San Diego Chargers

Philip Rivers Isn't Just Back, He's Better Than Ever

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers throws the ball against the Indianapolis Colts on October 14, 2013 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images
Christopher HansenNFL AnalystOctober 16, 2013

There has been a lot of talk about San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers this year. Does Rivers need to be fixed? How do the Chargers fix Rivers? Is Rivers fixed? Rivers isn't fixed. Rivers is fixed

With six games in a new offensive system, it's safe to say Rivers is back to being a very good NFL quarterback. 

It's also safe to say that Rivers is better than ever in a lot of ways.

That might be a shock because Rivers might not be in his athletic prime or putting up the biggest numbers, but he's smarter, wiser and more experienced than he's ever been. For the first time, Rivers might also be in an offense that actually suits him.

Rivers isn't just playing well; he's comfortable. Rivers has the trust of his coaches and the command of the offense that only the truly elite quarterbacks have. Maybe that will not translate into elite play this season, but Rivers is well on his way to getting back into that conversation.

Statistics and game film can't even describe the type of comfort Rivers appears to have with his new offense. Rivers is changing plays at the line of scrimmage more than ever before, getting rid of the ball quickly, and taking what the defense gives to him after the snap.

"He's a great player and one of the smarter guys I've been around," wide receiver Keenan Allen said, via the Associated Press. "He can read coverages and change calls at the line of scrimmage. He's really great to play with."

You might even say Rivers looks as comfortable in Mike McCoy's offense as Peyton Manning did last season. That's not to say Rivers is as good as Manning—just that he looks as comfortable running an offense.

 

Hiccups

There have been a few hiccups, but that's not unexpected. It's part of the process, and Rivers should only continue to get better as he starts to master the new offense. 

Week 1's collapse against the Houston Texans and Week 5's abysmal effort in Oakland are certainly proof that Rivers still has work to do. 

Unlike Rivers under Norv Turner, the new regime seems to trust him at the line. It always seemed like Rivers was asked to do too much to compensate for a lack of talent on the roster under Turner.

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 31:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers walks off the field after throwing a interception during the first quarter against the Kansas City Chiefs on October 31, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Misso
Peter Aiken/Getty Images

Maybe the issue wasn't trust; maybe the issue was too much trust. Every quarterback makes mistakes, but it seemed like the Chargers in the past would put a leash on what Rivers could do because of his or the team's limitations.

It may have had less to do with Rivers and more to do with his supporting cast, but those problems always seemed to fall on his shoulders. If the organization didn't trust a player, Rivers wouldn't either.

Rivers' relationship with Turner perhaps made him privy to too much information. Rivers may have subconsciously held onto information that was always in the back of his mind. Maybe it was that the coaches didn’t believe their left tackle could give Rivers three seconds in the pocket or that a receiver was going to struggle to get open against a certain type of coverage.

The new regime isn't going to try to hide their weaknesses by changing their identity; they are going to ask players to step up into new roles when they need them. It’s the famed “next man up” cliché coaches like to use.

The new regime appears to have challenged Rivers to have a complete command of the offense, but not to worry about the problems around him. In other words, let the coaches coach and the players play.

Rivers has made mistakes, but it doesn't seem like he's making mistakes for the same reasons as last year. The mistakes Rivers is making are of the variety every quarterback occasionally makes, not the kind that only the really bad quarterbacks make. 

 

Coaching Clichés

"Do your job" is a common coaching cliché that applies here. Ask Rivers to do his job, which is to make the correct pre-snap read, manipulate the coverage, make the correct post-snap read and then throw accurate passes.

It shouldn't matter if the third-string guard is in the game or a fourth-string receiver; just do your job and let everyone else do their job.

It sounds simple, but it's often how teams get back on track. 

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 14:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers calls the play at the line of scrimmage against Indianapolis Colts late in the 4th quarter of their NFL Game on October 14, 2013 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, Califor
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

It wasn't Rivers' problem that the offensive line couldn't block anyone last year unless he was calling out the wrong protections. The plan has seemingly been to have Rivers play his game and let the coaches worry about the rest.

It's easier said than done, but it's the kind of environment successful teams create.

In the right environment, veterans play better than expected and young players develop. We are already seeing Allen develop into a star. Veterans on the offensive line are playing a lot better than their talent suggests they should. 

"Control what you can control" is another common coaching cliché, but that may have been a problem for Rivers in the past. Quarterbacks can control so much of the offense that it's tough to tell them not to try to control everything. Sometimes players just have to make a play for their quarterback.

Somehow, someway, the Chargers needed to find a way to get Rivers to dump a lot of bad information and keep a lot of the good information.

Challenging Rivers to master a new offense may have accomplished this goal.

 

A New Voice, a New Roster

A new environment and a new voice in Rivers' ear may have helped turn things around. A change of scenery often brings out the best in people. Rivers was close with Turner, but it's also possible the relationship stagnated a little bit.

It seemed like Rivers worried about his protection and tried to rush throws even when he got good protection. Rivers obviously didn't trust certain receivers, like Robert Meachem, to catch passes.

Rivers hasn't had a player like Danny Woodhead since Darren Sproles.
Rivers hasn't had a player like Danny Woodhead since Darren Sproles.Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

All of that has changed. Maybe it's the addition of Allen, a healthy Vincent Brown, running back Danny Woodhead and a decent offensive line. Maybe it's the new offense or new coaching.

Whatever it is, instead of running hot and cold, Rivers is starting to learn how to be more consistent.

Turner's offense required great protection, receivers who could snare deep passes and a running back who could create yards as a receiver out of the backfield. Unfortunately, the Chargers failed to find those types of players, and Turner couldn't adjust his offense to fit the players he had.

Rivers certainly developed bad habits over the last two years that the Chargers are still trying to correct, but he no doubt also learned valuable lessons along the way. Occasionally the bad Rivers shows up, but less frequently in recent weeks.

Rivers has always been able to put up big numbers, but he's slowly proving that he can also avoid those costly mistakes. He's a new, improved Rivers. The Chargers can only hope that the best Rivers is yet to come. 

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