When head coach Mike McCoy was hired by the San Diego Chargers earlier this year, his most important task was to "fix" quarterback Philip Rivers. How much "fixing" of Rivers was really needed is debatable, but few would argue that he hasn’t regressed over the last few years.
Judging by Rivers' responses to Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, fixing him may be harder than the Chargers anticipated because Rivers insists he doesn’t need to be fixed at all. Rivers insinuates it's not about fixing him; it's just eliminating bad plays.
Rivers takes responsibility for some of the bad plays and losses, but then insinuates his poor play doesn't need fixing. Which is it? It sounds like Rivers is blaming someone else and ignoring that he has been part of the problem.
Rivers' statements highlight something important about fixing him; it's not going to happen all at once. Rivers needs to be fixed, but it's a process, and he isn't even willing to admit it yet.
Rivers isn't running away from responsibility, but he isn't running toward it either. He's saying he is responsible like he should as a quarterback and then pushing the blame onto his supporting cast.
Sure, the supporting cast has been an issue. The offensive line has been a sieve, and Rivers lost his short-yardage dynamo, Darren Sproles, and his big-play receiver, Vincent Jackson. Unfortunately, fixing the supporting cast doesn’t magically fix Rivers' problems.
Taking hits and not having receivers bail him out when he makes a bad throw have gotten to Rivers. The reality for the Chargers was that fixing the offensive line and finding receivers are only half the battle; Rivers would also need to be rebuilt mentally.
Rivers told the Los Angeles Times that he never lost confidence but that it's human nature for it to be harder to make throws after throwing a couple interceptions.
"It's that feeling of 'Be careful!' rather than that 'Aw, [the defender] can't get there,'" Rivers said.
Again, Rivers contradicts himself. Rivers is right when he said that it's human nature to start being cautious when things go wrong, but it's also the opposite of confidence. Also, if great quarterbacks didn't border on superhuman, there would be more of them.
Maybe Rivers was never wired to ignore doubt, or maybe—over time—a wire was crossed. If Rivers will never be able to fight his nature, the only solution is to try to eliminate situations that would cause him to doubt.
Don't assume that the coaches don't know the problem—even if they would never admit it. It's McCoy's job to get Rivers to play at a high level and make an honest assessment. The coaches know you can't ignore a problem and hope it goes away.
Getting the supporting cast in shape is part of it. Without fixing the supporting cast, it's like telling an alcoholic to fight the urge to drink and putting a drink in his hand. If Rivers starts to trust his protection and his receivers, he won't face as many situations where he asks himself to be careful.
Unfortunately, fixing the supporting cast is going to be a multi-year process, and injuries have already taken their toll. The Chargers can't just make a few changes and assume that will fix Rivers as if it would be that easy.
Another tactic the Chargers could use is to scale back some of Rivers' responsibility. Instead of giving Rivers opportunities to think, give him more predefined reads. The coaches can start to rebuild Rivers' confidence by getting him into a rhythm.
"When you've made that throw three or four games in a row, it's a lot easier to pull the trigger the next time," Philip Rivers told the Los Angeles Times.
Some of this is going to be natural because Rivers is playing in a new offense. Rivers knew Norv Turner's offense so well the team couldn't exactly dial back his responsibility.
Maybe the Chargers are taking the right approach. Telling someone not to think about something is the surest way to make them think about it. A quarterback in this situation is going to try to do too much, and that's not going to help things.
Trying to do too much was also a problem for Rivers. It happens when a quarterback doesn't have confidence in his supporting cast. It's like the manager who doesn't trust his employees to do the work and tries to do it himself.
The Chargers are attempting inception on Rivers, and he can't know they are trying to hack into his mind. In some ways, it would be a lot easier if Rivers had a minor mechanical flaw. Such a flaw could be corrected quickly, but we all know that's really not the problem.
Rivers' problem is far more difficult to solve, but he is young enough and has the physical ability to do it—it's just going to take some time. Rome wasn’t built in a day, nor did it fall in a day. It took two years to get to this point, and it might take two years to fix Rivers and the roster in San Diego.
Of course, that doesn't mean we won't see immediate results. If the plan is working, you would hope to see incremental improvement. Big jumps aren’t expected, but if everything clicks, it can happen and we could be singing a different tune a few weeks from now.
Rivers is the type of guy that is easy to root for because he has his priorities in order, but he does need to be fixed or we wouldn't be talking about it. Whether or not he's willing to ever admit it or not doesn't matter as long as the Chargers win. If the Chargers lose and Rivers doesn’t rebound, we'll be left wondering if Rivers was just too stubborn to realize he needed to change.
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