Chargers’ Pass Protection Looks to Rebound Against Raiders Following Rough Patch

The Chargers take aim at limiting sacks on Justin Herbert against the Raiders.

COSTA MESA – Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has hit the turf at an alarming rate the last two weeks.

After starting the season as the least-sacked quarterback across the first 10 weeks of the season – being brought down 12 times during that stretch – Herbert has taken a beating of late.

Herbert’s sack total has sky-rocketed following games against the Chiefs and Cardinals, being sacked nine times collectively between those two contests.

“Each sack has a story and you have to make sure you look at it,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I just think the one thing that Justin has proven is that he is an outstanding decision-maker and that he’s really strong with the ball. 

“Although we have had nine sacks, we have had zero fumbles. That is important, to be strong with the football. That’s how you win games in the league is protecting the football and taking it away. We have done a good job of that and we’ll keep working hard at protecting the passer.”

When last week’s game against the Cardinals came to a conclusion, the Chargers finished without center Corey Linsley and right tackle Trey Pipkins.

Linsley suffered a concussion and remains in the league’s safety protocol. Pipkins, who exited the game after reaggravating his MCL injury, puts him back to square one in trying to overcome this nagging injury that has plagued him for over a month.

“He’s been a pure example of toughness for us. We just want to make sure that we get that thing a lot of rest,” Staley said of Pipkins’ injury. “It’s that point of the year where you’re going to try and do that anyway.”

Linsley and Pipkins remain a wait-and-see regarding their game status for Week 13 against the Raiders. As the Chargers completed their first practice of the week on Wednesday, neither of them participated in practice.

If they can’t play this Sunday in Las Vegas, the Chargers will turn to Will Clapp at center and Foster Sarell at right tackle.

It can be worrisome when you have to slot in two backups into the starting lineup, but Staley voiced optimism as each of the reserve options have appeared in games this season. But Staley also pointed to the confidence he has in Herbert with his attribute of having a great sense of awareness in the pocket.

“There is no one better than Justin at protecting the football, feeling the rush,” Staley added. “It hasn’t happened to him as much, but, sometimes, it is good to take a sack in the NFL. Sometimes, it’s good to take a sack and be protected with the football instead of forcing something to happen that is not there.”

The protection for Herbert could take a step forward this week, as the Chargers will clash against an AFC West foe in the Raiders, who ranked last in the NFL with 16 sacks this season.

The one caveat is of those 16 sacks, 10.5 them have come from Maxx Crosby, who sits fourth in the NFL in the sack department.

With Pipkins’ game status unknown, Sunday’s game could feature Sarell tasked with slowing down Crosby. That’s no easy feat for any right tackle, let alone an assignment for Sarell, who’s only started one other game in his NFL career, which came in Week 10 this season against the 49ers.

Across 75 offensive snaps played this season, Sarell has allowed, one sack, four quarterback hits and seven pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. Surely, the Chargers will operate by throwing chip blockers at Crosby if Sarell gets the starting nod this week.

Staley said the key to mitigating sacks is staying out of known passing situations such as third-and-longs.

“When you’re on the road, it’s loud and you’re playing against quality rushers, you multiply your chances of putting yourself at risk,” Staley said. “A lot of designer groupings that are going to rush the quarterback and cover pressures, that gets amplified when, number one, you are behind or behind the chains — third and long.

“Just staying ahead of the chains, getting a lead, playing with good pace. Then, obviously, everyone is working together from a protection plan, receivers running the routes on time.”

The Chargers carry a 4-2 record on the road and will look to sweep the Raiders in their second of two meetings this season.

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Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.

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