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Can Philip Rivers be the Answer to the Bucs’ QB Question?

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With the Buccaneers looking at Rivers as a potential option, is he really as bad as people think?

Oakland Raiders v Los Angeles Chargers
 Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the Los Angeles Chargers 
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Bruce Arians and Jason Licht sure have their work cut out for them as they look to fill the most important position on the field this off-season. Many names have been presented, and there has been a lot of discussion regarding who is the best fit in this vertical passing offense. However, with all the talk of Brady, Bridgewater, and Winston, Philip Rivers seems to be every Twitter GM’s worst available option.

Unfortunately for those that would not like to see him in red and pewter (and potentially creamsicle), Rivers is seemingly the third option to fill the position as reported by Rick Stroud:

On top of this, Arians seems to love him. This can best be summed up by Arians himself when asked about Rivers by Chargers’ team reporter Chris Hayre in 2018:

“...(I) loved him when he came out. I liked him when he came out of high school, and he’s just a winner. There are a lot of ways to play the position. He is a classic, drop-back quarterback and, I mean, those are the guys I love coaching.”

Despite the clamors that an older QB would not set up future success, Arians is not getting any younger and his window is closing fast. This would likely mean that if an older guy is available and can play, Arians may run with him. Plus, if the Buccaneers decide to take a chance on a rookie, Rivers would be the perfect person to show them the ropes. A vet with lots of success in the NFL and a true love for the game is exactly the type of guy you want grooming your young rookie.

Through this article, I fully intend to try to sway your opinion and convince you that Rivers is definitely not a bad option for this team. I will also not be using his storied career as a reason for the fit, instead this will primarily look only at the 2019 season.

Living in San Diego, I grew up loving Philip Rivers, which is why I decided to come to his defense for all of those that think he’s an immobile, noodle-armed, old man who makes poor decisions.

Let’s get started, shall we?

Arm Strength

As I have browsed through the Twittersphere, I noticed that a lot of people say that the 38 year old QB has a weak arm which wouldn’t bode well for deep routes that are ever so common in an Arians offense. While this is true to some extent, Rivers displayed a lot of arm strength in 2019 and often relied primarily on his arm to get the job done as he ran for his life.

When discussing arm strength, I want to say that through watching his film I saw that it was just fine. Despite having one of the most head-scratchingly strange releases in the NFL, he can sling it with accuracy. One aspect that worried me though, was that he needs time and pocket space to really maximize this strength and accuracy.

Look at the play below and notice that the Rivers is standing on the 50 yard line and accurately delivers a strike to Austin Ekeler:

The air distance this covered was about 47 yards and it was put in a place that only his receiver could get to it. This throw really was a thing of beauty, well...at least the ball was. I’ll still never get over that release.

As I said before, he does need time to deliver strikes like the one we just saw. Although, there are some instances in which I saw him toss a dime when pressure was barreling down on him. Here’s one of these examples below:

With pressure coming from both sides of the line (which was normal for him in 2019), Rivers moves a little to the left to avoid the rush and drops a 50 yard pass to Mike Williams in stride for a TD. This is another ball that traveled quite awhile in the air and was delivered very accurately. So much for a noodle arm, right?

Mobility

Now this is something I will concede to most of the Rivers doubters. If this man had to beat a tortoise in a 40 yard dash to save his wife and endless supply of children, he would most likely end up losing them all. This being said, while he isn’t going to take off for a ton of yards, he has pretty good pocket awareness.

More times than not, he stood tall in the pocket and threw it when the pressure finally got to him. This was something that concerned me a bit, but looking more closely, his options were often limited from the sheer amount of rushers around him. When there were opportunities to step up to avoid pressure to make a throw, he did pretty well. Here’s an example of this:

One thing that stands out on this play in particular is his pocket awareness while keeping his eyes downfield. He has a good feel for where the pressure is coming from without having to look at where it is. This is crucial for QB’s who are less mobile, as they need to keep their downfield options in mind since they won’t be picking up yards with their legs.

