There's been a ton of talk this offseason about how poorly Philip Rivers has played the last couple years. Some of this is merited, but some is uncalled for. As much as I'm in favor for the analytics and sabermetric movement that the NFL is moving towards, at the end of the day, you just have to watch the film. You have to see what's really going on, and that's what this article will touch on.
A lot goes into an interception. Unfortunately, Rivers has thrown his fair share in the last two years, but I wanted to go back through the 2012 season and figure out how many of his 15 interceptions were actually on him. I wanted to see how many could be easily avoided. Stats never tell the whole story, a receiver could have fallen down, or the ball could go off of his hands, but eight months later noone remembers and they just see that the quarterback committed a turnover. Let us go over his interceptions and see who's really at fault, and where Rivers can improve.
Week 2 vs. Tennesse Titans
It's 3rd and 10, an obvious passing down. As you can see, there was pressure, but the pressure wasn't overwhelming. Of the three options, Rivers chooses the worst one. The first crossing route is Eddie Royal about five yards downfield, which probably doesn't get the first down but gives you a chance. The deeper crossing route is Dante Rosario, about 15 yards downfield, who is open and should have been the read. Rivers elected to throw the corner route to Malcom Floyd, who was double covered.
Who's to Blame: 100% Rivers here. There was pressure, sure, but you can't throw off your back foot 40 yards down the field and expect positive results. Even on 3rd down I'm not buying "it's as good as a punt" because the Chargers punter has a habit of pinning opponents inside their own 20.
Interceptions #2 and #3
Week 3 vs. Atlanta Falcons
It's 3rd and 6, and the Falcons bring pressure. The offensive line does a good job of picking it up initially. Rivers decides it would be a good idea to scramble to his right, being the speedster that he is. Breaking News: Good things don't happen when Rivers scrambles. However, good things do happen when he steps up into the pocket and steps into his throws. I thought Rivers could have stepped up in the pocket here and delivered the ball to Antonio Gates on the "pivot" route, where you fake an in-breaking route and cut back outside.
Who's to Blame: Rivers is at fault here for creating pressure on his own. During the years where he was considered
elite a good quarterback, he would continually step up in the pocket and deliver throws with pressure in his face. Here, he creates his own pressure by scrambling. The Falcons ended up scoring a touchdown and going up 20-0 at halftime.
It's 2nd and 6, and the Chargers are driving. The Falcons do a good job here of disguising their blitz, bringing six guys, with the extra two coming off the edge. The play was for each receiver to run vertical, and Rivers again decides to fade away and throw the ball late over the middle. When you do that, this is generally the result: a turnover.
Who's to Blame: This is another one on Rivers. The problem is not only the poor throw, but he should have recognized some sort of blitz and made one of his receivers "hot" to come open faster. Drive killers like this cost you games. If anything, just throw the ball away or take the sack.
Week 4 at Kansas City Chiefs
It's 3rd and 5, and the Chargers are in the red zone. Rivers has all day to throw here, but Robert Meachem runs a terrible route.
Rivers throws the ball before Meachem is out of his break, which is what you're supposed to do. Could he have thrown it outside more? Yes. Should Meachem have broke inside period? Yes. Did it take Meachem four extra steps to get in and out of his breaks? Yes. Could Meachem have put up just a little bit more effort to break up the pass? I'd say.
Who's to Blame: See above. This one's not on the Quarterback.
Week 5 at New Orleans Saints
3rd and 18 with just under six minutes to go in the 4th quarter, the Chargers need someone to make a play and Rivers does. He delivers the ball right on the money on a deep crossing route to Malcom Floyd. The Safety breaks on the ball and deflects it in the air for an interception.
Rivers had time to throw, no pressure at all and delivered a dart. For some reason, Floyd decided to catch it with his body. For a 6'5" guy who has shown to have above average hands, I'll never understand why.
Who's to Blame: Floyd. Rivers did everything a Quarterback is supposed to. If Floyd extends his arms, it's an easy pitch and catch for the first down and the drive continues. Floyd also drifts on his route during his final few steps, making it easier for the defensive back to break on the ball. You have to help your Quarterback out in these crucial situations.
Interceptions #6, #7, #8, and #9
Week 6 vs. Denver Broncos
It's 1st and 10, and the Chargers decide to go for a "shot" play off play action. It's actually a good play design, and it gets 6'4" Antonio Gates matched up with 5'8" safety Jim Leonhard about 45 yards downfield. Rivers sees the mismatch, and gives his future Hall of Fame Tight End a chance to make a play.
Who's to Blame: This is on Gates. I have no problem with Rivers throwing this up. Gates actually makes the catch one-handed, and Leonard takes it away from him. That can't happen. Even before that, Gates over-ran the ball. He could have done a better job of slowing down to simply out jump Leonhard. Either way, Gates has to catch that ball.
It's 3rd and 8, and the Chargers just got the ball after a Broncos touchdown. The line picks up the pressure and Rivers does a nice job of stepping into the pocket before underthrowing his receiver by about 10-12 yards. It's an easy interception for Cornerback Tony Carter
whom the Chargers should sign once he's cut after training camp.
Who's to Blame: This one's easy. Meachem has his man beat and, if Rivers puts the ball out in front of him, it's a touchdown. This might be where critics question his arm strength, but Rivers just tried to throw it on a line instead of letting his receiver run under it.
