Philip Rivers: 5 Reasons the San Diego Chargers QB Is Primed for Breakout Year
Philip Rivers, quarterback of the San Diego Chargers, is always regarded as a top-10 quarterback. Since former Charger LaDainian Tomlinson started to fall from the pinnacle he held as the face of the franchise, Rivers has done an incredible job picking up the slack.
Many regard 2008 as the year that Philip Rivers officially "broke out," with his first 4,000-yard season, along with a career-high 34 touchdowns and a league-leading passer rating that stood at 105.5 (no other quarterback had a rating of higher than 100 that year).
But look beyond that season and you'll see a seasoned veteran quarterback ready to break out from under the winless radar. Many quarterbacks peak at around this point in their career, when they're more experienced than ever and athletically primed.
So, without further ado, here are 5 reasons that this year belongs to Rivers.
NFL Rule Change Sets Up Rivers and the Chargers Passing Attack
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Before CBA negotiations ever began, the start of the 2011 NFL offseason met controversy as the league's owners proposed and implemented a rule change: kickoffs would now start from the 35-yard line, five yards further than ever before.
For the San Diego Chargers, this rule change might make all the difference.
Considering special teams woes cost the Bolts a spot in last year's NFL playoffs, it's only reasonable to conclude that the team would improve with less special teams play. With the new kicking rule, it's pretty clear (from the early preseason games) that nine out of every ten kicks is going to be a touchback.
Which means Philip Rivers will start at the 20-yard line of every new possession directly following a score by the opposing team.
Is this significant? Yes.
Rivers' ability to command the field from behind the 50-yard line is matched by none. If the special teams is completely taken out of the equation and it's just the gunslinger versus the opposing defense, he'll see a dramatic increase in his pass attempts and number of possessions.
This can only mean great things for Rivers and the Bolts.
Healthy Running Backs: Key to the Play Action
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The San Diego Chargers are most known for their passing game—since the days of Dan Fouts and Don Coryell, the team's motto has been striking opponents fast and methodically through the air.
While LaDainian Tomlinson changed the team's motto during his tenure, he's now gone, and it's back to the every-other-down passing routine.
This doesn't mean, however, that the running game has no significance. Without a decent running attack, one of the most vital passing plays in any coach's playbook is virtually eliminated—the play action. Because Tomlinson was in his prime as Rivers secured the starting job, it became habitual for the quarterback to rely on play actions to deliver his deadly strikes.
Aside from rising out from under the shadow of a mediocre Drew Brees, nothing much has changed for Rivers.
He's still using that play action.
To maximize its potential, though, the Chargers will need healthy running backs. And as it stands, with Ryan Mathews finally back to full form and Mike Tolbert ready for another solid season, it looks like they'll have just that.
Rivers' deadliest play is still intact, and the majority of his MVP-worthy stats are going to rely on it.
Norv Turner's Strong Defense Gives Up Points
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Last year, the San Diego Chargers' defense was ranked 1st in the NFL. However, the Bolts allowed 20.1 points per game to opposing teams. Not bad, but definitely nowhere near the top; they finished 10th in the league in points allowed.
San Diego's defense has always been this way. Solid, physical and abusing when it needs to be, racking up a nice number of three-and-out possessions, netting a decent number of turnovers. But when Rivers and the offense start to build a lead, the defense settles down, becoming passive and relaxed.
While allowing frequent concession touchdowns is never a good thing for fans of a team, it gives the offense an increased number of possessions. Although any Chargers fans would rather just see blowouts left and right, the defense will make way for the opposing team to get back into the game.
In doing so, the defense also makes way for Philip Rivers to close out games.
This style of defending isn't good for the Bolts as a team, but it can only help Rivers to break out.
Bolts' Receiving Core Ready to Go
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Heading into the 2011 NFL offseason, many fans in San Diego were praying for a miracle; both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers were heavily sought after on the free-agency market.
After holding out over a contract dispute last season, Vincent Jackson was finally resigned to an $11 million tender.
Once Jackson was out of the way, resigning Malcolm Floyd became the Chargers' primary goal. All hope was lost when teams like Pittsburgh and New York offered him massive deals, but somehow, the wideout decided he'd rather be in nicer weather and took San Diego's offer, although it was far lower than he could have gotten should he have left.
The 2010 season saw Vincent Jackson playing in only five games due to his negotiations; Malcolm Floyd missed five games himself, because of injuries that plagued the young receiver all year.
Later, yet another member of Rivers' squad fell—midway through the season, two-time All Pro tight end Antonio Gates suffered a foot injury that sidelined him for six games and left him at less than 100 percent health for even more. Gates still managed to nab 10 touchdown receptions, tying for the NFL high for tight ends.
Despite having these top targets for a limited number of games, Philip Rivers was still able to throw a league-high 4,710 yards. With the three players healthy, the quarterback can shoot for 5,000 and possibly Dan Marino's record.
This year, the Chargers expect Vincent Jackson, Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd to all play 16 games; this would make them the deadliest receiving core in the league.
Make no mistake about it: Vincent Jackson and the boys are ready to play.
San Diego Is Ripe for a Superbowl
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A real breakout season is defined as a player reaching to new heights, statistically as well as winning-wise. In his six years as a starting quarterback, there is only one place Rivers hasn't been:
All too often, analysts give their rehashed, same-point view on the Chargers: "Their window is closing." Since 2006, the Chargers' window has been closing. Maybe it's time to accept that the window may be past its closing and starting to open back up.
Although the team's strategy changed entirely once LT left his prime, the Bolts have still managed to make the playoffs in five of the last six years, and haven't recorded a sub-.500 season since 2003.
Yes, San Diego's MVP-winning running back is long gone, and his window for success has passed; why do experts associate this with the success of the entire organization?
Philip Rivers is on the verge of entering his prime, which will land him in the top tier of NFL quarterbacks. The defense is as good as it was during the 2006 campaign (in which the team finished 14-2). The receivers are all young and improving every year.
The only argument that could be made is the diminished running game. But how important is a running game to a team's success anymore?
In 2007, the Superbowl featured the Colts, led by Manning, and the Bears, led by their defense; '08, Tom Brady's Pats versus Tom Coughlin's defensively-geared Giants; '09, Kurt Warner and the Cards lost to Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's Steel Curtain defense; '10, Manning and Brees; and most recently, Rodgers against Big Ben.
Not once since 2006 has any team in the big game been led by a running back; in 2006, Shaun Alexander's Seahawks made it out of the NFC.
This is a clear and apparent pattern: Philip Rivers can be a Superbowl-winning quarterback with or without a running attack.
This isn't just a breakout year for Rivers—this is a breakout year for the Chargers' franchise.
It's time to win a Superbowl.