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What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Nick Ferenc: I would love to hear your take on Phillip Rivers' 2011 season and fall from grace as an XP article.

Ferguson1015: Seriously, what is wrong with Phillip Rivers. Why is he having so much trouble this year?

The short answer is that I have no idea, but this is not a mirage. The advanced stats agree with the conventional stats: Rivers is not himself. He's down in every possible statistic. He ranks 16th in passing DVOA, essentially tied with Andy Dalton.

How bad is Rivers' decline, historically? Well, I went back into our numbers since 1978. I looked at all quarterbacks with at least 400 passes in four straight years, and fewer than 15 picks in each of the first three seasons. The most picks that one of these quarterbacks had the next season was 16, by Brett Favre in 1997 and Peyton Manning in 2009. Rivers already has 11.

I looked at all quarterbacks with at least 400 passes in four straight years, and at least 25 touchdowns in each of the first three seasons. Each of these quarterbacks had at least 20 touchdowns in the fourth season, and 18 of the 22 qualifying quarterbacks had at least 25 touchdowns for a fourth straight year. Rivers currently has only seven touchdowns.

There are a lot of theories as to what is wrong with Rivers:

One problem with the "random variation" argument is that this isn't an early-season aberration that is getting better. The problem is actually getting worse. In San Diego's first four games, Rivers had 16.8% passing DVOA and 7.7 net yards per attempt. In the last three games, Rivers has -14.8% DVOA and 6.6 net yards per attempt.

Comments

93 comments, Last at 06 Nov 2011, 9:01am

1 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I think he's hurt. When Favre had his then unrevealed injury in late 2008, he didn't look to be in pain, and still threw the ball very hard at times. But he could not consistently make accurate throws. I think a lot of Rivers' "bad decisions" could be circumvented in the past by pinpoint accuracy, but now he has no margin for error.

10 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Heard Bert Breer of the NFLN on the radio today saying that he thinks Rivers is hurt. Breer offered no specifics, but he does generally seem to have a decent pulse on the goings-on around the league. Is some type of injury a full explanation though? Probably not, but might be part of it. It's not that unusual for a nagging injury to lead to a lack of confidence in a QB's throws and hence bad decisions.

2 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I'd have to go with the six kids thing. Missing Gates and Sproles hurts, but missing sleep hurts decision making more. One or two kids can keep you up for a couple nights straight, but six? He's a walking insomniac.

76 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I'm sorry, I drafted him too. Also drafted: Steven Jackson, Danny Amendola, Tolbert, Andre Johnson, Ahmad Bradshaw. And the day I started Jason Campbell (Rivers was on a bye), he broke his collarbone. I also am a huge fan of a team that regularly tops FO's AGL list. My apologies.

4 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

From what I saw the other day, his release point is off. He's not striding and appears to be relying solely on his arm. Has anyone else made any observations?

5 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I highly doubt he's actually taking care of the 6 kids on a regular basis. I'm not suggesting he's a deadbeat dad but for most athletes, they're expected to be in attendance for the birth and then mom, grandparents, other relatives, and hired help take care of the rest. I would be shocked to learn that Philip Rivers is, for example, waking up in the middle of the night to change a diaper.

6 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I haven't watched SD much this year... is he making the right read and just missing the throw, or is he not seeing the field and making dumb mistakes? I.e., does it seem to be more physical/mechanical or mental?

14 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

A little bit of bad decision making, and a surprising number of tips. Most of them are on him though. Although look at all of his 2 interception games, and you will see at least one tipped pass (or a receiver that should have caught the ball).

79 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

He's had some tips but there's been plenty of bad decisions. If you watched the game Monday against Kansas City you saw a microcosm of his season. He had a pick that was tipped at the line which Gruden attributed to bad luck...but just a few passes prior to that he missed on a long pass badly and the d-back dropped what should have been an INT. He's made lots of bad throws.

