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Can we stop shoveling dirt on San Diego Chargers QB Philip Rivers?

It's become fashionable for fans of the San Diego Chargers to call for Philip Rivers' head, but is that fair? I submit that it is not.

David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

It's a well known fact that former San Diego Chargers Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers is terrible, and he should quit trying to play football because he's bad at it. There's some debate as to how this came to be well known. Some argue that Rivers demonstrated this fact himself over the last two seasons of play. The statistical record tends to disagree with this assessment because in 2011, at least, Rivers was still 7th in DYAR and 8th in DVOA. As a general rule, being the seventh most valuable player at one's position is considered to be of a quality higher than "terrible." Now, you're certainly welcome to disagree with that rule, but you're unlikely to be taken seriously.

Some will instead choose to focus on Rivers' 2012 campaign alone as this tack doesn't suffer from the weakness of being wrong on its face. 2012 was Rivers' first full season in which he failed to produce at an above average level. It was, however, the second time in his career that he finished ranked in the 20s. Rivers' 2007 season was very similar in quality, per Football Outsiders' advanced metrics, to his most recent effort.

This leaves using 2012 as your primary evidence iffy on two levels. The first level is that one year isn't that great of a sample size compared to five-plus years of at minimum near excellence. The other level is that 2007 was followed by two seasons in which Rivers was the most valuable QB on a per play basis in the National Football League.

So, without even addressing the context in which El Capitan has struggled, the argument against him isn't that strong if you're relying on pure production because at his lowest, Rivers was only a tick below average.

Well, what does he look like if we address that context? Rivers went from having his blindside protected by All Pros and his targets ranged from a Hall of Fame Tight End, to Pro Bowl wide outs, a Hall of Fame running back and maybe the best third down back to ever play to having his blindside "protected" by a pair of turnstiles that only occasionally got stuck and his targets ranged from broken down, once great players and some guys. It's possible that Rivers could succeed had he only needed to account for either his protection or his supporting skill position players going from incredible to crappy. 2010 seems to support that theory.

Where does that leave us, though? Rivers isn't dead, and it's rude to shovel dirt on him at this point in time. However, his supporting cast still isn't where it was when he had his past success, and he's being asked to learn a new system at what is, hopefully for his sake, the midpoint of his career. He's still learning his reads and working out the kinks of running a vastly different offense. He may very well figure it out because as he's shown us before, he's awfully good at this game. He's going to need to figure it out before the end of the season, though, or the people so eager to be first to call him done will at least be right that his time in San Diego was.

I'm not going to ask anyone to stop analyzing Rivers' progress because that's a necessary exercise, but can we at least remember that he's earned the benefit of the doubt while doing so?

Charlie Whitehurst still sucks, though.

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