Monday, October 24, 2011

What is wrong with Rivers?

OK, as a "blogger" I don't want to spend too much time talking about my favorite team, because most people don't care.  However, I think this week I'm going to break from that line of thinking to address something that's on a lot of people's mind.

"What is wrong with Philip Rivers?"

Let's look at this historically.  Rivers took over as the Chargers starting quarterback in 2006, his 3rd year in the league.  That was the 14-2 season, and Marty Schottenheimer's final season as a head coach.  Also was the season that LaDanian Tomlinson won the NFL MVP and broke the record for touchdowns in a season.  Rivers in his first season as a starter, threw 22 TD's and 9 interceptions.  He wasn't a world beater, but he took care of the ball and didn't make many mistakes.

The next season, Norv Turner took over as the Head Coach, and Rivers had a different play caller.  He played like it, with 21 TD's and 15 interceptions.  People forget that LaDanian still led the league in rushing this season, and the Chargers finished the season 11-5.

In 2008, his third season as the starting QB, the Chargers fell to 8-8.  You would think that Rivers passing stats would reflect that, but they don't.  He actually improved greatly as a passer, setting a career high in touchdowns (34, leading the league) and only 11 interceptions.  The Chargers had begun the transition to a passing team.  It was becoming evident that LaDanian Tomlinson was not the player he once was, and Rivers basically carried the team to the playoffs that season.  He also led the league in passer rating, yards per attempt, and TD%.  He was NOT voted to the pro bowl.  (Fans are idiots)

In 2009, the Chargers finally turned the team over to Rivers and he responded well.  Throwing for 28 touchdowns and 9 interceptions.  Once again leading the league in yards per attempt, and scoring a qb rating of over 100.  2008 wasn't a fluke, it looked like.

2010 Rivers became a man.  With star WR Vincent Jackson holding out almost the entire season (he played 6 quarters), TE Antonio Gates missing multiple games, #2 WR Malcom Floyd missing several games, and a brand new running back(Ryan Mathews) who struggled in pass blocking and pass receiving, Rivers led the league in passing yardage with 4, 710.  He completed 30 TD passes with 13 interceptions, while throwing to guys from the practice squad (Seyi Ajirotutu) and signed off the street (Kelley Washington). 

As the current season approached, Charger fans and NFL analysts alike were anticipating great things.  "If Rivers can do that throwing to practice squad players and unsigned free agents, what's he going to do when his gets his full cast of receivers back?" was the common thinking. 

So here we are, 6 games played into this 2011 season, and Mr. Rivers has thrown only 7 TD's and 9 interceptions.  His QB rating is the lowest it has been since he became the starter.  So what gives?  Why is someone who has consistently been one of the top performers in the league struggling all of a sudden?  Most of his receivers have been healthy, and the running game has been more effective than last year.

Some common thoughts are the following:
1.  Norv Turner is at fault.  He calls the plays.
2.  Antonio Gates has been injured again, and only played in 2.5 games.
3.  Rivers is pressing.  He's trying to do too much.
4.  He MUST be injured.

Here's what I think...  it's probably a little bit of each of these things.
1.  Norv's playcalling is always worse earlier in the season than it is later in the season.  I don't know why, I'm just calling it like I see it.  I also think some of it is how defenses play the chargers and they see what worked last year, and copy it.  Norv seems to take a while to figure out how to "combat" those issues.  Once he does, lookout, but until then, they are a very frustrating team to watch.  What I have seen teams doing this year, is alot of what the Raiders did last year...blitz up the middle, and man up tight on the WR's.  (This also works much better when Gates isn't in there dominating people in the middle of the field)
2.  Gates injury has had a tremendous effect on the Chargers Red Zone efficiency in particular.  He's the most reliable target down there, and they've played the majority of the games without him down there.
3.  I think Rivers has the idea that, well if I can throw multiple TD games throwing to Kory Sperry, Randy McMichael, Kelley Washington, and Seyi Ajirotutu, I'm gonna be able to KILL it, with Vincent Jackson, Malcolm Floyd, and Antonio Gates.  He's simply taking more chances than he used to.  I think Rivers led the league in "no one's open and I'm gonna get sacked so I'm chucking this out of bounds" passes for several years.  He needs to go back to that.
4.  I've heard a few rumors that he got "dinged up" in the Patriots game (week 2).  That is very likely.  He took a couple good shots to the ribs in that game.  And it's not like the team hasn't been dishonest about his physical condition before.  Shoot, in 2007 he played the AFC Championship Game WITHOUT his ACL.  No one knew that beforehand.  It's very possible he was hurting up until the bye week (weeks 3,4, and 5).  This past weekend...two picks, sure, but one of them was deflected.

I think we'll see an improvement as the season goes on.  For all the picks he's thrown this year, and he's on pace to throw more than he ever has (as many already as he threw in ALL of 2009), he's still never thrown 3 in a game.  Also, and I don't know why this is, but ever since Norv Turner has been the coach, it seems like the team waits until "crisis point" to "turn it on".  Rivers and the Chargers although they haven't played great on offense, are still 4-2 on the season.  I'm not sure they've hit the "turn it on" button yet.

 Tune into Monday Night Football, on Halloween night and see if the "revival" starts then.

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