If you’re a Chargers fan, what I’m about to write will make you upset. Not as upset as you would’ve been if you read this in 2008, although I certainly believed the same thing then as I do now. You would have called me an idiot, a liar, even cursed at me for several hours. Why do I know this? Because, during that time I said what you’re about to read out loud to several of my Chargers fan friends, who then continued to call me an idiot, a liar, and curse at me for several hours. But, it’s time to face facts and it’s time I stop hiding from my true feelings and proclaim it to the world:
Philip Rivers was never as good as you thought he was.
Now, please don’t misunderstand me. I have been a Chargers fan since I was old enough to understand what football was. I cried when the 49er’s literally made the Chargers look like girl scouts in the Super Bowl. I gritted my teeth and held strong through the late 90’s and even into the early 2000’s, when it’s quite possible we were the worst run franchise in the NFL. I loved Doug Flutie and saw the bright future ahead with Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson. I even supported the decision to let Drew Brees go in eventual favor of Rivers as the starting QB. I’ve been there and I’ve seen it and I can tell you first hand, Philip Rivers is at best an above average quarterback in the NFL. Often times he’s very average, and sometimes very below average. The one thing he’s never been is great. He’s not Jeff George, but let’s just say Eli Manning and Drew Brees left him in the dust a long time ago.
Rivers seemed in stature to be the next prototypical NFL quarterback. Although, he has a quirky throwing motion, he seemed to be able to make plays and place the ball well. He had an okay College career, which was benefited heavily from being the head coach’s son. And, let’s just say – Rivers carries himself like he’s a coach’s son – and you know exactly what that means. When he became the driver of an already very talented, if not explosive Chargers team in 2006, he came with even loftier expectations. He seemed to live up to all of them. The team finished 14-2 and won the division. They lost in the first round of the playoffs, but still, it was a great season and it appeared great things were on the way! 2007 was a tad rougher for Rivers as he almost doubled his interceptions from 9 in 2006 to 15. His rating dropped ten points and the team still finished in first place, but went 11-5. Like most Charger fans we blamed this slight drop in success to the odd firing of Marty Schottenheimer and the even more odd hiring of Norv Turner to replace him. 2008 saw Turner change the offense to a much heavier passing game giving Rivers his best statistical season, throwing 34 touchdowns and the best QB rating of his career (105.5). However, giving the rushing game a backseat also gave the Chargers their worst record in years, finishing 8-8. The next two seasons, statistically would be wonderful for Rivers and the Chargers alike. It seemed like Rivers ‘unique’ passing game solidified Antonio Gates as a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, made Vincent Jackson and Darren Sproles Pro-Bowlers, and from an outsider’s point of view turned himself into an elite QB.
But, that was from an outsider’s point of view.
Die-hard Chargers fans, enjoying the now long string of successful seasons were blind to it. They passed it off as ‘high-emotion’ or ‘classic football grit’, but I saw it like it really was – Philip Rivers is a dick. He would mock opposing players while on the sidelines, he would scream at opposing players, which turned into screaming at his coach, which turned into screaming at his own teammates when it appeared they did something wrong. And, that’s what made me start to actually watch Philip Rivers play. And, that’s what made me open my eyes to the fact that Philip Rivers was vastly overrated. I would watch him throw a ball five feet over Chris Chambers head and then yell at him for missing the pass. I’d see him scramble to the wrong side, try a dump pass to get out of it, which would get intercepted, then scream at LT for apparently not being the quarterback. Once I really started to exam his game for myself, and not just listen to the play-by-play guys thirty seconds of analysis, I noticed that Rivers’ passing style looked off. His passes looked off, and his decision making looked irrational. In 2008 it became pretty obvious that the receivers had actually been bailing Rivers out and the teams greatest star, LaDanian Tomlinson, hated him. Rivers wasn’t a genius at placing the ball in the right place for the receivers, like Tom Brady or Kurt Warner. He was placing the ball in the air like you or I do in the park. Rivers wasn’t giving Gates more career years, Gates was givng them to Rivers. Gates was tall, athletic and because he played basketball most of his life was conditioned to jump higher than the average linebacker. He was a specimen and most of the passes Rivers threw were so far over his head that Gates had no other choice, but to leap into the air and then get smacked in the head, or smacked in the back or lower legs and thrown to the ground. Rivers wasn’t placing the ball he was playing Three Flags Up! Then I started to notice he took the same approach with Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd, who are both 6’5”! Four inches taller than the average cornerback! Once I started to see all this happening, the crazy throws, the “emotional grit”, and the receivers and LT bailing Rivers out play after play, it all came together: this is how Philip Rivers conned his way into becoming a top-tier QB in the NFL. I call bullshit. But, to be sure I looked at the stats:
From 2006-2011 over 75% of all of Rivers touchdowns were thrown to receivers 6’4” and taller. In that same time period, if you take out the dump passes and screens thrown to running backs, over 75% of all his completions were to those same receivers. This is astounding, and begins to really help you understand why Rivers would scream at Chambers or Naanee or Craig Davis when they were unable to leap as high as Gates and catch a terrible pass. Of course staunch Rivers supporters would suggest that this isn’t a negative at all, that this is a positive. Rivers places the ball where his receivers can get them. He’s smart and technical and knows where his receivers are going to be and throws them the ball. I do completely agree that he knows where his receivers are going to be and then throws the ball in that general area. Gates, Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd would then fly through the air and grab an ungrabable ball, making Rivers look technical when reality suggests that they’re just incredibly athletic receivers.
