The Chargers’ Roster Has Ruined Philip Rivers

Rivers upset

All we’ve been hearing out of San Diego for the last few years has been, “Just wait until they fire Norv." "It’s not on Rivers, it’s on Norv.” “We can’t win with Norv as our coach.” “Can we imprison Norv for crimes against humanity?”

Well, Norv Turner is in Cleveland and Philip Rivers is still a Charger. Yet San Diego’s Week 1 loss to Houston might as well have come straight out of Norv’s playbook. So I’m inclined to ask… what the hell happened?

I’ve been firmly in Phil’s camp since 2010, partially because of how bad Norv was at his job, partially because of just how good Philip Rivers was at his peak. Try to guess who these two players are. The stats represent their performance from 2007-2010:

Player A: 17,242 passing yards, 124 TDs 59 INTs, 66.7% completions.

Player B: 16,125 passing yards, 118 TDs, 48 INTs, 64.2% completions.

Player A is probably a little better, but it’s close. That extra 1,100 passing yards seems smaller when you remember this takes place over four years. Same goes for the six touchdowns. Even though Player B completed a lower percentage of his passes, it’s still a very high percentage, and he also threw 11 fewer interceptions. Again, you’d take Player A, but it’s close.

Player B is Philip Rivers. Player A is Peyton Manning.

And you know what? Pretty much every accolade supports the stats. Manning won the MVP award in 2008 and 2009. Rivers finished sixth in ’08 and third in ’09. He’s played in four Pro Bowls. At various points, he’s led the league in touchdowns, passer rating, and passing yards. He’s played his way to two first round byes, each occurring in a year in which both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady were healthy.

Only one other AFC quarterback — Ben Roethlisberger — can say that, and one of his came as a rookie in which he served essentially as a caretaker for Jerome Bettis and the running game.

Now, look at a different set of stats. This time taking place over the 2011 and 2012 seasons. Philip Rivers is obviously Player A, but Player B will probably surprise you.

Player A: 8,230 passing yards, 53 TDs, 35 INTs, 63.4% completions.

Player B: 7,232 passing yards, 48 TDs, 39 INTs, 60.9% completions.

Again, Philip Rivers is player A and yes, Philip Rivers is obviously the better of these two players, but before you quickly dismiss the merits of player B, remember a few things: 

Player B didn’t finish three separate games, meaning his touchdown numbers and passing yards are lower than they should be (to be fair, a similar argument could be made for interceptions).

Player B also played harder schedules, with an advantage of .519 to .515 in 2011 and .480 to .457 in 2012.

Finally, Rivers had the benefit of playing with Vincent Jackson in 2011 and Antonio Gates in both 2011 and 2012, whereas Player B had no such luxuries. Both played behind very poor offensive lines and with head coaches who have since been fired.

Player A is, as we’ve said, Philip Rivers. Player B is Ryan Fitzpatrick.

In essence, Philip Rivers went from a fair comparison to Peyton Manning to a fair comparison to Ryan Fitzpatrick. We used to blame Norv Turner for that, claiming that the team’s deterioration under his watch made it impossible for Rivers to play his best. Yet Rivers only spent one season without Norv as his coach. He also collapsed on Monday Night Football in Week 1 against the Houston Texans in such a familiar fashion that Norv might as well have been coaching him.

With Turner gone, the blame has to shift elsewhere.

Norv Rivers

And obviously, part of that is on Rivers. He’s careless with the ball. He also whines more than any quarterback in the league. Yet his best receiver is Eddie Royal. He has four new offensive linemen, none of which seem any better than their predecessors. His highly hyped running back, Ryan Mathews, is essentially being held together with Scotch Tape. He plays for a team that wouldn’t make the playoffs with Manning, making it pretty easy for him to look like Fitzpatrick.

It’s easy to blame the quarterback. He’s the one who has the ball, and his mistakes are far more visible than a linebacker who misreads a running lane, or a tight end who misses a block. But when that quarterback plays with the NFL equivalent of the Charlotte Bobcats, those mistakes aren’t always his fault. In fact, Rivers’s fall can be pretty easily traced back to his roster. Look at the number of Pro Bowlers the Chargers have had in each of his seasons as a starter:

2006: 11
2007: 8
2008: 2
2009: 6
2010: 4
2011: 4
2012: 0

It’s not a coincidence that the Chargers made the playoffs in 2006, 2007, and 2009. If you look at the specific names of the guys who made it, you get a clearer picture of what’s going on in San Diego. 

Of the few stalwarts stand out on the list—LaDanian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates, Kris Dielman, Shawne Merriman and so on—only one remains in San Diego. That’s Gates, who’s 33 going on 64. Dielman retired after 2011, Tomlinson left before the ’09 season, Merriman followed a year later. The Chargers built a great roster in the mid-2000s and have done absolutely nothing to replenish it.

There comes a time when it’s in everyone’s best interest for a certain team to cut ties with a certain player. 

2007 and 2009 first round draft picks Craig Davis and Larry English were outright busts. 2010 and 2012 picks Ryan Mathews and Melvin Ingram can’t stay on the field. 2008’s Antoine Cason is in Arizona, 2006’s Antonio Cromartie is in New York. Only 2011’s Corey Liuget has shown real promise, and even he has a ways to go before reaching true stardom.

Rivers has been playing with these depleted rosters for several years, and bad habits have already kicked in. He gets visibly frustrated on TV, a major no-no for franchise quarterbacks. He blames his teammates, and lets his emotions dictate his play. As cliché as it sounds, Philip Rivers doesn’t look like he enjoys football anymore.

I think the Chargers should trade Philip Rivers. I don’t think that because of how good Rivers is or how bad his team is. I think that because there comes a time when it’s in everyone’s best interest for a certain team to cut ties with a certain player. We have evidence that suggests that Philip Rivers is a Super Bowl level quarterback. Now he deserves a chance to prove it again.

And the Chargers? What are they doing with Rivers anyway? What’s their endgame? By the time they rebuild the roster—on an ambitious schedule—he’ll be 34 or 35. Why not build around a younger quarterback? Why not get someone who can grow with the players that you pick out for him?

Cleveland would give up two first round picks for Philip Rivers in a heartbeat. Cleveland happens to have an offensive line that’s at least decent, a potentially great running back and a solid defense. Minnesota would probably give up a similar package for Rivers at years’ end (and Christian Ponder’s three-year grace period expires).

There’s a market for Philip Rivers. There are teams that could give him a chance to win something. That team just isn’t San Diego. The time has come for both sides to move on. Even without Norv, these will still be the same old Chargers until sweeping changes are made.

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