9 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Jesus, six kids? Isn't he only 29? Wow, what number are he and his wife shooting for?

11 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

People always want to assign one specific answer to any question and say "Look, the reason event X happened is absolutely a result of event Y." In real life, a lot of times things happen because small, seemingly insignificant factors add up to a large deviation from the previous baseline.

Is Rivers hurt? Probably a little. He definitely took a shot to the sternum in the Patriots games. I wouldn't be surprised if that is affecting his accuracy.

Is there some random variation? Sure. Rivers is known for taking chances. Sometimes, those deep balls get picked off or the slants bounce off the receiver's hands and to a DB.

Is his home life distracting him? I doubt it. How big a difference can it be going from 5 kids to 6?

What hasn't been mentioned is the decline of the players around Rivers, which I think has had a huge effect because of the way defenses have been playing the Chargers this year. The Chargers main receiving threats are all on the big/tall side: Gates, VJ, Floyd. All of them have been suffering from persistent injuries and none of them are the nimble/shifty Wes Welker-type of receiver. What defenses have realized is that you can play these receivers man-to-man and they will have a hard time getting open. This has greatly reduced the leeway that Rivers has when making his throws. It's not surprising that he hasn't been able to connect with these players very much.

If you look at who he is throwing the ball to, you see a LOT of completions to the running backs. These dump-offs could also mean that the o-line isn't blocking as well as it used to, which is something my observations would agree with.

So, combine all of these factors and you end up with a QB that has less time to throw the ball, to receivers that aren't getting open, resulting in a lot of dump-offs to the running backs. Throw is a minor injury that is affecting his accuracy and it all adds up to a big decline in performance, plus a lot of interceptions when he tries to force it to his downfield receivers.

18 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Yeah, but the same thing happened last year and Rivers was still good. McNeil was out for awhile so Rivers had to throw a lot of checkdowns. That and a bunch of screens and quick throws. This year he still has to get the ball out quick since he doesn't have time in the pocket, but the results are much worse.

Hard to tell if Rivers is hurt. His mechanics are bad which takes velocity off his throws. Sometimes it's hard to tell if he was accurate on his deep throws or if the receiver outjumps the defender. It's different from when Favre got hurt, Favre was a freakish athlete that could throw deep with zip and accuracy. This year, Rivers is just....off. Maybe he needs a lot of reps and the lockout hurt him more than most.

25 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Teams were still playing zone against the Chargers last year. I think the rise of man defense is what is hurting Rivers more than anything else. It will be interesting to see if the Chargers coaching staff takes steps to adjust for it, and if those steps prove effective.

28 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Could be, but it's harder to play man against big receiver that are fast (Jackson) or use their size and "basketball moves" to block out defenders (Gates). Maybe Jackson lost a step and Gates is still crippled? Hard to tell at this point.

38 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I agree that it is the result of many factors.

However, regardless of personnel changes or missing McNeill for part of last year, my subjective take is that the o-line is just not pass-blocking as well as in the past. I don't care who is there now or last year, the o-line is either providing an adequate pocket for an adequate amount of time or it isn't.

Rivers is obviously one of the least mobile QBs in the league. and even slightly diminished productivity from the o-line with respect to pass blocking probably has a large effect on results. It may also have gotten into Rivers's head a little too.

Hard to break any of this out in statistics, but I'd love to see someone try.

12 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Isn't it obvious to you people? The Lord has deserted him. I've known this for a while, but now that I read he's a devout Catholic it all makes sense. Everyone know that popery is next to devil worship. How are people surprised that a Mary-worshipping infidel is failing?

68 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

This must have something to do with the Tebow Corollary. There is only enough room for so much help for QBs in the NFL due to His will. And now with Tebow in the league everyone else is left out to dry. Tebow's GVOA is a billion.

13 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Is it possible he's just got Kurt Warner Syndrome? Even after the hand injury, Warner wasn't himself for a couple of years before he managed to suddenly pull out of the crisis of confidence that made him mortal.