You might still be looking for the negative in this scenario. You might be saying, “So, what if he threw the ball up? We were winning! We were making the playoffs and ESPN was taking about us! Rivers is the next Dan Fouts so just leave him alone!” This is all correct, well except for the Dan Fouts thing. We were winning; even with Norv Turner doing everything he could to reverse it (and still is)!
The negative is two-fold:
1) When Gates and VJ and Floyd get hurt, Rivers is exposed. When Gates and VJ and Floyd are in double and sometimes triple coverage, Rivers is exposed. In 2010 when Vincent Jackson held out for almost the entire season, the Chargers went 9-7. Malcolm Floyd doubled his season average in receptions and touchdowns and newly acquired Patrick Crayton had 28 receptions and one touchdown – he is also only 6’0”. When he can’t have his freakishly athletic receivers available, Philip Rivers is no better than Sam Bradford. When he does have them, he’s as good as anybody. So, I guess then we should keep those guys…oh wait, shit, most of those guys are gone. Enter the debacle of 2011 when you saw an entire team tired of Rivers mouth basically give up on him. He threw a career-high 20 interceptions, had his second lowest QB rating to date, and he was sending his receivers into harms way almost every other play, which bring us to…
2) Injuries. After years of being pounded every which way he could, Antonio Gates played the fewest games in his career in 2010 and 2011. His back, ankles, feet, knees, all the parts of the body used to jump became too painful for him to use. Makes sense and I don’t blame him for sitting out. VJ saw what was happening to Gates. He saw Rivers ruin the careers of Crayton, Keenan McCardell and even former pro-bowler Chris Chambers. All because they couldn’t or wouldn’t bail him out with constant miracle receptions. Why would you want to put your body out for torture while playing for a selfish leader who hasn’t shown anyone the Promised Land? VJ was smart and said, pay me or let me out of here. Rivers sends his receivers out to get pummeled and yells at them when they don’t catch his wobbly pass. It’s upsetting to watch and it’s even harder to root for.
Philip Rivers is an average quarterback with below average leadership skills. When Schottenheimer was in town we didn’t need Rivers to be anything other than an odd gunslinger. Marty was the leader and everyone knew it. When Norv got here, no one knew what to do. It was like a wet noodle trying to break through a block of cheese. After a few seasons, when success goes up and down, you begin to question the people put in place to guide your team. And when that happens people start to give up, and then they turn on each other. During almost every series of every game last season Philip Rivers looked like Jon Voight at the end of Varsity Blues – an overbearing blowhard who had worn out his welcome. This season it’s more of the same, and even though some sports experts took notice of Rivers’ shortcomings in 2011, it seems like the rest of the NFL and Chargers fans are starting to notice as well.
His passes never zing, in fact most of the time they wobble. His decisions never seem confident, in fact most of the time they seem hasty. His leadership never comes off as leadership; in fact most of the time he just reminds people that he’s a coaches son. I’m just one of the few who looked past the wins early on and could see the impending doom headed our way.
His backers will still say, “What’s the problem? He wins games, he throws where his receivers can get it, and he gets the job done.” I say – he did win games. He has no receivers like Jackson left, which accounts for the elevated bad decisions, interceptions and yelling. And, he’s not getting the job done anymore. Yes, we should have fired Norv Turner seasons ago, but it’s time for a new era in San Diego. One where I don’t have to make excuses for why my city’s starting quarterback is acting like a dick and can’t back it anymore. The real problem though, is that he actually never could.
You can follow Dallas on twitter @dallas_mc
Stats taken from ESPN.com and Pro-Football-Reference.com