Things are broken in San Diego. Televisions, remotes, desk lamps, tables and chairs — like a scene out of a WWE street fight — were all likely casualties of yet another depressing Chargers season. But chief among those things that need fixing is quarterback Philip Rivers, and new head coach Mike McCoy is just the guy for the job.
McCoy, who accepted the Chargers’ head coaching position on Tuesday, has experience working with broken quarterbacks — ahem, Tim Tebow — as well as future Hall of Famers like Peyton Manning. His ability to build successful offensive systems around two very different quarterbacks in back-to-back years in Denver is a prime example of McCoy’s offensive ingenuity and can only bode well for Rivers.
Two seasons ago, Rivers appeared to have finally blossomed into the elite quarterback the Chargers long anticipated. He was selected to his third consecutive Pro Bowl, had just completed his fourth straight 4,000-yard season and was consistently taking care of the football. His emergence had the Chargers prepared to finally overcome their longstanding playoff woes, and he even began drawing comparisons to the likes of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and other star quarterbacks. But then things drastically changed.
Rivers struggled right out of the gate in 2011, throwing six interceptions and just four touchdowns in his first three games, and he was never fully able to buck that turnover trend. As Rivers unraveled, turning the ball over 25 times in comparison with just 27 touchdowns on the season, so did the Chargers, going 4-7 over the final 11 games and missing the playoffs for the first time in five seasons.
The terrible trend continued into 2012, too, as Rivers scored 26 touchdowns while turning the ball over 22 times, and the Chargers finished under .500 (7-9) for the first time in a decade (2003). So, with Norv Turner’s reign of mediocrity finally over in San Diego, the Chargers, and Rivers, will be leaning on McCoy to alter their fortunes.
McCoy’s converse experiences with both Tebow and Manning should serve as a strong starting point for Rivers. The Broncos ran two almost entirely opposite offenses in 2011 and 2012, and much of the creativity behind them came directly from McCoy. He was able to build a successful spread-option attack around Tebow while also masking his mechanical deficiencies as a passer in one season and then developed a dominating pro-style attack with Manning at the helm in the next.
Now, McCoy will apply those same creative methods to solving Rivers’ problems, which shouldn’t be quite as challenging. Rivers is more of a pocket passer, similar to Manning, and is best served working through his progressions behind a rock-solid offensive line — something he didn’t have in 2012.
This season, Rivers was sacked a career-high 49 times, which ranked second in the NFL, and he rarely found the time to get the ball out of his hands never mind into those of his primary receiver. Manning, under McCoy’s system, was sacked just 21 times on the year, which ranked as the second fewest to among quarterbacks to start all 16 games — only his brother Eli (19) had fewer. So, while the Chargers could definitely use more talent in front of Rivers, which they should address through free agency and the draft, McCoy’s system could also alleviate some pressure off of the quarterback.
There are more issues to fixing the Chargers than merely the quarterback position, but Rivers is still foremost among them and that’s where McCoy should start. Fortunately, for the Chargers at least, Rivers will have the proper guidance and, if all goes well, should see a significant turnaround next season.
Rivers still possesses all the talent that’s made him a four-time Pro Bowler and had him being mentioned in the same breaths as Brady and Manning just two shorts seasons ago. Now, he finally has the proper supervision to harness that talent and the Chargers can only serve to benefit from such a relationship.