Rivers attempted 45 fewer passes in 2012 than he did in 2011, amassing an incomprehensible 1018 fewer yards. His accuracy was there, but what good is accuracy if you aren’t moving the ball up the field. The drop off is startling, but we also saw some of the mental maladies normally associated with a rookie than someone who’s been gifted with a special trip to Hawaii on four different occasions.
In Week 7 San Diego failed to score a single touchdown against the Cleveland Browns and their 20th ranked pass defense. They lost 7-6, and Rivers threw the ball 34 times to total a grotesque 154 yards. Five weeks later, against the Cincinnati Bengals, Rivers attempted 48 passes but none of them were for touchdowns (one was intercepted) and the Chargers lost 20-13.
There were positives performances too, because anyone with a track record as impressive as Rivers’ doesn’t just fall off a cliff overnight. He flung the ball around Pittsburgh for three touchdowns and a 10 point win in Week 13, and completed 18 of 20 passes in a 31-13 beat down of the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 8.
But for Rivers, the inconsistent play was bruising. His season was plagued with elementary mistakes, particularly with regards to reading safeties (more so with their ability to walk than their blinding lateral quickness), indecisive hesitation in the pocket, and deciding where to throw the ball before it was hiked.
Last year his sack percentage nearly doubled, going from 4.9% in 2011 to 8.5% in 2012. Some of this can be attributed to having one of the worst offensive lines in football (Football Outsiders ranks them dead last in terms of pass protection, with a right side that was atrocious) and Fluker, who’s expected to start at right tackle, will hopefully improve that area a bit.
But some of the blame can be put on Rivers, too. He spent the year between two extremes: either overlooking receivers as they entered their break, or impersonating a quarterback who didn’t believe defensive players were allowed to touch his passes.
Danario Alexander’s torn ACL will obviously hurt, as it would any other quarterback losing one of his starting wide receivers. Rivers doesn’t alternative weaponry, though, and the organization’s investment in defense and the running game could be more significant than they’d like to let on.
Are Rivers’ best days behind him? The next 16 games might have our answer.