I've been pretty harsh on Philip Rivers this season, but that's because I predicted him to have an MVP season before the year started and he hasn't been playing at that level yet. In fact, he hasn't even been playing at normal Philip-Rivers-levels.He has more interceptions than touchdowns, his lowest yards-per-attempt average since 2007 (which is even weirder when you factor in that his completion percentage is higher than normal) [Editor's Note: This isn't weird. The two things are clearly effects of the same cause.], and he's collecting more sacks and fumbles than he normally does by holding onto the ball too long.
This team, and its coaching staff, was built around Philip Rivers. If this team is going to make the Super Bowl, it's going to be because of the talents of El Capitan. There's plenty of time for him to turn it around, and his game against the Dolphins was a step in the right direction, but he needs to return to the old PR Machine before the Chargers face some stiffer competition.
Running Backs: B
If this were Ryan Mathews alone, the grade is an A-plus. Mathews has matured into the dangerous weapon A.J. Smith thought he could be when he moved up in the 2010 NFL Draft to get him. He needs to be accounted for on every play, he no longer makes rookie mistakes, and even when the defense knows he's getting the ball he seems to be able to pick up 3-4 yards. That's all you could possibly ask for from your starting RB, along with some luck with health.
Mike Tolbert, on the other hand, has been a little worrisome. He has been dinged up with injuries, is averaging about half of the yards-per-carry as Mathews and has twice as many fumbles in about half as many carries. He needs to get himself straightened out as more than just a goal-line back if he's hoping to get a nice-sized contract from the Chargers after this season.
Jacob Hester has done Jacob Hester things well. He's provided good blocking (occasionally throwing great blocks), been a decent check-down option and has played good special teams. I'd like to see him used a little more frequently as a runner (3 carries in 4 games), but it's not necessary for him to earn a good grade.
Wide Receivers: C
Vincent Jackson is an "elite WR". He's done a great job of proving that, as well as taking every opportunity to prove that he's a changed/matured man off the field. He is currently on pace for an 80 catch, 1,500 yard, 12 TD season as a receiver. Antonio Gates' foot injury, which seems like it might never go away, has made Jackson more valuable to Philip Rivers and the Bolts offense in 2011 and beyond. My point: Vincent Jackson is doing a very good job of earning the big contract that San Diego is going to give him.
The rest of the Wide Receivers have played pretty well, but none of them have been able to stay as healthy as Jackson (who missed half of the Dolphins game and several days of practice the last two weeks). The top 2 WRs besides Jackson have been Malcom Floyd (9 catches in 4 games) and Patrick Crayton (1 catch against the Dolphins). I really like the mix of the Chargers top 3 WRs, but they need to get healthy and stay healthy if Philip Rivers is going to take this team anywhere.
Tight Ends: B
Randy McMichael has been very good, as far as NFL TEs go, but he hasn't been Antonio Gates. In two games as the starter, Randy has caught 7 passes for 76 yards and provided some good blocking. That's pretty much Gates' average per game, if you were to add in a TD, so the production from that position has been cut in half.
I hate to put it in these terms, but I'm worried about the big contract that the Chargers just gave to Gates. What if his foot never gets better? What if he has hit the point in his career where he will never be healthy again, and never be able to play more than a few games before needing some more rest? TE is a tough position, it's not like the Chargers can hide him from taking big hits or blocking. If he can't live up to that contract, it could be a big burden on their salary cap going forward.
Offensive Line: A
I'm sorry, but Rivers has made this offensive line look a lot worse than it is this season. The group of Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman, Nick Hardwick, Louis Vasquez and Jeromey Clary have been playing really well together. They've done a good job of forming a pocket for Philip, and their run and screen blocking has been above average.
The 8 sacks that Rivers has taken so far this season have been mostly the fault of holding onto the ball too long, which is odd because he used to have a reputation as a QB that would get rid of the ball quickly (either to a receiver or throwing it out of bounds). This season, I can't think of any times when he's thrown a ball out of bounds because the play has broken down.