Did you see the Chargers have a new quarterback this year? Well, he's the same guy. But he's a new quarterback.
At 31, Philip Rivers really hasn't changed all that much. The system he is playing in has, though. And the results compared to the results one year ago surely have.
Old Rivers had an 88.6 passer rating. New Rivers has a career-high 111.1.
Old Rivers had a completion percentage of 64.1. New Rivers is at a career-high 73.9.
Old Rivers averaged 6.8 yards per passing attempt. New Rivers is averaging 8.6.
Old Rivers threw one interception for every 35 passes. New Rivers has thrown one for every 50.
When Mike McCoy arrived in San Diego as the team's new head coach, he sat with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, quarterbacks coach Frank Reich and Rivers and mapped out an offense. The result is a collective playbook.
There is some of what McCoy learned from working with Dan Henning in Carolina and what he used with Peyton Manning in Denver. There is a portion of what Whisenhunt deployed with the Cardinals and previously with the Steelers. There is a bit of what Reich was exposed to in Indianapolis when he coached Manning there. And there is a chunk of what Rivers knew under Norv Turner and was comfortable with.
McCoy's objective was to build an offense that suited Rivers, not one that suited himself or Whisenhunt.
"I've been a firm believer since my days with Dan Henning of doing what the quarterback likes, what he understands and what he can execute," McCoy told Bleacher Report. "Put a system around the most important guy on the offense, and that's the quarterback."
One way the Chargers have done that is by trying to capitalize on Rivers' intelligence and experience. That has meant giving him freedom to change every play at the line of scrimmage. It is the same freedom McCoy afforded Manning with the Broncos and Jake Delhomme with the Panthers.
"Anytime you have a great quarterback, like we have, who understands the game and is smart enough to put you in a better situation, you are crazy not to give him that freedom," McCoy said. "The good ones, like Philip, are going to make a heck of lot more good calls than bad. So you tell them, 'If you see this, you want to check you have the freedom to do it.'"
The offense Rivers is running is happy to take what the defense gives it. But the Chargers often are dictating tempo with their no-huddle, no-hurry offense. They line up quickly in order to limit defensive adjustments. And then Phillips takes his sweet time calling for the football, determining which play he wants to use from a package, or if he should change one play to another.
"Philip excels at it," McCoy said. "He loves doing it. There are simple words to tell them what to do—so it's easy, quick and efficient. But it also depends on who are you playing and what are they doing."
What matters is the other 10 players on the field can understand and adjust in a reasonable amount of time, whether the call is a simple code word or a complete play description change.
So while the playbook is built around Rivers, the game plans are built around Rivers and the players around him. That explains in part the Chargers' reliance on short, quick passes and the fact they lead the league in 10-play drives, according to STATS LLC.
Their old offense under Turner was more about deep drops and vertical routes. That approach didn't make sense this year after the Chargers lost starting receivers Malcom Floyd and Danario Alexander and were forced to field five offensive line starting combinations with 10 different starters in seven games.
"We build a system first, then find out what your players do best," McCoy said. "You make adjustments as the season goes along."
Rivers is a good example of a player whose performance can be enhanced to a great degree by circumstances, especially coaching. The same touch that helped bring out the best in Manning, Delhomme, Tim Tebow and Kyle Orton is bringing out the best in Rivers.
One year after many suspected Rivers had seen his best days, he will travel to play the Redskins on Sunday with the second-best passer rating in the NFL, behind only Manning. While he has benefited from being paired with McCoy, he also has benefited from being open to change, which is something you can't take for granted with a 10-year vet.
"Philip has really bought in," McCoy said. "So it doesn't surprise me at all what he's doing, not one bit."
• What prevented a deadline deal for Jared Allen? According to sources with knowledge of the situation, it was a combination of factors. The Vikings were willing to trade the defensive end for a third-round pick. Allen was only interested in going to a contender. The Seahawks and Broncos wanted him and were given permission to negotiate a contract with Allen. But Allen would have taken up $7.5 million of cap space unless he was signed to an extension.
A major hurdle was Allen has his sights set on a bar-setting deal that neither team was interested in giving the 31-year-old. Another factor: Winning teams are cautious about adding an established star to the locker room for fear the chemistry could be upset.
• The real problem with Dez Bryant's sideline rant last Sunday, in the estimation of one longtime front-office man, was that other players were left to try to control him, and coaches were nowhere to be found. The situation clearly called for a higher authority to step in, he said.
• Lost in all the talk about Johnny Jolly's inspirational return to the NFL from addiction and prison is the fact that the Packers defensive end is playing outstanding football. Jolly, Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji give the Packers a huge, powerful defensive front that is difficult to run on. "He is really hard to move," one high-ranking front office man said. "He is a good athlete, and he's strong. He looks better than ever."