Here’s another good example of this movement:

While the throw isn’t highlight worthy, he feels the pressure, steps up, sees no one is open, and makes the safe throw that ends up going for a first down.

Now here’s Rivers rolling out and throwing a strike downfield to Keenan Allen, just for good measure:

Look at that statue move. Shoot, maybe he COULD beat a tortoise after all.

Turnovers

This is the biggest knock that I see on Rivers, and that criticism is not unwarranted. In 2019 Rivers threw for 4,615 Yards, 23 TD’s, and 20 INT’s. This stat-line is reminiscent of Winston’s in 2019 in the sense that if you took some turnovers off the board, the season looks very successful.

Cynthia Frelund of NFL Network took a look at free agent QB’s and actually paired Rivers to the Bucs, citing Tampa as being the most analytically sound fit for him. Within this article she actually notes a very good reason as to why his turnovers were so high last year, that reason being average receiver separation. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Rivers’ receivers averaged a measly 2.4 yards per separation, ranking 2nd to last in the NFL. In the 2017 season, where Rivers only threw 10 INT’s, the average separation was 2.9, ranking 6th best in the NFL.

Another one of the major contributors to these 20 INT’s was the porous OL that the Chargers strung together for their aging, immobile QB. According to PFF, the Chargers line ranked 29th overall, with their tackles giving up 88 pressures on the season alone. On top of this, he was hit 6th most out of any QB last season after taking 56 of them*.

When his OL breaks down, he tends to lose sight of his footwork and often relies purely on arm strength to get the ball there. This leads to him not stepping through the throw, and often leads to these throws being high. Here’s Rivers doing this against the Raiders:

One thing I can say about this issue is that his bad footwork doesn’t always lead to a poor throw, and sometimes he can use his arm to get a ball there. This can be seen here against the Texans in week 3:

Notice the same thing, his left foot tenses up and he just slings it without stepping through. This throw was a tad high, but nowhere near as high as the last one.

In 2018, Rivers threw for 4,308 yards, 32 TD’s and only 12 INT’s en route to a Pro Bowl season. He’s shown that he can be highly productive without the huge mistakes, and this occurred only two seasons ago. Even with the turnovers in 2019, his INT% was 3.4%, compared to Winston’s 4.8%.

Conclusions

Rivers obviously didn’t play as well as he has in years past. However, his star tight end always ending on IR, his OL being downright awful, and his receivers not being able to get separation really help contribute to the down-tick in his production and the uptick in the turnovers.

Tampa Bay has a better OL than the Chargers by a long shot. Despite the usual gripes about the Bucs’ OL, they played at a much higher level than this Chargers line did in 2019. In fact, PFF has them ranked 7th overall after last season, citing Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen as big reasons why.

Additionally, he can still hit the deep ball which is ever so necessary in an Arians offense. With Godwin, Evans, and Howard (if he’s not traded), he shouldn’t have to worry about receiver separation either as the Bucs averaged around 2.6 yards last season according to NFL Next Gen Stats.

Lastly, he has a very smart football mind and plays with his head as much as he does with his arm. On almost every single play I saw him audible to shift protection, put someone in motion to determine coverages, and move his backs to out wide to move safeties and linebackers out of his throwing lane. On top of this, he makes decisions so quickly but doesn’t stare down his receivers. This was something I think that helped him have some success with such poor OL play.

I know a lot of people have their preconceived notions about Rivers, but based on what I just showed you, do you have a newly formed opinion on him? Do you think he is a better than initially thought? Do you agree that he would fit in Tampa? Let me know in the comments below.

Poll

If Arians first two choices don’t work out, would you be fine with Rivers stepping in for 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 73%
    Yes.
    (127 votes)
  • 15%
    No.
    (26 votes)
  • 8%
    Maybe.
    (14 votes)
  • 2%
    Rather roll with a rookie.
    (5 votes)
172 votes total Vote Now

*According to Pro-football-reference