What we can learn from Philip Rivers

After yet another debacle some may think it is time to consider grooming a replacement for Eli Manning. I am firmly not in that camp. I believe the problem lies in the boom or bust design of the offense combined with poor line play. This post is not about Kevin Gilbride though, it's about Philip Rivers. As many of you know he is having a resurgence this year after not playing up to his usual standards the last couple of years. How has he done this? We know he has a new coaching staff but what did they do to spark this turnaround? Part of it is that they improved the offensive line and the other part is that they primarily utilize a short passing attack and take the occasional deep shot. Through the first three games of the season Rivers completed 70% of his passes with 8 TDs and 1 INT. I managed to find a plot of every pass he threw in the first three games of the season. It indicated how far each pass traveled in the air and also indicated if the pass was complete or incomplete. The results by the distance each pass traveled in the air are as follows:

At or behind LOS - 14% of pass attempts (86.7% complete)

1 to 5 yards - 35.5% of pass attempts (71% complete)

6 to 10 yards - 15% of pass attempts (68.8% complete)

11 to 15 yards - 15.9% of pass attempts (70.6% complete)

16 to 20 yards - 12% of pass attempts (58% complete)

20+ yards - 8.4% of pass attempts (22.2% complete)

As you can see, about half of Philip Rivers pass attempts were less than 5 yards. You will also note that only about 1 in 5 attempts was more than 15 yards downfield and that the completion percentage obviously drops off. Philip Rivers leading receivers were his TE and RB. Despite the fact that he is running a short passing attack, Rivers has one of the higher yards per attempt or yards per completion numbers in the league. How is this possible? YAC. Well executed screens or getting the ball to your receivers quickly on the move allows them to get upfield. I could not find a similar pass distribution chart for Eli Manning but I can guarantee it is skewed more heavily toward deeper throws than this one. Eli put up some big yards today and the WRs did well but he still completed less than 50% of his passes, there were no completions to a RB, and the TE only caught 2 balls. We don't need a new quarterback, just a new offense. There is no excuse in the modern NFL where the rules favor passing to have a franchise QB and run a system where less than 60% of his passes are being completed. Eli has had a few seasons above 60% but is a career 58% passer. I don't necessarily want our RB and TE to be our leading receivers because the talent is at WR, but they do need to be involved to get some easy completions and move the chains. The WRs could be used more on slants, shallow crosses, and bubble screens while still taking the occasional deep shot. I don't know that Eli will ever be a 70% passer but in a new offense he should be able to achieve a completion rate in the mid to high 60s and cut back on the picks. We just need to apply the lesson Philip Rivers is teaching us.

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