Home > NFL > Nothing is wrong with Philip Rivers, and why that should scare Chargers fans

Nothing is wrong with Philip Rivers, and why that should scare Chargers fans

Lets play the blind resume game.  I’m going to give you four statlines, and you try to identify the players.  These are 2011 NFL season statistics.  Answers will follow immediately after the jump.

  • Quarterback 1: 378 passing attempts, 62.4% completion, 6.7 yards per attempt, 15 TDs, 12 INTs, 6.2 NYPA
  • Quarterback 2: 383 passing attempts, 61.9% completion, 7.9 yards per attempt, 15 TDs, 17 INTs, 7.1 NYPA
  • Quarterback 3: 365 passing attempts, 60.0% completion, 7.9 yards per attempt, 12 TDs, 15 INTs, 7.1 NYPA
  • Quarterback 4: 314 passing attempts, 58.0% completion, 7.4 yards per attempt, 13 TDs, 7 INTs, 6.4 NYPA

Three of these quarterbacks have shown a strong interception tendency this season while the other has a notable interception tendency over his career.  Which one is the best?  I’d say Quarterback 4 has been the most effective but his play has been significantly less sustainable than the others on this list, and that his numbers are probably based heavily on having a strong supporting cast.  As for the best quarterback, you’d want to go with one of the other three.  If I had to typecast solely on statistics, I’d say that QB2 and QB3 are younger, high-upside talents who will be at the apex of their craft someday while QB1 seems to be doing whatever he can to win with a limited supporting cast that makes his job difficult.  And I’d say that Quarterback 2 is having the best season on the list by a hair over QB3.

The four quarterbacks as listed are 1) Josh Freeman, 2) Philip Rivers, 3) Cam Newton, 4) Jay Cutler

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The statistics perfectly describe the seasons that Josh Freeman and Cam Newton are having, but seem to mislead in describing the story of the seasons that Jay Cutler and Philip Rivers are having.  Rivers is clearly throwing for a half yard more per attempt than Cutler is, and despite that, Cutler is winning and (prior to his recent injury) is being lauded for exceptional performance in the passing game.  Cutler has cut down a significant number of negative plays from last year, which is helping his team win games, but his completion percentage, yards per attempt and QB rating all suggest that he’s the same quarterback he’s always been.  In fact, Cutler’s numbers are actually down across the board.

Not the case for Rivers, who is on pace to set a career high in passing attempts, thanks to the struggles of his own offense.  Rivers is one of six quarterbacks in the NFL who will enter Week 12 with more than 230 completions, which is the thing that should most easily dismiss accusations of hidden injury.  The issue for Norv Turner’s Chargers is that there is no sense of timing for the offense.  Turner doesn’t run a system that fosters a quick passing game, but Rivers has to get rid of the ball quickly anyway because of the amount of pressure he is dealing with.

The confusing part of the Philip Rivers conundrum is that Rivers has had to deal with consistent pressure for years, yet the offensive disorganization is something totally new with the Chargers this year.  A number of Rivers picks have been of the befuddled “that one didn’t have a chance” variety, something we’ve never seen from him before.  It’s possible that Rivers arm could be fatigued, but that would be the extent of the injury.  The difference is that Rivers is never on the same page as his receivers.  Sadly, these are largely the same receivers that Rivers has enjoyed great success with.

Injuries to other players are another reason that Rivers’ interceptions are up.  Rivers has lost three offensive linemen, a receiver, and his all-pro tight end to injury, while losing a running back and two receivers to free agency.  The players that the Chargers drafted to replace them (Ryan Mathews, Vincent Brown) haven’t performed poorly at all, but with Rivers under pressure again this season, that is of little solace.

Fact is, nothing has gone right for the Chargers this year, and that’s really not the fault of any one person associated with the organization, however, it has been reflected in Rivers’ stats.  With that said, let’s have perspective here.  Rivers is clearly down from his 2008-2010 peak, but if you use QB rating (or something more powerful like DVOA, EPA, or TQBR) to evaluate him, you’re likely seeing a guy who ranks in the middle of the pack.  But after looking at league completion rates and how they’ve sunk since last year, Rivers’ poor TD/INT rate just looks like an anomoly.  Furthermore, Rivers isn’t having the worst season of his career by any stretch.  In 2006, Rivers made the pro bowl over Tom Brady and Chad Pennington with a 6.7 net yards per attempt figure (6.2 for Pennington and Brady).  This year he sports a 7.1.

When Rivers had a year in 2007 under Turner where he ranked in the middle of the league under Turner despite an 11-5 record and it looked like his development stalled, no one wondered if anything was physically wrong with him.  Rivers is playing a lot better than that right now, and so based on past history, there is nothing wrong with Rivers.  Antonio Gates? Sure.  Vincent Jackson? Probably.

The Chargers need to decide why they aren’t getting elite production out of Philip Rivers.  Because he’s not “wrong” in a way that will be automatically corrected by next year.  Rivers’ periphrials suggest that he can be one of the seven or eight best QBs in football as soon as next week, but until the Chargers can get him comfortable in the pocket once again, Rivers won’t go back to being among the elite performers in the NFL.  He’s got to get help from somewhere.  After carrying the Chargers for three straight seasons, it’s the least Rivers can ask from his team.

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