The National Football League is now, more than ever, a passing league. It’s almost undisputed. The rules favor the passing game to the extent that Drew Brees was able to break Dan Marino’s record for passing yards in a season last year. With the league shifting more and more toward the pass, quarterbacks have also become the most important players on the field.
Philip Rivers was never considered the problem in San Diego in years past; it was always the special teams, the defense, Norv Turner or A.J. Smith’s fault. But now, Rivers also deserves to be on the hot seat in San Diego.
Rivers has thrown 29 interceptions in the last 22 games and his team is barely above .500 since LaDainian Tomlinson left town. Rivers is just 20-18 over the past three seasons, and his team hasn’t made the playoffs since 2009. Rivers hasn’t made the playoffs in a division so weak that the last two division winners were quarterbacked by Matt Cassel and Tim Tebow.
Compared with the elite quarterbacks around the league, Rivers is just not getting the job done. Since 2010 Tom Brady is 30-8, Aaron Rodgers is 27-9, Ben Roethlisberger is 22-10, Matt Ryan is 29-9 and Drew Brees is 25-12. Elite quarterbacks with decent supporting casts aren’t hovering barely over .500.
Unless the defense was historically bad, there’s no reason the blame shouldn’t be placed squarely on Rivers’ shoulders. There will be some that say judging and elite quarterback by wins is not fair and maybe it’s not, but it’s hard to find an elite quarterback on a bad team.
Is Rivers the quarterback that will lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl? The team and the fans have asked that question and up until recently everyone has always been able to say "yes." Now, they should be wondering if Rivers is that guy.
Rivers’ contract runs through 2015, and history suggests he should still be in his prime by the end of the contract. If things continue to spiral downward for Rivers and the Chargers, many believe Smith and Turner will be fired. Firing the leadership would give a new regime three years to take Rivers and the Chargers to the Super Bowl.
Although Rivers doesn’t turn 31 until December and should still be in his prime, it’s worth wondering if he’s peaked. If he has, not only does he deserve to be on the hot seat, but the Chargers have to start seriously considering what they are going to do if the trend continues.
Passer rating, although flawed, is still a decent statistic for comparison. Rivers' rating jumped from 82.4 in 2007 to 105.5 in 2008. Rivers had three years above 100 and then a drop off to 88.7 in 2011. When graphed there is a clear ascension, peak and decline, and the data is over a long enough period to give some weight to the notion that he's regressing.
It makes you wonder if the problem with the Chargers these past few years has not been the special teams and defense, but the starting quarterback.
Passer rating isn’t the only statistic that looks this way; many of Rivers’ statistics have a similar curve. Sometimes it’s best to get a physical representation of something to understand it, so I graphed Rivers’ touchdown percentage (touchdowns/attempts), interception percentage (interceptions/attempts) and sack percentage (sacks/attempts+sacks) together.
Rivers’ touchdown rate has been on the decline since peaking in 2008 and his interception rate has been increasing since 2009. Just from using the eyeball test you can clearly see the relationship between these three statistics and how sacks are impacting Rivers' touchdown and interception percentage.
So, is the problem the offensive line? Not so fast. ProFootballFocus.com dives even deeper and looks at how a quarterback produces under pressure, which includes sacks, hurries and hits.
Rivers’ production when not pressured has dipped slightly, but it has dipped dramatically when he’s under pressure. A reasonable explanation is that Rivers is being pressured more, which is causing his interceptions, but ProFootballFocus statistics don’t appear to support this assertion.
Rivers was under pressure less in 2011 (41.1 percent of the time) than 2010 (53.5 percent of the time), and yet his passer rating under pressure still dropped nearly 20 points from 74.3 to 54.7. Maybe he’s lost confidence or he’s rattled in some way.
You can also look at Rivers’ yards per completion and yards per attempt statistics and clearly see a trend.
It couldn't be more clear that Rivers is regressing, and he absolutely deserves to be on the hot seat in San Diego.
It’s also possible that Rivers’ supporting cast has been getting worse and he’s having trouble overcoming the deficiencies in talent around him. The offensive talent in San Diego was plentiful for a few years and could have been concealing the Rivers' flaws.
Even so, the Chargers need a quarterback who elevates the play of his teammates, not the opposite. If Rivers’ play doesn’t improve soon, his seat will start to heat up.