Film Study: Is Philip Rivers Struggling To Grasp New Offense?

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

Philip Rivers' completion percentage in the Chargers Preseason Opener didn't tell the whole story. Jerome Watson looks further into the tape to identify just what the San Diego quarterback is struggling with in Ken Whisenhunt's Offense.

Ken Whisenhunt and the San Diego Chargers first team offense were the main focus on Thursday night for Chargers fans everywhere. The unit went down the field in 12 plays and exited the game with the three points on the board. Philip Rivers, who is clearly the focal point of this article, completed 5 out of 6 passes on the first drive. According to fans, Philip was as 'sharp' as they've seen him in a while. While an 83% completion percentage is hard to argue against, I personally didn't think Philip was 'sharp' as the offense requires him to be.

A few months ago, I wrote a post detailing a wrinkle in Ken Whisenhunt's offense referred to as the stack formation. One of the things I forgot to outline in that post was how well Kurt Warner anticipated the underneath throws throughout that game, ultimately leading to the wide open plays that I provided footage of.

As we all know by now, the new offense being installed in San Diego is designed to get the ball out of the quarterback's hand fairly quickly. If you are planning to get the ball out of your quarterback's hand in a timely manner, you'll need a quarterback who can anticipate throws and anticipate when the routes will break open. This is how you help the offensive tackles. This is how you give your wide receivers options after the reception. This is how you disrupt the timing of the pass rushers and keep the secondary in recovery mode. Anticipation is key. Philip wasn't good in the this department on Thursday night and it showed.

Rivers

Remember, this was 3rd and 2. The ball has to get out. The play ended in a positive gain for the San Diego Chargers, but because the play didn't hit quicker it stressed the right tackle. DJ Fluker would've been okay had Philip Rivers planted and climbed at the time outlined, but the two extra steps allowed the DE to continue speed rush upfield, as opposed to having to redirect down the line and go 'through' the first round pick.

Malcom Floyd had no room to operate and the defenders had enough time to recover then react to the 'Mesh' route. At this down and distance, getting the ball out quick has to be Rivers' number one priority. Usually, waiting on the play to eventually develop leads to a sack or interception. Philip needs to get out of this habit. As you are starting to see, it has a ripple effect. The above play was not as positive as the box score may have lead you to believe.

Protect the tackles. Give the wide receivers a chance to pick up yards after the catch. Keep the secondary on their heels. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Rivers2

Philip had the proper footwork and read here, he was just late. The 5 step drop helped sell the option route ran by Antonio Gates, forcing the safety to check the tight end for a split second.

What's not clearly shown here is that Kam Chancellor (in backpedal mode) is 5 yards from Allen at the time he got out of his break. Philip, instead of anticipating the throw, waited on this play to actually open to get it out. By then the safety had already recovered and headed downhill to close the gap on the receiver. The end result of the play was a 4 yard gain on a first down, a positive play in my book, but think of what Keenan Allen could've done if he had gotten that pass with plenty of room to run. Think of him having the option to slide down or make a move, rather than take a solid hit to the back.

That split second makes all the difference.

Rivers3

Stack! This was a Third and 8. The play went for a positive gain but again Philip Rivers was late. Really late.

The quick in route by Floyd (working as the "Up" receiver in the stack) caught Richard Sherman off guard, leading to another 4-5 yard gap between WR and CB. Philip Rivers was focused on the route ran at the sticks by Keenan Allen and missed Floyd here.

The defense was out of position and Rivers allowed them to recover. Once the quarterback anticipates this throw more often, that intermediate-to-deep route he wanted will be be open more often as the defense will eventually have to respect the underneath route. However, if you don't hit on those anticipatory throws, the defense has no reason to respect them and can get frequent third down stops versus this Chargers Offense by just smothering the sticks in 3rd and long.

Kudos to Philip Rivers for finishing the run shoulders first, but I'll take the completion and a field goal over that scenario any day.

You now understand what I meant when I said that Philip Rivers wasn't as "sharp" as the offense requires him to be. Each of these Preseason 'game speed' reps are critical for Rivers. He has to get into the rhythm of how this offense operates in a hurry. This may sound backwards, but Philip has to be comfortable enough to take risks, be confident and see how it all comes together.

So, am I optimistic that Philip will improve? Absolutely. His progression in against the Chicago Bears on Thursday is something that will definitely have my focus and should have yours as well.

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