Let me be clear, there was nothing good about the game Philip Rivers played on Sunday. There is simply no way to spin a five-sack, five-turnover performance which also included a safety into a positive. It was awful, it was embarrassing, and it has to be a cause for concern moving forward. I mean, not for this year because you know #GetDownWithTheTank2, but certainly for 2017 and beyond.
That said, I see a lot of fans on Twitter blaming Rivers for all five turnovers, and I just don't think that's a fair assessment. Don't get me wrong, I have no interest in defending Rivers or absolving him of his mistakes; I just think there is value to understanding these plays via an unbiased analysis now that we've had an opportunity to calm down a little. We'll discuss all five turnovers and the safety in this post in hopes of helping everyone understand what happened on each. Let's get started...
Fumble #1: Q1 7:48 remaining, 3-0 Panthers, sack/fumble by Kwann Short
Philip takes a seven step drop as Short splits the A-gap virtually untouched. Feeling the pressure, he tries to step up into the pocket, but there is nowhere to go. Rivers actually does everything right here. He has two hands on the ball at the top of his drop, slides up in the pocket, and is trying to dump it off to Melvin Gordon when it gets knocked loose, but the defensive tackle gets his mitt on the ball as he hits 17 and knocks it loose.
This was not a case of Rivers holding the ball too long, he was hit at the top of his drop and had no opportunity to avoid the hit; it was over the second Kawann Short penetrated the line. There is no logical or rational way to blame Rivers for this when his center and right guard completely whiffed their blocks.
Interception #1: Q2 15:00 remaining, 10-0 Panthers, Rivers deep ball for Tyrell Williams is intercepted.
Philip is in the shotgun and has Dontrelle Inman and Tyrell Williams split out wide left. Inman runs an out route and Williams is running a 9-route with Daryl Worley in man to man coverage. Kony Ealy beats Barksdale around the edge, flushing Rivers out of the pocket to his left and the quarterback decides to take a shot at a jump ball.
I understand the pre-snap read given the size advantage Williams (6'4") has on Worley (6'1"), but Philip Rivers made a mental mistake (poor decision), compounded it with a physical mistake (throwing across his body on the run) and never gave his receiver a chance. While I would have liked to see Tyrell Williams make a legitimate effort to swat the ball down, this is chuck-and-duck Phil at his worst and it's indefensible.
Fumble #2: Q2 4:42 remaining, 20-0 Panthers, Sack/fumble by A.J. Klein
The Chargers are in the shotgun with 11 personnel, Kenneth Farrow is positioned to Philip's left. Rivers diagnoses the OLB blitz from his blindside and points it out to Farrow. AJ Klein races around King Dunlap untouched, Farrow steps up to block him and gets tossed out of the way as if he weren't there. By this time Rivers has reached the top of his drop and is trying to get rid of it, but Klein hits him before his arm comes forward and jars it loose.
Again, this is not a case of Philip holding the ball too long. He recognized the blitz, pointed it out to Farrow and literally did everything he could to get the ball out as quickly as possible. Unfortunately, Farrow barely got a hand on Klein and it was academic from there. It was a perfectly timed hit while the ball was exposed just before Philip could start his arm forward, there was literally no other outcome once the pass rusher reached his destination.
Interception #2: Q4 12:41 remaining, 26-16 Carolina, Rivers is intercepted by Shaq Thompson
Third and long and the Chargers are again in the shotgun with 11 personnel. The Panthers present an all-out blitz look with six men on the line of scrimmage and the a-gaps overloaded. With six men on the LOS, Rivers pre-determines his hot read, which is Antonio Gates on a short curl but doesn't account for Shaq Thompson dropping into man coverage at the snap. With the San Diego tackles and Spencer Pulley getting driven into Rivers' lap, Thompson maintains inside leverage, baits Rivers into a late throw over the middle of the field, and picks it off.
While I think Rivers made a mistake in staring down Gates and making such a poor throw, I think the most concerning thing about this interception was how predictable it was. The Panthers scouted it out, set Rivers up for it, and baited him into a poor decision. It's extremely alarming that a veteran QB can be suckered into such a critical mistake in a key situation and it speaks to how quickly he has been breaking down under duress. It's a real problem.
Safety: Q4 10:09 remaining, 26-16 Carolina, Mario Addison sacks Rivers for the safety
San Diego has the ball on their own three and, surprise, Philip Rivers is in the shotgun with Kenneth Farrow to his right. Carolina shows five-man pressure and drops Thompson into coverage, running twist on both sides of the line. Kony Ealy and Kawann Short collapse the pocket from Rivers' left, forcing him to flee the pocket to his right. As Philip escapes from the pocket, Kenneth Farrow comes open underneath, giving him an opportunity to either make a play or simply throw it away. Instead, 17 hits the back line of the end zone and stares down Mario Addison as he closes in for the sack.
As bad as the interceptions were, and they were bad, this was Philip's worst play of the game. Why? Because he quit. He had plenty of time to get rid of the ball, but he made a conscious decision to turtle up and take the safety. It's inexcusable and, frankly, it makes me question whether sticking with him is the best thing for this team moving forward. While I realize he has taken a beating, I can't justify or condone a conscious decision to quit.
Interception #3: Q4 4:00 remaining, 28-16 Carolina, Rivers is intercepted by Kurt Coleman
It's 4th and 10 after a pair of ill-advised jump balls to Antonio Gates and Travis Benjamin and, with one timeout remaining and his team down 12, Rivers decided to take a shot. Tyrell Williams winds up matched up with Shaq Thompson, whom he promptly blew right by off the line, creating about a fifteen-yard cushion in the void between Thompson and the two-deep safeties. Unfortunately, Rivers got greedy and tried to lead Tyrell as far down field as possible, ultimately leading him into the safeties.
Again, the problem lies in the execution, not the read. Shaq Thompson can't run with Tyrell Williams, and almost immediately finds himself trailing the play by 15 yards. It should've been an easy chunk play with Philip hitting Williams in the void between Thompson and the safeties, but Rivers wanted six and led Tyrell right into Thompson's help, exacerbating things by under throwing the ball by a good five yards. If he hits Williams as he clears Thompson 15-20 yards downfield we're all applauding a brilliant throw, instead we're talking about his third pick of the game. Game over.
Philip Rivers was awful on Sunday. In fact, I think it was one of the worst games of his career. He was rattled, uncomfortable, had happy feet and, frankly, was careless with the football from start to finish. He made mistakes a veteran quarterback just can't make, not the least of which being the decision to take a safety late in the game. It's a performance that raises serious questions about his future in San Diego, his arm strength and his leadership, and there are no easy answers to any of those questions.
All that being said, Philip isn't getting much help. I can't help but question a game plan that relied on so many deep throws against an interior defensive line the coaches had to know their line couldn't handle. Additionally, there is no question the five sacks, constant pressure, and repeated hits broke his will on Sunday. I'm not defending Philip, and none of this absolves him of his poor play, but it also can't be ignored or discounted. It should be clear to even the most casual fan, whether you love Philip or hate him, that this team needs to build a competent offensive line regardless of what happens with Philip moving forward.