San Diego Chargers: Breaking Down Philip Rivers' Chances of a Bounce-Back Season
The San Diego Chargers were considered by most "experts" to be the preseason favorites in the AFC West entering last season.
However, as is often the case with things in the National Football League, things didn't quite go as planned. By season's end the Chargers sat at 8-8 and were watching the playoffs on television.
There were any number of reasons why the Chargers floundered, but one of the primary ones was the spotty play of quarterback Philip Rivers, who struggled through one of the more disappointing seasons of his eight-year NFL career.
For the season, the 30-year-old Rivers completed 366 of 582 passes for 4,624 yards and 27 touchdowns. The yardage total was the second-highest of Rivers' career, but he also threw a career-high 20 interceptions and posted his lowest completion percentage and passer rating since 2007.
So, what does 2012 hold for the former N.C. State Wolfpack standout you may ask (besides the Maya apocalypse, of course)?
Well, on the one hand, there are a couple reasons for concern with Rivers. Top wideout Vincent Jackson is now in Tampa Bay, and it's not yet known whether Malcom Floyd or newcomer Robert Meachem will be able to come anywhere close to Jackson's production over the past several years.
RB Ryan Mathews' recent broken clavicle also has cast a pall over a running game that already faced enough uncertainty, which could mean more pressure on Rivers to move the ball through the air, especially early in the season.
With that said, there also are reasons to think Rivers and the San Diego passing game could bounce back, and in this writer's opinion, they (at the very least) mitigate the negatives facing him.
For starters, as talented as Jackson is, he also was a royal pain in the Norv Turner and alligator-armed more passes than he laid out for.
Will he be missed? Sure. But Meachem and Floyd are a capable outside duo, and Eddie Royal can be a very effective slot receiver if the Chargers can get him back on the field.
Star tight end Antonio Gates also appears to be in the best physical condition he's been in for some time, and he's loving it; he recently told Dan McLellan of CBS Sports he's "enjoying the game and embracing my health."
There's nothing that helps a quarterback snuggle into a comfort zone quite like getting his security blanket back.
The deciding factor that will determine whether Rivers bounces back this season or struggles again in 2012 will likely be the same thing that got him into trouble last year.
The San Diego offensive line was decimated by injuries in 2011, and with left tackle Jared Gaither already nicked up and undrafted rookie Mike Harris taking the majority of snaps at left tackle, concerns are already mounting about Rivers' pass protection this season.
However, as Rivers recently told McLellan in a separate CBS Sports piece, he's not as concerned about the guys in front of him as he is with putting last year's disappointments behind him.
"As a quarterback you never worry about what is going on up in front of you," Rivers said. "I don't drop back with any thought in mind of who is where."
"You got to go play," Rivers said. "We have dealt with injuries here in the past years and in the past year more than any other."
Unfortunately for Rivers and the Bolts, they're already dealing with them again. How the offensive line holds up under those injuries is probably going to decide whether or not Rivers returns to top form and if the San Diego Chargers will return to the playoffs.
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