Justin Herbert improved over his college career. That is an indisputable fact that seemed to be overlooked by pre-draft NFL writers. They seemed to believe that he peaked as a sophomore and everything was downhill after that. Herbert saw his draft stock come in to question as analysts doubted his accuracy, questioned his leadership and pre-ordained him as a bust.
Herbert was drafted sixth overall by the Los Angeles Chargers, proving all of the pre-draft speculation about a slide incorrect. The rookie QB took over for the injured Tyrod Taylor a few moments before kickoff against the Kansas City Chiefs in week two, and the NFL was immediately changed.
Herbert has lit the league on fire, throwing for 1,542 yards with 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Despite those gaudy numbers, the Chargers have had a hard time winning, posting only one victory in five games under their new QB. If Herbert had started in week one and achieved his season average in yards, the Chargers would have the seventh-ranked passing offense.
This is all to say that Herbert has played fantastically thus far. He has played so well, in fact, that Mario Cristobal should be worried.
Why is a Great Herbert Bad for Cristobal?
The Oregon Ducks of 2019 were fantastic. They finished the season 12-2 with a Rose Bowl win and had arguably the best defense in school history. Herbert was a top ten draft pick at QB, and he was pressured at one of the lowest rates in the FBS. So why was Herbert’s draft stock in question? Simply put, he didn’t look spectacular.
Sure, 3,471 yards 32 touchdowns and six interceptions are not stats to laugh at. But completing less than 70% of his passes, having multiple games with no touchdowns accounted for and being compared to a quarterback named Joe Burrow, who had the greatest season in college football history from a passing perspective left many wanting more from the Ducks QB.
Flash forward a year and there is a massive debate happening in NFL circles about if maybe Herbert is a better QB than Burrow. Herbert spends all day every Sunday throwing absolute bombs for touchdowns. With several of the longest passes (in the air) in the league this season, Herbert has proven to have one of the best arms in the league and has shown off tremendous touch never before seen from the former Oregon Duck.
The revelation that Herbert is this good should frighten Cristobal.
The top two quarterbacks taken in the 2020 draft had the number one and number three best scoring offenses in college football. The presumptive top two QB’s in the 2021 NFL Draft have the number one and number four best scoring offenses in the current college football season. The point being that having a top QB should give you a top offense and yet Oregon’s 2019 offense ranked 14th in ppg. Nothing to laugh at, but they averaged 12 points per game less than Burrow’s LSU Tigers.
This bodes poorly for Cristobal, despite the departure of Marcus Arroyo (who should be equally scared). If you have a great offensive line and a top QB, along with a solid group of receivers, it stands to reason that you should have a top five offense. Even if he wasn’t the play caller, Cristobal is still an offensive minded coach, and he should be worried that one of the most talented offenses we will ever see in Eugene could only manage 35 points per game.
How to Fix the Offense
If Cristobal had a high level of influence over the play calling in 2019, the Ducks should be worried. The best thing to do with talented college quarterbacks is to let them throw the ball. The recently noted stat that Oregon ran the ball 20 percent of the time on third and long does not bode well for the longevity of the current iteration of the Ducks.
In this scenario, the best thing Cristobal can do in 2020 is to let Joe Moorhead have free rein to call the offense. Moorhead is an innovative offensive mind who has shown a liking for spreading the ball out and getting the football to playmakers in space. Cristobal should let his fantastic offensive coordinator call the game and run his offense in order for the Ducks to reclaim their spot as an elite offensive team.
If Arroyo was the main reason the offense stank in 2019, then the change to fix the unit has already been made. Moorhead took a Penn State offense to undreamt-of heights before becoming a head coach. He comes to Eugene looking to reestablish himself as an elite offensive mind, and will likely do whatever is necessary to jumpstart the offense.
Either way, the play calling woes of the past two years will hopefully come to an end in 2020?
Top Photo By Kevin Cline
Bob Rodes, the FishDuck.com Volunteer editor for this article, is an IT analyst, software developer and amateur classical pianist in Manchester Tennessee.
Ryan Robertson is a defense contractor for the United States Marine Corps. A lifelong Duck fan from Grants Pass, he joined the Army out of high school. After four years as an Intelligence Analyst he decided it was time to further his education and pay more attention to his Ducks. One of Ryan’s first memories is of watching the Ducks, led by Joey Harrington, beating up on the Utah Utes in 2001. He is studying to be a Human Rights Investigator for the UN and intends to attend the U of O for graduate school in a few years. His grandfather ran track at Oregon in the ‘50s. He loves the Ducks, and has a passionate interest in reading every scrap of analysis centered around the football team.
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