San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers isn't back

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY

Chargers QB Philip Rivers hasn't just "returned to form" after a few down years, he has returned as a different player altogether. He's now a better player than he's ever been, and it's truly special to watch.

A couple weeks ago I wrote how Philip Rivers was back.

Boy, was I wrong.

How can Rivers be "back" when he's never played at this high of a level?

I'll tell you why Philip Rivers isn't back, but how he's better than ever.

Stats

I don't want to "stat you to death" but some of the numbers Rivers has put up are mind boggling. For example, on Sunday, Rivers wasn't under pressure for 30 of his throws. Guess how many of those he completed? Twenty-nine. That's good for 96%. That's a feat that's hard to accomplish when you're running on air in practice.

Much has changed when Rivers is under pressure this year, too. Not only is he getting rid of the ball faster, but he's still able to push the ball down-field when he's doing so. To compare that to his years under Norval, Rivers had a 47.8% completion rate when he was under pressure, while throwing the ball for an average of 6.6 yards per attempt.

This year under pressure, Rivers has his completion percentage up to 61.1% with a 7.5 yards per attempt. Again, taking the stat to another level, his accuracy percentage is an astonishing 80.6% when under pressure, good for 4 percentage points higher than Peyton.

Another thing that was impressive was Rivers' ability to get over the interception by Sean Lee. In years past, I don't think there's any chance we see the type of performance Rivers had Sunday had he thrown a "pick 6" late in the second quarter. Usually, there would have been a few more mistakes afterwards. This year's version of Rivers went 20-24 for 249 yards and 2 TDs after the interception.

The preseason goal of 70% completion sounded absurd. Through 4 games, he's at 73.9%. If you want to get into advanced stats, his accuracy percentage, described here, is 84% for the season. That's 1 percentage point behind the robot under center for Denver. Rivers has been that good.

What's been more impressive than any number I can throw at you? His ability to read defenses before the ball is snapped.

Pre-Snap Reads

I can't stress the importance of Rivers getting up to the line of scrimmage about 15-20 seconds earlier this year. It allows him to use his greatest strength, his mind. Rivers is a smart guy, and in this offense he's no longer handcuffed to one specific play, and he's flourishing because of it.

Let's go back to the deep ball down the sideline to Keenan Allen. The Cowboys show blitz. Rivers walks under center, and literally points to both the defenders who are blitzing, looks over to Keenan Allen's side (which looked like some sort of "be ready kid" nod) and throws a beautiful back shoulder fade off of a 3-step drop.

Rivers growth in this offense over the last 2 months has been fun to watch. He knows where his mismatches are, and he's taking advantage of them before any pass rush can get there, even behind a bunch of back up lineman.

Next, the touchdown to Woodhead.

Woody_medium

Unsure of the coverage, Rivers points to Gates to motion him all the way to the top of the screen. If the defender goes with him, he knows that there's man coverage across the board.

Woody2_medium

The linebacker goes with Gates, and now he's on Danny Woodhead in man to man coverage. So, you have arguably your three biggest mismatches on the team on one side in Ladarius Green, Woodhead, and Gates. Someone's going to win, it's just a matter of who, and can you find them in time.

Gates runs a slant, so now the corner is out of the picture. Green runs a seam route down the middle of the field, holding the safety. Rivers, who knew right away where he was going, takes 3 steps, lofts it to where only Woodhead can catch it. Touchdown.

It was beautiful. It's fun to watch a great player, be great. This is just one of many examples of Rivers owning the play before the snap. He's hitting receivers in stride, before they break out of their routes, and putting the ball only where they can catch it. I can imagine how frustrating it might be for a defense.

Phantom Rivers is no longer among us. The fact that Rivers trusts his line this year is really paying off. No more scrambling when it's not needed, no throwing off of your back foot when there's no pressure there. Rivers is climbing the pocket like the 2009 Rivers, but better. He's been putting on a clinic, and it's time to recognize him for it.

He's no longer staring down receivers. His second touchdown to Woodhead? That was his third option on the play. No way he trusts his line to go through his progressions like that in the past.

I'd also like to point out that it's amazing how good of a football coach Ken Whisenhunt is when he has a competent quarterback. Some of his route combinations he's putting together are impossible to defend, and Rivers is taking advantage of this. On the last touchdown to Gates, no receiver ran a route under 10 yards. That was one of the few times the Chargers stretched the entire field, and it paid off in a big way.

I'm sure you'll correct me, but I can only think of three bad plays that Rivers has made this year. There was the pick-6 against the Texans that was all on him, the knuckle-headed personal foul he had last week in the red zone, and the under throw to Vincent Brown Sunday.

Three mistakes through four games? I'll take that. Rivers has been on a roll to start the season, and I've enjoyed every minute of it, even if he is one of the worst celebrators in NFL history. His celebrations are as bad as he's been good this year.

Rivers-heck-yeah-dance_medium

So, it's not fair to say Philip Rivers is back. Not after Sunday's performance, because I've never seen him play like this. He's better than ever. When you're playing as well as he is, and not turning the ball over, the Chargers have a legit chance to win every game. It's a quarterback driven league, and the Chargers certainly have a great one.

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