It's 3rd and 7, and the Chargers are marching across midfield after a Broncos touchdown. Rivers throws a slant route to Eddie Royal, who shows us his skills as a route runner. (The most underrated corner in the game) Chris Harris doesn't fall for his outside fake and easily jumps the route for an interception.
Who's to Blame: I can't blame Rivers for this. WRs have to win 1-on-1 matchups in the NFL. Royal has to get inside on this play and make the catch. He needs to do a better job of setting his man up if he's going to break inside. I've seen better attempts at the high school level to get open. This is lazy route running for me. Royal is too fast, and should be better than this.
The Chargers have one last hope to win the game. It's 2nd and 6, and Rivers throws to Royal on an out-route, or at least attempts to. This one was ugly all around. Royal drifts on his route, rounds his route, and gets jammed at the top of his route. That's the trifecta and not the good kind. This was a timing route and that entire sequence ruined the play.
Who's to Blame: I want to put this one on Royal, I really do. Sloppy route running isn't going to cut it, against the NFL's best you have no chance. Rivers can't make that throw, though. This ball has to be at least 3 yards farther outside, and it was grossly underthrown. Pin this INT on the Quarterback.
Week 9 vs. Kansas City Chiefs
3rd and goal on the 1 yard line, San Diego gets cute and runs a play action pass that is designed for Rivers to roll out and find the Tight End in the flat or the Tight End in the back of the end zone. What good can come from a play that is designed for Rivers to roll out? He floats it up to Tight End Dante Rosario and Safety Eric Berry breaks on the ball and intercepts it.
Who's to Blame: Without question, this is on Rivers. He was late with the throw, and he also lobbed it. These are the head scratching throws he makes that cause people to question how he was ever a top quarterback. Any good QB throws that ball away and takes the points.
Interception #11 and #12
Week 10 at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is the throw that many pundits think defines Rivers' 2012 season. It was arguably the worst pass he's made in his career. It's 3rd and 4, the Chargers are already in field goal position, and Rivers has a clean pocket, but for some reason decides to roll out to his right. He attempts to throw it to Eddie Royal, but instead finds Cornerback Leonard Johnson for a back breaking interception. Had Rivers stayed in the pocket he would have seen Gates wide open over the middle for the first down.
Who's to Blame: This is where the phantom pressure affected Rivers. It was an awful throw. It's almost as if he didn't see Johnson there, even though he was directly in front of him. Just a poor decision by El Capitan that ultimately cost his team the game.
It's 2nd and 20, and the Chargers have one last chance. Rivers gets pressured late, but it looked as if he had his mind made up where he was throwing the ball the entire play. Had he scanned the field, he had Gates open across the middle for what would have been an easy 15 yards and a manageable 3rd down.
Who's to Blame: This is a case of Rivers trying to do too much, instead of taking what the defense gives him. He tried to win the game on one throw and it cost him. Alexander actually had his man beat, but the ball was severely underthrown. Rivers footwork was a mess on this play, as he threw off his front foot and couldn't get anything on the throw.
Interception #13 and #14
Week 11 at Denver Broncos
It's 1st down, the first play after the Broncos just scored a touchdown. The Chargers run a quick play action fake, and the play is designed to hit Danario Alexander on a "dig" route over the middle of the field. Noone bit on the play action and Alexander is double covered. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard has an easy interception as Rivers throws it right to him.
Who's to Blame: This is where you throw it away and live to fight another down. No one was open on the play, so no need to force it, especially into double coverage. There's no one else to blame but the Quarterback.
On 4th and 14, the pocket collapses on Rivers and he does what you're supposed to do in that situation: throw it up and give your receiver a chance to make a play. There's not much else he could have done in this situation.
Who's to Blame: Noone. This is kind of where the "stat" argument comes into play. The interception didn't hurt anything. In fact, most of us would have been upset if he just took the sack. I have no issues with the throw here.
Week 14 vs. Cincinnati Bengals
4th and 10, for the ball game at the 17 yard line. It's actually a good play call, but again it seemed like Rivers had his mind made up where he was going before the snap.
He throws a fade route into double coverage in the end zone for an interception. He has the time to throw, but he had already been sacked four times, so he's playing faster than he has to. Had he waited a split second later, Gates comes open on a post route that would have been an easy touchdown (the Safety was already cheating towards Floyd).
Who's to Blame: This one's on Rivers even though it's 4th down. I blame him because he seemed to have his mind made up on going to Floyd the whole way.
What We Learned
Philip Rivers' mistakes are all easily avoidable. In 2012, Philip had a tendency to overcompensate, which is why he led the league with eight 3rd down interceptions. Of those eight, four turned into touchdowns for the opposing teams. Rivers is going to have to learn that a punt isn't always a bad thing.
We learned that bad things happen when Rivers threw to Royal or Meachem. That seemed to be a trend throughout the season, as he could never get on the same page with the two new free agent acquisitions.
We learned that not all of the interceptions were the fault of Philip Rivers. As a receiver, you should fight for the ball and do everything you can to come up with the reception. As you saw in these examples, that wasn't always the case with the Chargers receivers in 2012.
We learned that bad things happen when Rivers decides to scramble and throw. That's just not his game, and he knows that.
There were plenty of impressive throws by Rivers throughout the 2012 season, so arm strength isn't an issue, it's simply his mechanics.
Knowing what's at stake, look for Rivers to have a bounce-back year with improved weapons and improved line play around him.