure has increased lately, a situation complicated by the lack of a reliable running attack and the loss of wide receiver Mike Williams, who has missed most of the last five games with an ankle injury.

Thursday brought some encouraging news for Herbert and the Chargers as Linsley, Johnson and Williams were all promoted to full practice participants, suggesting anyone could play Miami.


The injury news wasn’t too good for the safety of Derwin James Jr. (quads) and cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) as neither of them worked out, casting doubt on their availability for Sunday. … The Chargers will be without Pipkins and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee), both of whom were unable to practice this week. Chargers need to rush to protect Justin Herbert vs. Dolphins

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