• If the NFL bean counters ever want to go with two Thursday night games, they will have a fight from the competition committee, which repeatedly has strongly recommended that no team play more than one Thursday game per year because of the physical demands of playing on Thursdays. Having two Thursday games each week would require teams to play more than one in a season. But those pushing for more Thursday games could introduce this argument: A league study of the 2012 season indicated the injury rate in Thursday night games was no higher than the injury rate in other games.
• There is little doubt that Ray Rice has not run as well as he did a year ago for the Ravens. But a scout who has studied the team suggests there also is little doubt that not all of that is on him. The running back has been banged up. But the bigger issue is that the Ravens' offensive line is not functioning like it once did. Proof? Rice's average per carry is down from 4.4 last year to 2.8 this year. And his backup Bernard Pierce's average per carry is down from 4.9 to 2.8.
Remember the Name: Kenny Stills
Fifth-round rookies are not supposed to average 25.2 yards per catch. But maybe Kenny Stills shouldn't have been a fifth-round pick.
The Saints grabbed him there after he took a draft slide. Some talent evaluators thought he had the skills to be a second-rounder, and the 4.32 40-yard dash he ran at the combine certainly would suggest as much. There was a lot of interest in Stills during his junior season at Oklahoma because of his big-play ability and production. But the more NFL teams looked, the less they liked.
They beat up Stills because he dropped some balls in key situations, and they thought he could only make plays on the perimeter because he was so thin. "I think he stinks," one NFC college scouting director said of the son of former Packers safety Ken Stills.
And then when some teams got to know Stills, they weren't enamored with his personality. He had the reputation of being a high-maintenance diva. There was a photo of him dressed as a woman on the Internet that raised eyebrows. Plus he had a DUI on his record.
Stills' chances for succeeding quickly in the NFL might not have been great—unless he found the right situation. Sean Payton has found ways to use Stills' perimeter ability and has gotten him to play hard. And Drew Brees' passes have hit Stills in stride. "It's a good example of how a great quarterback and coach can make a wide receiver," said an AFC talent evaluator.
If it continues, Stills could make a lot of teams regret not taking him.
If early results this year are an indication, the 100-yard rushing game could be going the way of the leather helmet.
Running backs have had only 30 games in which they have rushed for 100 yards or more so far this season. Last year at this time, they had 54.
Running backs are averaging 2.5 100-yard games for every 16 games, compared to an average of 4.6 in 2012.
Here is an interesting potential trend though. Last year, quarterbacks accounted for 1.6 percent of the 100-yard rushing games. This year, they have accounted for 9 percent of the 100-yard rushing games, as Terrelle Pryor of the Raiders has two 100-yard rushing games and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks has one. All last year, there were only two 100-yard rushing games by QBs.
Only one running back, Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy, has more than two games in which he rushed for at least 100 yards this season. Adrian Peterson of the Vikings has only two after having 10 last year.
And a back has rushed for 100 yards in consecutive games only once (Ryan Mathews of the Chargers did it). Last year, Peterson had eight straight 100-yard rushing games.
We will be watching to see if backs heat up as the weather cools down. Last season, Peterson had eight 100-yard rushing games in his last nine games. He had only two in his first seven, just as he does this year. But the trend was not as prevalent league-wide, as only 55 percent of 100-yard running games came in the second half of the season.
• Dez Bryant's intentions may be well and good. But his effect on the Cowboys is not. The fact he can't understand that is the problem.
• I've been around some good college coaches who just could not coach in the NFL, like Bobby Petrino and Steve Spurrier. Greg Schiano is not like them. His defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan had it right (via ESPN's Pat Yasinskas): Schiano can coach football at a high level anywhere. Except in Tampa right now, apparently.
• The Browns displayed inspirational sayings on the walls of their facility, but Deadspin revealed that the team misquoted Red Auerbach, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Paine, Gary Player, Mother Teresa and Willy Wonka. The team apparently is much more concerned about Jimmy Haslam, Joe Banner or Rob Chudzinski being misquoted.
• Since a pizza company has offered Lions receiver Nate Burleson free pizza for one year, I have been thinking about trying to break my arm while crashing a car.
• Redskins coach Mike Shanahan tells us Albert Haynesworth is lazy and lacks passion and character. In other news, the sun rises in the east.
• And given how the Miami Dolphins lost four in a row before Thursday, who would have thought they could bully anyone?
Dan Pompei covers the NFL and writes a weekly column for Bleacher Report.
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