Rivers, Chargers need bounce-back season
So, what's wrong with Philip Rivers, and how can it be fixed?
That's been the overriding concern surrounding the San Diego Chargers all offseason, and will continue to be as the season starts Monday night at home against the Houston Texans.
Rivers threw 15 interceptions, lost seven fumbles and was sacked 49 times last year.
That ran his two-season totals to 47 turnovers and 79 sacks.
For Rivers, the bigger challenge is to help the Chargers rebound from their first losing season in 10 years, which kept them out of the playoffs for the third straight season and got coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith fired.
Rivers looks to bounce back "in the sense that we were 7-9; from that sense, bounce back as far as leading us to winning football games, and winning more of them. I don't know if there's a magic answer of how to bounce back and have a great year. Shoot, I have a great deal of confidence and I'm excited. I think we're headed in the right direction.''
Some people wonder if Rivers can get back to the elite status he once enjoyed.
Rivers doesn't care about labels.
"I think that's a word used on the outside more than it's used inside,'' he said. "Winning is what it's about. Usually guys that are mentioned in that category are winning. Now, is that a status or a tag or description that I'm worried about? No. But I certainly understand those things come when you win football games.''
During training camp, former Chargers star LaDainian Tomlinson, in town for his job as an NFL Network analyst, said allowing 49 sacks was no way for the Chargers to treat their franchise quarterback.
"It's never good to be sacked that many times,'' Rivers said. "Now there's a lot of things that go into it. It's not just the protection or the five guys in front that cause sacks. But it's a new group, a new deal and it's been super. How they've come together quickly is encouraging.''
Only center Nick Hardwick returns in his original position. Jeromey Clary is back, but has been moved from right tackle to right guard. Rookie D.J. Fluker, a first-round draft pick, will start at right tackle, while newcomers King Dunlap will start at left tackle and Chad Rinehart at left guard.
As for all those turnovers, Rivers definitely wants to get better.
"Shoot, every turnover's got a story,'' said Rives, whose 26 TD passes last year were his fewest since 2007. "Ultimately, though, I'm the guy that threw the ball or fumbled the ball. I take full responsibility for those. The thing about turnovers is, they're never good, but it's the timing of when they occur that can sometimes be the big difference. There's seasons where 16 interceptions would be, hey, that's a pretty good job. I mean, it could be, depending on the situation. Then there are times that 16 is way too many because three or four were game-changers.
"I don't get caught up in the actual numbers. I'm always shooting for single digits. That'll be the case again this year.''
Rookie coach Mike McCoy has ditched the offense used under coach Turner and installed an up-tempo attack built around intermediate routes and making wise decisions.
The previous offense focused on trying to stretch the field. McCoy's approach is to throw passes closer to the line of scrimmage. That involves trying to keep Rivers upright.
"I think we need to play better around him,'' McCoy said. "I've been saying that since Day 1. He is a great quarterback. Philip is going to be fine. We got to get the entire team, everybody, has to do their job better and Philip will do his job better.''
Catching on to McCoy's offense took time.
"Once you embrace the change and differences of it, you like it and it begins to grows on you and we're thinking, `Hey, we could do something really good,' `' Rivers said. "There is a freshness to it, a challenge to it. You're speaking a different language and all those things it can. But it's exciting, fun and I've enjoyed it.
"I think there will be an element of the intermediate passing game that is a little more emphasized. But it is going to be a nice, even balance of a little bit of everything from what we've done. There won't be a ton of new stuff.''
The Chargers plan to use more no-huddle and Rivers is expected to make shorter drops. Against the Texans, he'll face Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and a strong pass rush.
"The biggest way I hope we are different this year is we win more games and we have less turnovers,'' the QB said. "Other than that we are going to try to do some of the same things that we have done: get the ball to the guys that make plays and go score touchdowns.''
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
SI Now: "Need for Speed" actor talks stunt driving
Boomer: Could NFL have forced the Jonathan Martin trade?