Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

20 Nov 2012

ESPN: Time to Replace Philip Rivers?

Philip Rivers is getting sacked more often and throwing more interceptions than ever before. Is this a sign that the Chargers need to move on from him, or do the problems extend beyond that? Similarity scores say that it's the latter.

Posted by: Vincent Verhei on 20 Nov 2012

16 comments, Last at 25 Nov 2012, 6:13pm by Dean


by Drunken5yearold :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 2:00pm

Rivers is one of the most O-line dependent quarterbacks in the league. He generally moves well in the pocket and does a good job of stepping up to avoid sacks while keeping his eyes downfield. But he has zero speed so he can't escape pressure outside the pocket or extend a play.

For years, the Chargers had one of the best offenses in the league because their O-line was just good enough to give Rivers time to make good decisions:

1) Throw the ball deep and let Floyd or V. Jackson make a play
2) Hit Gates in the intermediate routes
3) Dump the ball to Sproles or LT out of the back field
4) Throw the ball away

Now, the O-line sucks while at the same time the quality of River's options has declined. V-Jax is gone and Meachem sucks. Gates is starting to show his age and can no longer get the separation that he used to get in his prime. Rivers is dumping it off all the time because that is his only remaining viable option. He also is pressing too much to make something happen, so he's not throwing the ball away on bad plays as much as he used to.

I still think Rivers can be a good QB as long as he as the protection he needs. In 2010, the Chargers still had a decent line but basically had street FAs at WR, and the offense did great that year.

One last observation: it seems like Rivers has developed a very bad habit of not stepping into his throws. I suspect that this is related to his lack of confidence in the line as well as his lack of accuracy over the last year or so.

by tuluse :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 2:06pm

Rivers always had such an whacky delivery that it can be hard to tell if he's stepping up or not.

by dancingeek@gmail.com :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:31pm

I've been watching Rivers' footwork a little more closely this year, and he has not been stepping into throws whenever there is pressure around him. The result is an underthrown ball. Sometimes the receiver makes an adjustment (like Floyd did on a big gain against the Broncos) and the play is a success, but the ball is consistently underthrown.

by theslothook :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 3:47pm

Not sure if I totally agree that hes o line dependent. Which qb isn't o line dependent? And actually, in 2010 the chargers led a pretty effective group despite starting people like brandon dombrowski and losing hardwick for the whole year. They still used clary at tackle.

I think the real culprit has been the diminished skills of Gates. Without an elite tight end, the receiving core in its totality is beyond awful. None of the running backs are good receivers or pass blockers either and so rivers is essentially trying to carry an entire roster by himself. How many qbs can actually do that? Is it any wonder Jay cutler looks SO bad on the bears?

by Bonzer (not verified) :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:04pm

To say Rivers isn't O-line dependent is like saying Drew Bledsoe isn't O-line dependent. He doesn't have the pocket mobility like a Tony Romo or, to a lesser degree, like a Tom Brady or Drew Brees. San Diego doesn't really do bootlegs and rollouts because, well, Rivers is like a tree trunk.

Gates regression isn't the cause entirely, because when he was out with a foot injury a few seasons ago, Rivers was still productive. It's a combination of no dependable WR, no #1 WR, and especially no Darren Sproles. In a Norval Turner offense, the WRs run deeper routes to lift the coverage, so in some cases the Sproles became the primary option.

by giovani bellini (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 10:20pm

"The receiving core is beyond awful..."

That is the stupidist thing I have ever heard
Check out the value of Floyd and Alexander on the objective data on this website; the only teams in the NFL with a better pair of receivers in terms of value added at #1 and #2 WR are Atl, Den, GB and NO. Period.

by Dean :: Sun, 11/25/2012 - 6:13pm

I'm sure you've heard stupider. Question mark.

by theslothook :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:09pm

This is what makes it so baffling...Rivers has been successful while having every single piece of his offense missing at one time or another. If you say its gates, well like you said, gates has been out. if you say its jackson? well jackson has been holding out. If you say its the o line, he was still good in 2010 when most of his o line was in a state of unrest.

