INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Justin Herbert has had an entire week instead of just a couple minutes to prepare for his second NFL start.
The Los Angeles Chargers rookie will be under center on Sunday against the Carolina Panthers after finding out less than an hour before kickoff that he was playing last week. Herbert got his first professional snaps when Tyrod Taylor couldn’t play due to complications from an injection for a rib injury.
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Taylor is out indefinitely after it was revealed that the doctor who gave the injection punctured a lung. The 10-year veteran went to the hospital last Sunday after having breathing problems before being released. Taylor has been at the team’s complex this week helping to mentor Herbert, and the NFL Players Association has opened an investigation into what occurred.
The Chargers (1-1) are not alone when it comes to missing one of their key offensive players. The winless Panthers are missing All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey due to a high ankle sprain.
The Panthers will be looking to generate some sort of a pass rush although they could be without defensive tackle Kawann Short (foot) once again. They have been unable to do that against the Buccaneers and the Raiders, managing one quarterback hit and no sacks.
Carolina’s defense has allowed six rushing scores already after surrendering a league-high 32 last season.
“We will have to home in on the specific things he did. But they have their offense and it has a lot of things that you see in college football – speed sweeps, zone reads , speed options – things that we saw in the Big 12. Things we saw on Saturday,” Head coach Matt Rhule said of Herbert. “I think it is an offense that he is very comfortable with from his time at Oregon”
Carolina is still looking for its first win for Rhule, who joined the team from Baylor this offseason. Overall the Panthers have lost 10 straight games dating back to last season.
Despite not getting many snaps with the first team, Herbert was 22 of 33 for 311 yards and responsible for both Chargers touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). His only mistake was throwing into double coverage for an interception late in the third quarter, which led to the Chiefs' tying touchdown.
Los Angeles’ head coach said the most important thing this week during practices was to run Herbert through situations he hasn’t faced. Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen is looking forward to seeing how much progress Herbert can make in this start.
“He can move the pocket, get out and extend plays, but also his ability to stand in the pocket and make some big time throws like he did on Sunday. We look forward to seeing him do that,” Steichen said of this year’s sixth overall pick in the draft.
The Chargers should have the same game plan as the first two weeks, which means a heavy dose of the run. Los Angeles leads the league with 85 rushing attempts, and running backs Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelley each went over 100 scrimmage yards last week.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
Mike Davis will get the start at running back with McCaffrey missing at least the next three weeks. Davis had eight catches for 74 yards in last Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay, but no carries. The Chargers are familiar with Davis from two years ago, when he ran for 74 yards while playing for Seattle.
Rhule said Reggie Bonnafon and Trenton Cannon could also see some carries.
Los Angeles has only four sacks but is second in the league with 19 quarterback pressures. Gus Bradley’s defense was able to keep Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes out of rhythm last week until the fourth quarter, when the Super Bowl MVP began checking down more, along with running for yardage.
Joey Bosa has two sacks, but defensive tackles Linval Joseph and Jerry Tillery have also played well.
Teddy Bridgewater threw for a career-high 367 yards last week. He also turned over the ball three times (two interceptions, one fumble).
“Going into this game you want to know where Bosa and Melvin Ingram are at all times so we can scheme them up and play pitch and catch with the wideouts or have open run lanes,” he said.
Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson has made an immediate impact since signing as a free agent from the New York Jets. He already has two 100-yard receiving games, including a 75-yard touchdown catch in the season opener against the Raiders. Anderson hauled in eight of nine passes thrown his way last week and appears to have good chemistry with Bridgewater. Anderson is proving he’s more than just a deep threat.
Chargers right guard Trai Turner and Panthers left tackle Russell Okung will face their former teams after an offseason trade. Turner spent his first six seasons in Carolina and Okung was with Los Angeles for three years.
Okung is not the only former Chargers lineman for this matchup. Offensive line coach Pat Meyer joined the Panthers' staff and guard Michael Schofield signed during the offseason after both were in LA for three years.
Okung did not practice on Thursday due to a groin injury. Trent Scott -- who was with the Chargers during training camp before being released -- would be an option if he doesn’t play.
KEEP AN EYE ON
The Chargers' Hunter Henry, who is one of six tight ends in the league with 10 or more receptions. He is second among tight ends with 156 yards and is averaging 14.2 yards per reception.
Sunday, 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS
OPENING LINE - Chargers by 6 1/2
RECORD VS. SPREAD - Panthers 0-2; Chargers 2-0
SERIES RECORD - Panthers lead 5-1
LAST MEETING - Panthers beat Chargers 28-16 on Dec. 11, 2016, at Carolina
LAST WEEK - Panthers lost to Buccaneers 31-17; Chargers lost to Chiefs 23-20, OT
AP PRO32 RANKING - Panthers No. 29, Chargers No. 17
PANTHERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (9), RUSH (19), PASS (4).
PANTHERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (15), RUSH (19), PASS (10).
CHARGERS OFFENSE - OVERALL (7), RUSH (6), PASS (12).
CHARGERS DEFENSE - OVERALL (14), RUSH (18), PASS (12).
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES:
- The Panthers have won three straight vs. Chargers.
- The Panthers and Chargers made a trade of offensive linemen during the offseason with T Russell Okung going to Carolina in exchange for G Trai Turner.
- The Panthers have a 10-game losing streak dating back to last season. They have also dropped last six on the road.
- QB Teddy Bridgewater passed for a career-high 367 yards last week. He’s sixth in the league with 72.4% completion rate.
- Mike Davis and Reggie Bonnafon will see time at running back with 2019 All-Pro Christian McCaffrey sidelined due to high ankle sprain. Davis had eight receptions for 74 yards last week. He ran for 62 yards vs. Chargers in 2018 while with Seattle.
- WR Robby Anderson is second player in franchise history with 100-yard games in first two weeks. Anderson and DJ Moore form first Panthers duo with 100 yards in same game since 2004 (Keary Colbert and Muhsin Muhammad).
- DT Kawann Short needs two sacks to pass Greg Hardy for fifth in team history.
- S Jeremy Chinn is third among NFC rookies with 14 tackles.
- This is the first of three straight games for Chargers vs. NFC South.
- Coach Anthony Lynn is 8-4 vs. NFC.
- Rookie QB Justin Herbert will get his second start after being last-minute replacement for Tyrod Taylor (ribs/chest). Herbert passed for 311 yards and was the ninth QB since 1970 merger to have 300-yard game in his debut.
- RB Austin Ekeler has six games with 125-plus scrimmage yards since the start of last season, second in AFC.
- The Chargers lead NFL with 83 rushing attempts.
- RB Joshua Kelley had 113 scrimmage yards last week (64 rushing, 49 receiving).
- WR Keenan Allen (534 career receptions) needs seven catches to pass Kellen Winslow for third in team history.
- Fantasy tips: LA’s Hunter Henry stands second among NFL tight ends with 156 yards.
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