Chargers vs. Raiders: How Turnovers by Starting QBs will Decide Game

Zach KruseSenior Analyst ISeptember 10, 2012

SAN DIEGO, CA - AUGUST 18:  Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers gestures to the sideline during the game against the Dallas Cowboys at Qualcomm Stadium on August 18, 2012 in San Diego, California.  The Chargers won 28-20.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

"Whoever wins the turnover battle usually wins the game" is a time-honored cliche in the National Football League. 

Monday night in Oakland, that cliche should again be reinforced by two quarterbacks who are among the most turnover-prone in football. Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers takes on Carson Palmer of the Oakland Raiders in a game that very well could be decided in the turnover category.

Simply put, whichever quarterback avoids the most back-breaking turnover plays will likely leave Week 1 with a 1-0 record. 

We'll start with Rivers. 

As he enters the 2012 season, big questions remain about Rivers' decision-making ability. A season with the third-most interceptions in the NFL (20) will do that to a quarterback who many considered among the league's elite in years prior. 

Evan Silva of Rotoworld charted all 20 of Rivers' interceptions a year ago, and afterwards, Silva came up with a few interesting conclusions. 

For starters, Silva found that a high percentage of Rivers' picks came on passes he either under-threw or failed to put the necessary velocity on. Question marks rang out last season about Rivers potentially playing hurt, and that finding somewhat confirms that speculation.

He also found that pressure from the defense rarely caused a Rivers' interception. A fascinating discovery, considering most quarterbacks make their worst decisions when the pocket collapses and information processing is sped up. 

If anything Silva's findings make it worth discussing whether or not Rivers is due for a bounce-back kind of season. 

Noted film guru Greg Cosell of NFL Films wrote this offseason that he thinks Rivers will rebound in 2012. 

Rivers certainly did not have his best season for the San Diego Chargers in 2011. But based on his previous five-year track record, I strongly believe he will rebound and have an outstanding year in 2012.

That five-year track record before 2011 from 2006-10 saw Rivers throw an average of just over 11 interceptions per season. It spiked to 20 in 2011, which makes it possible Rivers had a one-year aberration because of injury or some other outside factor. 

Monday night, Rivers will look to continue some of the momentum he built late in 2011, when he finished with four of out five games with a passer rating of 120 or more. In those games, Rivers threw just three interceptions.

Rivers did throw four interceptions on just 30 attempts during the 2012 preseason, however, so there's still reason for concern as the Chargers begin the regular season in Oakland tonight.

The same worries linger for Palmer, too.

Over Palmer's last four healthy seasons (which rules out 2008, when he played just four games), he has averaged a touch over 17 interceptions a season.

His first season in Oakland saw him throw 16 in just 10 games. Palmer was on pace to throw over 25 had he played an entire 16 games with the Raiders. 

Six of the 16 interceptions came in Palmer's first two games with the club, but he still threw picks in six of the last eight games he appeared in, including a four-interception performance in Green Bay. 

That carelessness with the football continued into the preseason, as Palmer threw four more picks and zero touchdowns on 56 exhibition attempts. Throughout the three games he played, Palmer struggled with accuracy and ball placement. 

Of course, the preseason is mostly meaningless. But the trend of turnover plays from the quarterback has to be troubling for an offense that needs safety from the position. 

Tonight in Oakland, we'll get to see if either quarterback has made strides in protecting the football. 

Consider this little factoid when watching tonight: The Raiders were just 1-3 when Palmer threw two or more interceptions last season, and the Chargers were 2-6 when Rivers did the same. 

It's more than likely that if either quarterback gets to two or more turnover plays tonight, their respective team is going to enter Week 2 with a 0-1 record.