Film Study: Philip Rivers had an epic game against the Browns and is quietly having an MVP-caliber season


Lost amid what has been a crazy 2017 season is the level at which Philip Rivers has been playing. Along with the recent stellar play of the defense, Rivers is a large part of the reason the Chargers climbed out of their 0-4 hole.

If Rivers continues to play like he has and the Chargers make the playoffs, he deserves to be in the MVP discussion. Here's why:

Over his last two games Rivers is completing a ridiculous 76.3% of his passes (53 of 76) with 781 yards and four touchdowns. The knock on Rivers despite his decade-plus of remarkable passing numbers has always been that he's too turnover prone, but this year he has just eight turnovers through 12 games. Last year, Rivers had a career high 21 interceptions. This year, he has just seven. He's dramatically reduced his turnovers while still operating as a gunslinger who isn't afraid to chuck it all over the field.

Rivers' arm strength hasn't lost anything and he still processes the field at a remarkably quick pace. Rivers never hesitates and quickly finds the open man with pinpoint accuracy. He's fourth in the league in passing yards, and while the widely accepted MVP candidates Tom Brady, Carson Wentz, and Drew Brees may have slightly better stats, they also are in much better circumstances. All three of those contenders play in systems that are much better for quarterback production with much better offensive minds on each of their coaching staffs.

All three of Brady, Wentz, and Brees also play behind either very good or elite offensive lines, whereas Rivers is constantly taking hits from all directions due to very shaky line play. All three of those others also have consistent and efficient running games to help take pressure off of them and keep opposing defenses honest. The Saints are first in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt, the Eagles are fourth, and the Patriots are 12th.

The Chargers? Near the bottom of the league at 26th, averaging a measly 3.7 yards per carry. Rivers has been doing it pretty much all by himself, with a below-average offensive line and a very inefficient running game.

Rivers is playing like one of the top quarterbacks in the league and certainly belongs in the MVP conversation. It will be interesting to see if Rivers starts getting more media attention if the Chargers keep on winning. With all that being said, let's take a look at the film from this past Sunday's game against the Browns.

Rivers was on top of his game, routinely hanging tough in the pocket in the face of pressure and delivering accurate balls. Many of his best plays weren't highlight reel throws down the field, but smart decisions that kept the chains moving despite him being under constant pressure. Here are a few of his most impressive throws made with defenders in his face:


On the first drive of the second half, the Chargers faced a fourth and short from the Browns' 35- yard line. Center Spencer Pulley gets beat badly on the play, pretty much allowing a free rusher right up the middle as soon as the ball is snapped.

 Rivers recognizes he's about to get hit and that he has to get rid of the ball quickly, and sees that Keenan Allen has a one-on-one with a step on Browns corner Jason Mccourty. When he sees Mccourty has his back to him he realizes he can throw it a bit short and that Allen will be able to adjust to it and come back and catch it. It's especially impressive because Rivers doesn't have time to set his feet and throws the ball off his back foot, keeping it in bounds and giving his receiver a chance to make a play. This throw would lead to the Chargers' only touchdown of the game a couple plays later.

A little later in the third, the Chargers have a second and 11 from just inside their own 40. Right guard Kenny Wiggins falls down and allows his man to get to Rivers. Right as Rivers is getting hit he sees Melvin Gordon running across the right hash and delivers an extremely accurate throw off his back foot again. He hits Gordon perfectly in stride across the field putting the ball right out in front of him where only he can get it. It doesn't seem flashy, but it's a throw few can consistently make, especially as they're getting hit.

It's the kind of trademark accuracy many have come to take for granted from Rivers. If he loses any velocity while getting hit and the throw is even a bit short, the linebacker covering Gordon could undercut him and easily intercept the pass. If the throw is even a bit long, it sails out of bounds. The play only gained six yards, but it turned a potential third and very-long if he takes the sack or throws incomplete, into a third and manageable which he was then able to convert.


On the ensuing third down, Rivers was again under pressure and didn't have time to get his feet set. Austin Ekeler failed to pick up the blitz and Rivers had to throw off his back foot to Tyrell Williams before Williams had even come out of his break. He knew exactly where Williams was going to be and delivered an accurate ball all the way from the left hash to the right sideline. That's a very difficult throw that requires a lot of arm strength and Rivers does it casually.


On this play in the first half, rookie number one overall pick Myles Garrett comes in practically unblocked because Wiggins, who was pulling to the left to pick him up, was a step slow getting there. Rivers senses the pressure but isn't fazed by it and steps up and delivers a perfect ball into the gap between corner and safety to Williams. Unfortunately, Williams dropped the pass, but it was more great pocket awareness from Rivers.


THE BOTTOM LINE:

These weren't Rivers' most spectacular throws, but I wanted to highlight them to show that he hasn't lost a step and to show that he's been continuing his great production despite being put in bad spots. Rivers is forced to throw under duress like this virtually all game every game.

Simply put, Rivers is having a great season. After the first couple of games, especially the Kansas City game, many were calling for Rivers' head. Not only has he silenced those critics, he's proved he is still among the league's best signal callers. If the Chargers win out and win the AFC West with 10 wins, he deserves to be mentioned in the MVP conversation.


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