The Los Angeles Chargers are coming off a victory over the Denver Broncos 23-9 and have finished the regular season 12-4. Despite finishing tied for the best record in the AFC, they do not get a first-round bye and must play in the Wildcard round. (The reason for this is because the other 12-4 team – the Kansas City Chiefs – is in the same division as the Chargers, and they held the tiebreaker, making the Chargers the fifth seed as opposed to the first seed.) They will be playing the Baltimore Ravens again, just a couple weeks removed from a 22-10 loss to that team. That was also really their only ugly loss of the year, and quarterback Philip Rivers uncharacteristically struggled as well. And he followed that up with a below average day against the Broncos as well. He will need to get it together for the Chargers to win in the Wildcard Round.
Philip Rivers Needs to Bounce Back for Los Angeles Chargers
Stuck in a Temporary Rut?
Rivers did not have a good day against the Ravens two weeks ago. This does not 100% fall on him. He was facing the best defense in the AFC and they were constantly hounding him. And it was just one of those games where Rivers having a lack of mobility became a problem. He threw two interceptions in the loss and oddly did not throw the ball deep much. Again though, the latter could be partially contributed to the ridiculous pass rush.
Surprisingly, he struggled against a depleted Broncos team as well. He had less than 200 passing yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions. He improved down the stretch, but those two subpar games in a row aren’t what fans want to see.
Get Ball out Quicker
About Rivers’ lack of mobility… that is truly a problem when facing a tough defense like this. Because you can’t make Rivers faster. And one can’t really blame the offensive line entirely either. The Ravens defense has been hounding many offensive lines this year. There aren’t a lot of solutions to this problem. But one possible idea is this: just create schemes that involve getting the ball out of Rivers’ hands faster.
This can still be done without entirely sacrificing the long pass game; one can still get the ball past the first down marker (at least) after only having held the ball for a couple or few seconds. Rivers actually did run an offense with that feature coming up sometimes under Mike McCoy. It feels like there’s been a lot less of that under Anthony Lynn. While one can’t exactly complain when Lynn’s offense is doing as well as it is anyway, this still feels like an occasion when changing the game up a little bit may benefit the team against an opponent where they may not be able to play the way they normally do.
Who He Didn’t Have Last Time
Rivers was actually missing a couple of weapons last time he played the Ravens. One of them was Austin Ekeler. He and Melvin Gordon have been a great running back duo, and now there’s even Justin Jackson in the mix showing flashes. Ekeler is basically a poor man’s James White, and while he’s not much of a first-string running back, he’s still a threat.
Also: Hunter Henry may be coming back. Considering he tore his ACL earlier this year, that may sound surprising. But perhaps because it was so early in the NFL season (back during May OTAs), he’s been able to recover. That would provide another primary great target for Rivers in addition to Keenan Allen and Mike Williams.
As strange as it may seem, the Ravens might be the most difficult opponent that the Chargers could have faced in the AFC playoffs. A defense like theirs with a pass rush like that can sometimes simply be kryptonite for a non-mobile QB like Rivers. But perhaps the experience of having just played them will help. With the right adjustments, Rivers can indeed play better than he did last time. Another thing to note is that he’s going to have to not be afraid to throw to his former teammate, Eric Weddle – because that also seemed to cripple his decision-making last time. Aside from getting the ball out of his hands quicker to offset the pass rush, he has to play like he normally would against any other secondary.
The Chargers face a quite tough test in Wildcard weekend. If they manage to get a win, playing in the home stadium of either the New England Patriots or the Chiefs won’t be a picnic either; but at least they don’t have the kind of defense that the Ravens do. (Plus, the Chargers already did beat the Chiefs in Arrowhead recently.) This year is as good an opportunity as any to get Rivers a Super Bowl ring. Whether he and the team can pull off the big run, starting with the Ravens… time will tell.
Embed from Getty Images