The excuses for Philip Rivers in 2011 were numerous. Was he hurt? No, he denied that. Was he low on sleep after the birth of another child? Hell, you’re allowed to be human, Phil, and that would have been an easy way out. But no, he didn’t take that life line either.
He just simply sucked, and although there was a noticeable improvement over the last six games, he still didn’t look like Philip Rivers. He looked more like some haunting combination of Daunte Culpepper and Tim Tebow, a quarterback with the physical tools and skills to excel, but he lacked the mental ability to make sound decisions and proper reads. That’s why he threw a career high 20 interceptions, forcing us to search for a reason behind his struggles, which eventually turned into a desperate grasp at excuses.
If the inefficient and wayward Rivers returns this fall, we won’t make excuses anymore. We’ll just conclude that he’s peaked or even declining, and we’ll probably be right.
That’s what Rotoworld’s Evan Silva concluded after he re-watched Rivers’ 2011 tape, and specifically each of his interceptions. Of those 20 picks, nearly half of them (nine) were intended for Vincent Jackson, the Chargers’ former top wide receiver who’s now in Tampa. Replacing Jackson is Robert Meachem, who’s arguably a slight downgrade in terms of his downfield ability, but that’s not the main issue here. The consistent mistakes on balls directed at one receiver hint at a tendency to hone in on one target, and not work through progressions.
Silva doesn’t see that as Rivers’ primary problem though. Instead, the issue with a 31-year-old quarterback who threw only nine interceptions two years ago is deeper, and is based in a simple but core fundamental skill: accuracy.
After assigning a description to each pick, Silva found that 13 of them were the direct result of Rivers’ ball placement, with underthrows the crime he committed most often.
I charted all 20 picks and assigned a descriptive word or phrase to each. Five were assigned “great play” by the defender. One was bad luck, as Jackson lost Rivers’ pass in the lights on Thursday Night Football in Week 10. One was dropped by Patrick Crayton and tipped into Broncos CB Cassius Vaughn’s hands. Each of the remaining 13 were either described as “errant,” “floated,” or “underthrown” passes. A healthy, heavy majority of Rivers’ interceptions were on him.
I’m not sure Rivers could ever have been characterized as possessing a power arm. He throws with a sort of shot-putty style, pushing the football in a three-quarters motion and relying on torque from his lower body. But Rivers wasn’t getting any zip on his passes last year, and I don’t think that issue was resolved at any point in the season. His short and intermediate throws were sitting ducks, and his deep balls were dying.
There was a mental component to Rivers’ game that was lacking, and we saw this vividly in the dying moments of the Chargers’ season finale when he was under pressure and went to throw the ball out of bounds after escaping the pocket, but instead his throw lazily floated and was picked off.
Yes, surely you remember that. He was picked off on a throwaway.
Across the board there was a statistical decline for Rivers as he posted numbers that would have been fine for most, but still weren’t very Rivers-like compared to previous seasons. He completed 62.9 percent of his passes after converting on 66 percent in 2010, and he averaged 7.9 yards per pass attempt, down significantly from his 8.7 the previous year.
The question asked by Silva is the same one that was asked last year, and will be asked again soon as training camps get underway at the end of this month. Was 2011 an aberration, and just an uncharacteristic season by a top flite quarterback? Or has he peaked, and is this the new Rivers?
If the answer to the latter question is yes, then there will be some more delightful comedy in San Diego this fall. The Phil and Norv happy hour is always quality Sunday afternoon programming.
And now the links part of the links post…
- A year later, the rookie contracts are still proving that the owners won the lockout. In 2010 Sam Bradford signed an $80 million deal, and now Andrew Luck’s contract whenever the Colts finally decide to secure their offensive leader will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $22 million. [Forbes]
- This Saturday Frank Gore will be one of those guys who bob their heads, strut, and hold up belts while boosting the ego of a boxer before he enters the ring and gets punched repeatedly. [Comcast Bay Area]
- Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie and his wife Christina are filing for divorce. Ruh roh, will this become another Dodgers debacle? Probably not, but if Eagles fans were desperately searching for another reason to worry about something while killing time before training camp, this is perfect. [Bleeding Green Nation]
- The flexibility in the new blackout rules comes with an equal ratio of blessings and curses. [PFT]
- Jermaine Gresham: breakout candidate? [Jamison Hensley]
- If he can refrain from putting the ball on the ground with any level of frequency, Stevan Ridley should be the top option in New England’s backfield. [Boston Herald]
- The always classy gentlemen over at Busted Coverage who have quite literally made it their business to hunt down WAGs and everything WAG-like bought a wedding gift for the Welkers, and it included a note about Wes’ key drop in the Super Bowl. Anna didn’t really like that. [Busted Coverage]