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:
- There's something physically wrong with him that he won't admit. I don't know about this one, because it doesn't look like he's wincing after throws or anything like that. He's just not making good decisions or throwing with the proper touch on his throws.
- He misses Antonio Gates, who has been hurt. This doesn't seem right, as Rivers was great in the second half of last year without Gates around, and he hasn't been particularly good this year in games where Gates played.
- He misses Darren Sproles. This one also seems a bit ridiculous since it isn't like Sproles was on the field for every down.
- He developed some sort of bad throwing habit during the players-only offseason workouts.
- He's having problems adapting to his wife giving birth to their sixth child. (Yes, this is coming up on Chargers fan message boards.)
- It's just random variation.
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.