Hes been successful(ridiculously so I might add), with just about every variable thrown his way. And yet now hes gone up in flames? Should we just conclude its norv turner and call it a day?

by speedegg :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:38pm

THAT'S an excellent point. Being a Chargers fan and watching the offense over the years, Turner deserves a lot of blame. Though to be fair, it's not entirely all on him.

Part of the reason could be practice time with different players. This last game against the Broncos it seemed like Rivers made line calls to change the pass protection and some of his linemen blocked the other way....which resulted in a Von Miller beat down. There was at least one sack where Rivers pointed out the Mike LB and Von Miller, then his O-line moved away from Miller and gave up an easy sack.

The other problem is their players just aren't that good. The first Bronco game, one of the Rivers interception was on Royal. Rivers made the right read, but Eddie Royal gave up on the play, let Chris Harris get in front of him, and Harris made reservations for 6. That's not on Rivers or Turner, but if the Broncos gave up on Royal, what does that say about AJ Smith's judgement (or lack of).

by Yakka the Sporting Yak (not verified) :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 5:53pm

Lots of different theories and plenty fingers being pointed at numerous players and coaches! The success of any organisation starts with the team culture instilled by coaches/management. It starts from the top-down.

Let's have a quick look at Norv Turner's coaching record:
- He has coached the most games (231) in NFL history among head coaches with an overall losing record (0.438)
- He has zero superbowl wins, zero superbowl appearances for that matter. And zero conference wins either (has only made a conference championship once- with Chargers vs Pats in 2007).

For me, those are compelling enough stats alone to make an impartial, unbias assessment that the chargers have been unjustifiably persistent with Norv. I never like pointing fingers or calling for the head of any coaches or players because this is their life-sake and no doubt still their passion (especially someone like Norv who has committed 22+ years to pro football!). But on the other hand, they can't keep flogging a dead horse!

Look at what the Harbaugh brothers have done in San Fran and Baltimore. Look at what Schiano has done in Tampa in his first year in the NFL. What Tomlin has brought to Pittsburgh. These are young studs with new blood and fresh ideas & coaching philosophies and they are making an incredible impact on their respective teams.

Time to start afresh and try something new in San Diego and only then will we get some perspective as to the true pedigree of Rivers, his O-line, Gates etc

by jackiel :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 7:41pm

Interesting how teams with great defensive personnel and talent evaluators make the coaches you mention look really good.

I think Norv's scheme is a big reason for SD's offensive success over the years. This year, the offense just isn't talented enough to make up for some of the flaws on the defensive end and the mistakes in the personnel department. SD has put up 24+ points in 4 of their 6 losses this year, notably.

That said, it's time for both Smith and Norv to go at the end of the year. It's time...

by tuluse :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 8:14pm

Even in that case, 2005 and 2006 both had higher offensive DVOA than any Norv Turner coached team.

Also, head coaches are heavily involved in talent evaluation. I don't think it's a coincidence that the team's talent grew while Schottenheimer was there and waned under Norval.

by Bonzer (not verified) :: Wed, 11/21/2012 - 11:54am

You know, that could be the reason AJ Smith and Schottenheimer fought so much and why Turner and Smith get along so well. Turner might just say,"Yes, Mr. Burns" as AJ drafted Jonas Mouton, Larry English, or Buster Davis.

by theslothook :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 4:54pm

Aj Smith deserves blame for continuing to keep Norv Turner and trading away picks for players which has left the chargers with little depth. On top of that, his crazy macho head games with McNeil and Jackson are pretty ridiculous. What other Gm goes out of his way to alienate players just so they can come off like a tough guy? Maybe Ted Thompson but that was with Favre.

by justanothersteve :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 5:33pm

TT only got tough on Favre after the first "real" retirement (after Favre talking about it/ threatening it for several years). Before then, the only time TT was tough was when he had to let some of the Diva's buddies go to free agency because Mike Sherman had totally screwed up the Packers salary structure. (E.g., LG Mike Wahle was scheduled to make $11M in one year and refused to restructure his contract. He was good, but not that good.) TT comes across as a pretty cold guy, which has alienated many fans and the media. He has actually been less alienating to players than many GMs.

by Michael LaRocca (not verified) :: Tue, 11/20/2012 - 10:34pm

Drew Brees is far too classy to laugh at Philip Rivers and San Diego, so I'll do it for him. Hahahahaha!