Philip Rivers’ career has suffered a dramatic downfall over the past few years. He went from being one of the better young quarterbacks in the game to a player whose long-term future is in question.
Another down year for Rivers, and the San Diego Chargers will have to consider going in a different direction.
Things started going downhill after Rivers finished the 2010 season. He finished that year completing 66 percent of his passes, throwing for 4,710 yards, 30 touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
To understand Rivers’ decline, it’s important to look at what parts of his game have suffered. The biggest change has come in the turnover department.
Rivers’ inability to take care of the football is a real cause for concern.
He combined to commit 55 turnovers during the 2011 and 2012 seasons. This number includes both interceptions and fumbles. Turnovers not only take possessions away from the offense, but they also give the opponent more scoring opportunities.
Last year, the Chargers defense finished ninth in the NFL, allowing an average of only 326.4 yards per game. However, they ranked 16th in the league, allowing an average of 21.9 opponent points per game.
All of this puts more pressure on Rivers. He wasn’t only trying to make up for his mistake, but he was also feeling the need to keep pace with the opposing offense. This is the type of situation where a quarterback tends to make mistakes.
Outside of the turnover problem, Rivers saw both his completion percentage and yards per completion fall off after the 2010 season. His lower completion percentage impacted the flow and consistency of the offense.
It’s tough for any offense to find a rhythm when a quarterback struggles with turnovers and accuracy.
The important thing isn’t to just point out a player’s struggles, but to also examine the reason behind them. San Diego hasn’t surrounded Rivers with a very stable situation.
Injuries and roster turnover have absolutely contributed to Rivers’ struggles.
Rivers was at his best when Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd were in the lineup. Of this group, Gates is arguably the most important piece of the puzzle. However, his production has significantly dropped off over the past two seasons.
Gates has missed a total of four games but played most of the games during that stretch at less than 100 percent.
The Chargers' decision to let Vincent Jackson leave via free agency only made the situation worse. Jackson’s size and big-play ability were a perfect fit for a quarterback like Rivers who likes to stretch the field.
Over the years, Rivers built a strong relationship with both Gates and Jackson. His inability to make use of Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal shows that it takes time for a quarterback to get comfortable with new targets.
Those free-agent signings were such a failure that Danario Alexander was more productive after being brought in for the final five games of the season.
The shakeup in the wide receiving corps coincided with increased problems along the offensive line.
Losing Marcus McNeill to a long-term injury created a void at the left tackle position. San Diego tried to plug that hole with Jared Gaither, who missed a lot of time with an injury of his own.
This led to undrafted free agent Michael Harris protecting Rivers’ blind side for the majority of the 2012 season.
Harris played as well as expected, and the Chargers offensive line surrendered a total of 49 sacks last year. Rivers isn’t the type of quarterback capable of extending plays or excelling under pressure.
The added pressure forced him to get rid of the ball quicker, make some unbalanced throws and move in the pocket. These are all things that don’t match up with Rivers’ style of play. So, he played most of the past two seasons in a compromised position and without his two favorite targets.
Another factor to consider is the drastic change that took place in the running game. San Diego made a bold decision to let LaDainian Tomlinson go and replace him with Ryan Mathews. They also allowed Darren Sproles to sign with the New Orleans Saints.
Mathews’ young career has been plagued by injuries and a failure to live up to expectations. This represents another way the Chargers failed to support their franchise quarterback.
Rivers tried to keep this team afloat without a steady offensive line, the loss of some of his favorite targets and an inconsistent running game.
San Diego has to take these things into account when they consider the future of the quarterback position.