Chargers’ Rivers off to 1 of the best starts of his career
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Even though Philip Rivers is one of the elder statesmen among NFL quarterbacks, the Chargers’ longtime signal-caller is off to one of the best starts of his 15-year career.
Rivers enters Sunday’s game against Cleveland leading the AFC with a 116.4 passer rating. It is his highest after five games since taking over as the Chargers’ starter in 2006.
His 13 touchdown passes equal 2013 for his best start and his 70.1 percent completion rate marks the fifth time he has completed 70 percent or more at this point of the season.
Rivers said on Wednesday he is not a big believer in momentum carrying over from one season to the next, but in a lot of ways he is seeing the offense pick up from where it left off in the second half of last year.
“I felt a steadiness with the group as we got in the back half of last year and it seems to have kind of carried over in a lot of ways,” Rivers said.
“I have not been great by any means this year, but we have been really balanced and have done some good things. We still have a ways to go, but we would like to keep it going.”
The Chargers (3-2) lost their first four games last season before winning nine of their final 12, including six of their final seven.
Coach Anthony Lynn said it is not just Rivers who is executing but the entire offense.
“We are not just throwing the ball all day. Teams are having to defense our running game, our passing game and our special plays,” Lynn said. “It is really a balanced attack, and I think this is what you get when you have a balanced attack.”
The one trait from last year which has definitely carried over is big plays — runs of 10 yards or more and receptions of 20 yards or more. Los Angeles was fourth in the league last year in that category, but was one of two teams in the top eight that didn’t make the playoffs.
The Chargers are third this season with 45 and have six touchdowns that have been for 20 yards or more. Running backs Melvin Gordon and Austin Ekeler have one-third of the team’s receptions along with averaging 5.0 yards per carry.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen has not had a touchdown since Week 1 against Kansas City, but he has 15 receptions in the past two games and threw a key downfield block on Ekeler’s 44-yard touchdown against Oakland last week.
The offensive line has also done a good job of keeping Rivers upright. He has been sacked only six times, which is tied for lowest in the league among quarterbacks who have played in five games. The line is playing well despite starting tackles Russell Okung and Joe Barksdale missing last week’s game because of injuries.
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said that he has noticed Rivers being very comfortable with his surrounding cast, which has also led to a surge in confidence.
“The natural inclination is to say he’s taking less risk. But he’s made some tremendous throws that you would say ‘Wow, that was kind of a risky throw’,” Whisenhunt said.
Rivers is one of the quicker quarterbacks in the league to get rid of the ball, but he will face a Browns defense that leads the league in pressuring the quarterback.
The Browns have been credited with 73 quarterback pressures — a sack, hurry or pass knocked down at the line of scrimmage — according to Sportradar after they were 31st in the league in that category last season.
Cleveland (2-2-1) also leads the league in takeaways with 15 while Rivers has thrown only two interceptions in 122 attempts for the lowest interception rate of his career (1.1 percent).
“(Defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams is very multiple and does a ton of different things. They are staying healthy and seem to be more comfortable in the scheme,” Rivers said.
Notes: Lynn said defensive end Joey Bosa would not travel with the team the next two weeks as he continues to rehab from a foot injury. The team is hopeful that the third-year defender can return after the Oct. 28 bye week. … Okung (groin) and Barksdale (knee) had limited participation in practice as Lynn said there is the possibility that both could be ready for Sunday. If both are unable to play, Sam Tevi would be the left tackle and Trent Scott would be at right tackle. … Kicker Caleb Sturgis, who has missed four extra points, was limited because of a quad injury.