74 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Yeah? well Elijah Wood is listed at 5'6" and Frodo Baggins was just 3'9". Ian McKellen will play Norv Turner by standing further away from the camera.

(Of course, Al Davis will be played by either Christopher Lee or Skeletor)

15 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

As a Panthers fan, I would like to think it's because Chud is no longer with them. Granted I am probably just being a homer and it's probably just coincidental that Rivers production has dropped while Newton has, by most accounts, exceeded expectations.

29 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I disagree with you on that one. I thought Chud worked wonders with Derek Anderson. It was hard to do it the second year when your GM knee caps you. Instead of signing a possession receiver to replace Jurevicius, Savage signs the sexy, speed receiver with a high drop rate (Stallworth) to complement the other sexy receivers with high drop rates.

67 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Anderson's decent year was with Chud as the OC, and he made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement. However, that was his only decent year, and I don't think I'd chalk it up to the OC, necessarily.

Cam Newton's success might be part Chud, sure, but I'm pretty sure it's mainly Cam Newton. What a player! As a Saints fan, I hope he's a one-year wonder, but what a year!

17 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

It looks to me like he is rattled. Sure a surprising number of his passes have been either touched by a receiver or tipped at the line, but it looks like at some point in the season (mostly after/during the New England game) that he lost his confidence and has been trying too hard to bring himself up to that "elite" level.

23 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Despite this, I still think that the real reason is because the sports gods hates any team that resides in San Diego. It feels like no matter what sport we are talking about it is about how it was such a great run... until something bad happens. Not to mention all of the players that, once they leave San Diego they somehow do amazing and/or get a championship. Drew Brees is just one example, look at how many former San Diego Padres players become good players for other teams (Seriously look it up, it is ridiculous. David Freese is just the latest example).

36 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

The Five-time Taylor Cup champion San Diego Gulls and Ten-time indoor soccer league champion San Diego Sockers would beg to differ with the assessment of San Diego as a cursed town. The real problem is the Q! If the Chargers moved their home games to the sports arena....

20 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Gates wasn't doing much against the Chiefs, he looked like a rather pale imitation of him at his best.

Rivers could be hurt too, he seemed even more leaden footed than normal and just isn't releasing the ball with any rythm. It's hard to tell with Rivers though because his legs have been a little gimpy since his knee injury and his delivery has always been a little 'jelly on a plate'-ish. (or jello for americans)

57 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

He was double teamed almost every play, and he still managed 4 catches for 73 yards. He also had a TD taken away on a highly questionable offensive PI call during which the defender was actually holding his arm with both hands.

21 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

i'm betting on it being psychological. we've just watched the same issue take down tiger woods. how hard is it to believe that he's just not as tightly screwed on as he used to be? it's not like he has been known as an especially level-headed guy to begin with

80 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

How on earth do you read it as being the same issue that Woods faced? Woods got himself into a major scandal, had his marriage collapse, has went through a long stretch of injury issues, reworked his swing multiple times, changed coaches, etc. Rivers has undergone nothing remotely close to that.

87 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

that we know of. it's ridiculous to think that we have any idea what is really going on in the lives of famous people, much less in their minds.

he might be very bothered by something going on that he just isn't talking about, and I am merely pointing out that purely psychological issues can be enough to cause a large difference in relative performance by an athlete at the top of his game. just because he's rich and famous doesn't mean he can't experience depression or anxiety or something similar.

the woods example is merely to serve as a clear cut case where we know that it was a psychological issue because of all the publicity involved.

30 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Diehard Chargers fan since two years old here. I have a couple of theories on this.

1. Press man coverage - just from watching each game on TV, without the benefit of the all-22 camera, it seems like teams have gameplanned to be much more physical off the line with the Bolts receivers. Even Gates is having trouble getting open.

