Fantasy owners and prognosticators who pronounced Philip Rivers “on the downside” are slapping themselves in the face vigorously with each passing gem. I speak from experience on this matter, as I crossed him off all lists from the get go. Oops. Through seven weeks, the 31-year old Rivers has been off the charts good and his list of early season accolades is long. Only the supremely outlandish proficiency of Peyton Manning is keeping him off the top line for MVP.
74% completions (tied-1st) | 83% pass accuracy (2nd) | 184 completions (1st) | 2,132 yards (2nd) | 15 touchdowns (tied-2nd) | 111.5 NFL QB Rating (2nd)
With the above sublime statistics staring you in the face, it’s easy to forget just how mightily Rivers struggled in 2012, at least relative to the high standard he set between 2006 and 2011. His total passing productivity (3,606) plunged over 1,000 yards from 2011; his yard per attempt figure of 6.8 was the lowest of his career; his 26 touchdown passes marked his lowest output since 2007; his 15 interceptions were exorbitant given the generally low risk of throw; he fumbled 15 times, losing seven.
Thus the question that’s begging to be asked: what’s been responsible for Rivers’ rapid re-emergence into the limelight? Let’s examine several contributing factors.
Rivers was sacked 49 times in 2012, demolishing his previous career high of 38. Those sacks cost the Chargers offense 311 yards of field position. Through seven games in 2013, he’s been sacked 11 times, good for fifth fewest in the league – with ZERO fumbles. The offensive line trio, from center to right, of Nick Hardwick, Jeromey Clary and D.J. Fluker has put forth a really solid pass blocking effort (three QB sacks between them). Rivers has faced pressure on only 28% of drop-backs (3rd lowest percentage) and he’s burned the blitz to the tune of eight TD one INT — thanks in large part to excellent blitz pickup. Last season he averaged 3.66 seconds in the pocket before getting sacked, this season his line has bought him 3.96 seconds. Credit Rivers and his internal clock as well. He’s gotten the ball out in a hurry, improving his time of throw from 2.79 seconds to 2.47 seconds. 61% of his drop-backs have resulted in a throw within 2.5 seconds or less.
|Year||% of plays||Completion %||TD/INT||Yards||YPA||QB Rating|
|2013||14%||29/37 (78%)||5/0||450||12.2 (2nd)||156.9|
In a word, startling! He’s on pace to double his yardage production from a year ago, and despite a huge upsurge in shot plays, his pass efficiency is up 20%. It’s just complete night and day. Keep in mind, this is play-action off a Chargers running game averaging below four-yards per carry. Rivers is selling it well and his protection is keeping him clean when time is of the essence.
Threat of the Deep Ball
Rivers doesn’t look deep downfield with great regularity, but when he has, it’s served as an effective change-up for the quick-pass offense. 11.3% of his throws are 20+ yards from the line of scrimmage, completing 12/28 (43%) for 394 yards (33 per completion) and four touchdowns (two INT). Excluding drops and throwaways, his accuracy rating on these longer throws is 50%. In 2012, Rivers completed 21/59 (36%) of chunk shots for 637 yards (30 per completion) and five TD (six INT). His accuracy rating last year was 41%. Once again, last season’s accumulations will be distantly in the rear view.
Stuck in the Middle with you
It helps to have all your weapons healthy, or weapons period. The strong return of Antonio Gates (plantar fasciitis) and Eddie Royal (hamstring), as well as the immediate reliability of talented rookie Keenan Allen, has allowed San Diego to re-establish the middle of the gridiron. Oh boy do they love to work between the numbers. Of the 249 pass attempts by Rivers, 144 have been targeted to the middle. He’s completed 121 one of them, for a staggering completion rate of 82%. The middle is also YAC territory, and 45.2% of Rivers’ passing yards have come following the reception. All three receiving options mentioned above are dynamic with the ball (241, 151 and 133 YAC respectively).
Alas, these factors don’t stand on their own accord – they are all intertwined and their impacts are reciprocal. Rivers making “snap” decisions aides his offensive linemen, superior pass protection allows for more slow developing, double-move routes, and more deep shots clear the middle of the field for Gates to work; and vice versa. If the Chargers running attack with Ryan Mathews begins to get on track consistently (back-to-back 100-yard games) this versatile offensive unit will look flat out nasty.
*All enlightening Premium Stats in this piece provided by ProFootballFocus.com*
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