Ryan Mathews’ injury will force the real Philip Rivers to stand up.
The San Diego Chargers’ running game will be nonexistent with Ronnie Brown in the backfield. With no one respectable to hand the football to, Rivers will be forced to put the offense on his back through the air. Because of that, the world will witness what caliber of quarterback Rivers really is in the first couple weeks of the season.
From 2008 through 2010, he was without a doubt an elite signal-caller. Over those three years, Rivers threw for an average of 4,324 yards, 31 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions per season. He also recorded an average passer rating of 103.9.
And then 2011 happened.
Rivers still racked up the passing yards, but not nearly at the same efficient rate. He threw 20 interceptions, lost five fumbles and finished the season with a passer rating of 88.7. His decline was one of the major reasons why the Chargers failed to make the playoffs last year.
With Mathews likely out four to six weeks with a broken collarbone, he’ll probably miss the first two games of the season against the Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans. While neither team is considered a legitimate AFC title contender, they aren’t pushovers either.
Without Mathews and Vincent Jackson, Rivers’ most dangerous target for a while, San Diego will struggle to move the football.
That is, unless Rivers reverts back to his former dominant self.
At 30 years old, Rivers is too young to be in decline. He’s in his prime.
I fully expect him to bounce back and prove that last season was a fluke. But he’ll have to overcome a fairly untalented arsenal to do so.
Antonio Gates is 32 and has missed nine games the past two seasons due to injury. Malcom Floyd has never been anything more than a solid No. 2 wideout. And Robert Meachem may or may not be exposed this season as a product of the New Orleans Saints’ system.
Rivers has the talent to extinguish every single one of those doubts. With Mathews out, he’ll be forced to do just that. If not, San Diego will start the season in a 0-2 hole.
David Daniels is a featured columnist at Bleacher Report and a syndicated writer.