COSTA MESA — Justin Herbert leads the NFL in passing yardage through the first four weeks of the season with 1,250. That’s more than the Buffalo Bills’ Josh Allen, more than the Detroit Lions’ Jared Goff, more than the Indianapolis Colts’ Matt Ryan and more than the Philadelphia Eagles’ Jalen Hurts.
Maybe you should be.
There are plenty of reasons why Herbert should be somewhere other than atop the leaderboard, starting with the unknown level of pain and suffering his fractured rib cartilage has caused him and continuing with the prolonged absence of one of his favorite receivers, Keenan Allen.
It looked like it might be a long-term recipe for disaster, and it was during the Chargers’ 38-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 25, but Herbert and his teammates recovered well enough to take a 34-24 victory from the Houston Texans on Sunday, evening their record at 2-2.
Herbert regained his rhythm and his confidence, throwing with his customary fluidity and accuracy while completing 27 of 39 passes for 340 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans. He appeared stiff and ill at ease during the Chargers’ loss to the Jaguars one week earlier.
“Managing the unknown,” as Chargers coach Brandon Staley phrased it, helped Herbert better prepare to face the Texans. Herbert had a better week of practice last week than the previous one, too, and he played a game that sparked the Chargers to a much-needed victory.
“Out of all of the things that he did (Sunday), I thought that he led our football team beautifully,” Staley said. “I thought that he affected his teammates as well as I’ve seen him. Beyond his performance on the field, I thought that he led our football team at a really high level (Sunday).”
Herbert’s rise to the top of the league in passing yardage also has happened without the services of Allen, who injured his hamstring in the first half of the Chargers’ season-opening victory over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sept. 11. Allen didn’t practice Wednesday and is considered day-to-day.
“No new news,” Staley said of Allen’s status. “He’s still recovering.”
Asked if Herbert was feeling good, Staley smiled.
“I wouldn’t say that,” he said. “I’m going to let Justin speak for himself.”
Instead of looking primarily for Allen, who had a team-leading 106 catches for 1,138 yards and six touchdowns last season, Herbert has focused on spreading the wealth to start this season. Herbert hit Mike Williams with seven passes for a season-high 120 yards against Houston, for example.
“A lot of times, you see star receivers get emotional about touches and the plan and how it’s going throughout the game, but you just don’t see our guys do that,” Staley said of the bond Herbert and Williams have developed. “The (receivers) trust Justin, they trust Joe (Lombardi, the Chargers’ offensive coordinator)], they believe in one another and they’re happy for one another.
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“That poise and that calm, I think it really gives us an advantage because we never feel like we have to force (passes) to them. I think that’s a very comforting feeling as a quarterback, as a play-caller, as a head coach, that you don’t feel like you have to force this or he’s going to be unhappy. What that allows us to do is play team offense, which is very important.”
Additionally, tight end Gerald Everett had five receptions for 61 yards and one touchdown on Sunday. Everett has 50 yards or more receiving in three of four games so far this season. He has filled in capably for Donald Parham Jr., who injured his hamstring early in training camp and hasn’t played a game yet.
“Encouraged,” Staley said when asked about Parham’s status.
Parham, who had 20 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns last season, called his injury “kind of a freak accident kind of thing.” He jumped to catch a pass, but landed awkwardly and injured his hamstring during a routine training camp session on Aug. 6 at Jack Hammett Sports Complex.
Asked if expected to play Sunday against the Cleveland Browns, Parham said, “We’re trending that way.” Asked what he hoped to bring to the Chargers’ offense if he does play Sunday, he said, “Just a role player giving guys relief if they want it or need it. Just filling a role.”