2. Kevin Acee, beat reporter for the U-T, alluded a couple of weeks ago to Rivers coming into camp clearly out of sorts and with a different mindset. Less gregarious, mood was off. He noted that many teammates remarked about it, but there were no details available. I tend to doubt that the 6th kid had any other affect than the first five did when he was lighting up the stat sheets, but there may be something else in his personal life going on - he's pretty close to the vest about such things.

3. I doubt also that there was any missing timing due to the lockout. Drew Brees was much more public in leading his workouts with the offense during the lockout, but Rivers actually led almost as many workouts. Theoretically, unless Rivers, the son of a coach, simply is inept at running workouts, this shouldn't be an issue.

4. Eroding team talent. Regardless of Rivers' performance, this is a team that is clearly in decline. The defense, while excellent up front and mostly solid in the secondary, has badly digressed in the linebacker level. The offense also suffers from an older and more injured Gates, an improving but still inconsistent run game, and a lack of consistency on the right side of the line. Injuries have also played a major role - the Bolts can't seem to keep a legit #2 WR healthy for more than 2 or 3 weeks at a time. AJ Smith, for all his faults, usually does a good job of assembling talent, but the big thing that I've noticed is a stubbornness when it comes to "his guys". Once he's locked on to an AJ Fave, like Jacob Hester or Luis Castillo, it's impossible for him to see any weaknesses in that player's game. It also should be noted that his drafts since 2005 have been very sub-par, and you can count on one finger the number of first round draft picks since then that have stuck with the team. Liuget has clearly broken that streak this year, but the massive reach for Mouton in the 2nd round indicates that AJ still has some dialogue to conduct with the guy he shaves with.

As with all things, it's clearly somewhere in the middle. These are the factors that I think are contributing, and seem to have snowballed all at once.

33 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Clearly he has realized the team will never win a Championship with Norv as HC, so he has taken it upon himself to get Norv fired.

39 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Sorry guys, but if you subtract the two games against the Chiefs (they probably have figured him out) and the game against the Jets (an excellent defense who have figured out how to make good people look bad before), his stats look similar to how they have been before.

So it is a silly discussion.

Honestly, he always looks a bit arrogant (I don't think he IS arrogant), might that be a reason people like to create myths about how low he has fallen and how crappy his game has become? Come on guys, the guy has had a ugly looking throwing motion before, it has always worked for him. The guy has thrown stupid picks before. I don't like him, but I believe he still is one of the better QBs (albeit I think he has a low football IQ).

40 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

So if you remove almost half his games he looks like himself? Isn't that super-cherry picking the data?

I guess you could argue that the Cheifs and Jets have him figured out all of the sudden, but it seems like quite a leap given Rivers history. It's not like he's only in his second year or anything.

42 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

It will be 3/16th of the season at the end. It is two opponents.

He's had a high rating against the Patriots.

You cannot cut the season into 16 slices and expect every slice to look the same. What if he plays excellent in three games in the second half of the season and looks the same in the remaining games?

The only thing lower is TD passes.

49 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Exactly, new world monkeys with their prehensile tails or old world monkeys ? I would think the prehensile tail would be an advantage when it comes to playing football. Still, I think monkeys(new or old world) would be pretty easy to jam at the line, I think you really need an ape to get the job done right. Perhaps and orangutan or gorilla for going over the middle, and something a little faster like some chimps on the outside.

55 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

I think mandrills would be pretty good. You could bulk them up. In spite of their size, I think most receivers would be hesitant to get physical. Having a large set of canines can have its advantages. Even if they were jammed, I think their superior recovery speed would offset the size limitations.

54 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Alvin Garrett foo old to play anymotrre.

Okay well real monkeys would not do good vs patriots. More intetrsted in crapping on firld and kimping on the Patriots defenddrs. Both those things would be peanlties so really wouls be very hard for monkey team to do much s oring vs pates defdnse.

59 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Well you seemed to be saying that thus far he's been the same player by throwing out 3 out of 7 games. I don't think that's valid.

