The Case For… Philip Rivers’s Bolts

02covV15chargers_PromoChargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who led San Diego to a 27-10 upset of the Bengals in the AFC Wild Card, appears on one of three regional covers of this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (1/13/14)—on newsstands NOW. Since throwing an interception in a 17-10 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 1, (the last time San Diego was defeated), Rivers has thrown 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions, completed 68.3 percent of his passes and had a passer rating of 104.0 or higher on four occasions. NFL analyst Andy Benoit writes, “People snickered when Mike McCoy said last May that Philip Rivers could connect on 70% of his passes in the Chargers’ new spread offense. Turns out the first-year coach was prophetic—almost. Rivers had an NFL-high 69.5% completion rate and 32 TDs (fourth in the NFL), earning his fifth Pro Bowl invitation and quieting speculation about his future in San Diego.” (Page 21)

Benoit believes that fans shouldn’t be so quick to write off the Chargers as they enter Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff at top-seeded Denver. While the Broncos are a 10-point favorite, there is some vulnerability there. The two teams split the season series with the Broncos winning in San Diego and the Chargers getting a 27–20 surprise victory in Denver on Dec. 12. In that game Rivers led the offense to points on five of its eight possessions, including two touchdowns.  In making the case for the Chargers as a dark horse Benoit writes, “Few imagined that the Chargers, who on Dec. 1 were 5–7 and still had the Broncos and the Chiefs remaining on their schedule, would be among the NFL’s final eight. In fact, few had believed in the team when it opened camp with mostly the same roster that had stayed home the last three postseasons. The offense seemed particularly uninspired. Rivers had not been impressive since 2010, when he threw for 4,710 yards and 30 TDs; the running game had gained only 91.3 yards per outing in ’12 (27th in the NFL); and the O-line, revamped in three of five spots this season, was short on athleticism and experience. But the beauty of a spread system like McCoy’s is that it can dilute weaknesses. Athleticism and experience are less important along the line when the QB is getting rid of the ball on a three-step drop, which is the norm, as wider formations make passing lanes and defensive schemes easier to identify before the snap. Run blocking is less about moving an opponent than about neutralizing him just enough to maintain preexisting spacing. The spread can’t succeed with a terrible line, but it can with one whose best assets are undersized center Nick Hardwick and monstrous (if lead-footed) rookie tackle D.J. Fluker.” (Page 21) | NFL analyst Andy Benoit


The Curious Case of Philip Rivers

His Numbers Put Him Among the Elite, But The Stat That Matters Most Is Wins in the Postseason

Three quarterbacks were chosen in the first 11 picks of the 2004 NFL draft and two, Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, have won two Super Bowls apiece. The other one, Philip Rivers, is still trying to claim his first ring. With each failed attempt at reaching the Super Bowl, the shadows of Manning and Roethlisberger grow longer over Rivers and the Chargers’ franchise. Particularly because unlike them, the former N.C. State star has yet to put his signature on a memorable playoff win (page 46).

Rivers preaches patience and says his primary motivation is helping his Chargers teammates achieve a big win together, but as Manning and Roethlisberger have both two-upped him in the Super Bowl ring department, Jim Trotter wonders: Can Rivers really believe the journey is as enticing as the destination?

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Also in this week’s Sports Illustrated: The Chargers’ inability to win in the east, Clemson football is dancing with joy and David Beckham’s future in Los Angeles

You’ve seen our World Series cover featuring the Rangers and Cardinals, read JaMarcus Russell’s side of the story and found out who the NFL’s fastest player is according to our weekly Players Poll. Here is what else awaits readers in the Oct. 31 issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands today.

PILE ON THE CHARGERS – DAMON HACK (@si_damonhack)

The Chargers’ 27–21 loss to the Jets on Sunday was the latest misstep in their recent history, when they have looked like a Super Bowl contender only to travel east and lose. Since 2000 they are a meager 8–18 on the road against the teams now in the AFC East and AFC North, including 1–4 at New England, 0–4 at Pittsburgh and 0–2 at Baltimore. For starting quarterback Philip Rivers, Sunday’s loss was his 10th in 11 road starts against the AFC East or AFC North since 2007. All of which solidifies a sentiment that has shadowed San Diego teams of recent vintage: that they are supremely talented and chronic underachievers (page 38).

On the Tablets: This week on his NFL podcast, senior writer Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) interviews Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray and Colts vice chairman Bill Polian. Plus, the Week 8 edition of his “Last Word on the NFL.”

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Ten Things You Need to Know from This Week’s Issue: Peter King’s NFL Awards Forecast, the Best Quotes from Training Camp, the Best Tacklers of Today and All Time, The Smartest Players in Baseball and More

You’ve seen the six regional covers for the NFL Preview and read Peter King’s regular and postseason predictions. Here are ten other things you’ll learn from this week’s Sept. 5 issue:

  1. If Peter King’s soothsaying abilities hold true from last year (when he correctly predicted a Steelers–Packers Super Bowl), put your money on Philip Rivers. He’s King’s pick for MVP and Offensive Player of the Year.
  2. King is also high on the Lions. Jim Schwartz is his Coach of the Year, and Matthew Stafford is a runner-up for Comeback Player of the Year.
  3. “I’m a winner. I don’t care about stats. I never have. In the first game of the year, if I catch no balls and we win, I’ll be thrilled. If they tell me the game plan is to go out and block the safety in the mouth 60 times and we win, I’ll be thrilled. To me, football’s been about winning and nothing else.” – Falcons WR Julio Jones
  4. Ravens–Steelers might be the fiercest rivalry in the NFL. Want proof? LB Terrell Suggs says his team refers to the Steelers as “that team from Pennsylvania. It’s forbidden to say their name around here. It’s an unspoken word.”
  5. Speaking of the Ravens, Ray Lewis is listed by senior writer Tim Layden as one of the five best tacklers both today and in history.
  6. Among Layden’s list of five best tacklers in history, four are linebackers; among his list of the five best tacklers today, only two are linebackers.
  7. If you’re an okay quarterback but not a great one, the NFL will kick you to the curb. So says senior writer Phil Taylor, who writes, “So, kids, you want to grow up to be an NFL quarterback? A word of advice: Don’t.”
  8. Pirates starting pitcher Ross Ohlendorf is baseball’s smartest player—according to 24% of the 281 MLB players who responded to SI’s survey.
  9. SI’s fans thought differently. On Facebook, fans overwhelmingly voted Derek Jeter as the smartest (37%), followed by Roy Halladay (20%).
  10. Senior writer Lars Anderson says that the seasons of four traditional college football powers—Alabama, Texas, Penn State and Notre Dame—will hinge on who wins their respective quarterback battles.

Read on for more after the break.

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