To speculate that by the end of the year he'll wind up looking like the same player is a completely different argument, and might be correct. But it requires a lot of speculation and guessing.

48 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Wut? Are you high? Rivers doesn't look like he did last year. He's throwing high, his timing is off, and he's made questionable decisions. The last INT against the Jets was a good scheme by NY, so no fault of Rivers or his receivers, but he does not look the same.

81 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

So, the Chiefs suddenly figured him out after he'd absolutely destroyed them over the three previous seasons?

He was over 100 in QB rating against Kansas City for all four games they played in 2009 and 2010 and he had a 96 in each of the two games in 2008. This year? He had a 62 and a 72. Tough to give full credit for that sort of dropoff to the Chiefs' D, imo.

85 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Yeah, actually Crennel puts together a good defensive gameplan against the Chargers. As long as Haley calls a good offensive game, and Cassel doesn't do anything stupid, it works. Remember last years season opener between the Chargers and the Chiefs? There was a lot of the same schemes used.

86 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

They may have used the same schemes last year, but they weren't nearly as effective. In the two games against KC last year he had 4 TDs vs. only 1 INT. Even in that opener where they lost he was rock solid: right at 300 yards with 2 TDs and no INTs. This year? Zero TDs and 4 INTs in the two games.

The INTs you can give the Chiefs full credit for because they've exploded in that category--13 already this year after only 14 all of last season. But the zero TDs looks to be squarely on Rivers because the Chiefs are 20th against the pass this year, which is worse than they were last season.

62 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

First off, having just had a baby (well, my wife actually *had* the baby), I could totally buy the sixth child argument. The fact that his other five didn't affect his play means nothing...any given kid can be an angel or an endless source of frazzled insomnia. Maybe his sixth kid was rough.

Second, an all monkey team would be awesome. Figure gorillas as the linemen, a chimp as the QB, macaque's as the defensive backs and slot receivers, baboons as the running backs... the possibilities are endless.

65 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

In all the comment's no one seemed to mention that River's unusual throwing motion (kind of half-sidearm) is now more side-arm than usual and it affects the three elements of passer efficiency - velocity, angle of presentation and accuracy. River has had many more balls batted this year than last (lower throwing motion) less accurate the more side arm you throw the greater variation in accuracy preventing Rivers from regulary and successfully throwing into tight windows, velocity speaks to itself more recovery time for CB's to get to the ball.

69 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

An all monkey team would need a howler monkey to play middle linebacker and do the whole get the team fired up pregame routine.

72 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Watch Monday's tape again - Rivers was actually very sharp for most of the way. If he doesn't fumble late, the story becomes "wow, Rivers rallied after a slow start and willed SD to victory."

83 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

His completion % wasn't bad, but I wouldn't say he was sharp. One example that comes to mind is a couple passes before the INT that was tipped at the line he threw a horrible long ball that was dropped by the db where his receiver had absolutely no shot at the ball. It looked like he just flung it out there and hoped something good would happen.

78 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Some great responses.

I can buy a lot of them, but the biggest thing I noticed is that Gates and VJax are getting no separation. They look old and slow all of the sudden (VJax has faced the league's best cornerbacks so that may be part of it). Rivers is forcing the ball into these guys when it just isn't there. AJ providing him with Crayton, Rich Goodman and Bryan Walters as his backend WRs doesn't exactly help. These guys are all well below replacement level. The O-line has been shaky too (esp the awful Cleary and McNeil (injury).

Rivers should probably try to manage the game better given these factors and shy away from the gunslinging that he is accustomed to.

89 Re: What is Wrong with Philip Rivers?

Rivers hurt his sternum on a dirty shot by andre carter. last year he did fine with shit receivers and no mcneill the first half of the year. the injury is the reason rivers went from a top 5 qb to a league average qb. and there's no question rivers was a top 5 qb before the injury due to his unparalleled individual success during the 3 year period of 2008-2010.