Philip Rivers’ Career Renaissance This Season Has as Much to Do With Danny Woodhead as Anyone

Philip RiversIt’s no coincidence that Philip Rivers has enjoyed something of a career renaissance this season.

Ridding himself of the black hole that is Norv Turner and replacing him with offensive guru Mike McCoy has certainly be a big help, but there’s one offseason addition that seems to be even more important to Rivers’ reemergence.

It took just two years and $4 million to lure Danny Woodhead out of Tom Brady‘s remodeled woodshed and to the sunny shores of San Diego. That seems like a bargain for a guy that was so important to the Patriots’ offensive success, and that notion has been confirmed given his impact on the Chargers — and Rivers especially.

Woodhead, 28, has served as the team’s primary third-down back this season, but he’s been utilized as much more than just a situational player in the Chargers’ offense. He already has amassed over 400 yards of total offense and three touchdowns through six games, about half of what he gained in 16 games with the Patriots last season. What’s more, Woodhead has also become one of Rivers’ favorite targets, second only to Antonio Gates, in fact.

Rivers has targeted Woodhead 41 times this season, which is more than any of his wide receivers (Vincent Brown has 35) and only nine fewer times than Gates (50). Woodhead has caught 36 of those passes, which gives him a whopping 88 percent catch-to-target rate — tops on the Chargers and an NFL best for anyone with more than 40 targets this season. He’s also scored all three of his touchdowns on passes, which just so happens to lead all running backs in receiving scores.

Woodhead’s success in the Chargers’ offense has been no surprise, though, nor has Rivers’ reliance on the versatile back. Rivers’ best seasons in San Diego took place while Darren Sproles was featured as a weapon on offense. During Sproles’ final three seasons with the Chargers (2008-2010), Rivers relied on him more than anyone not named Gates or Vincent Jackson. Sproles was, for all intents and purposes, the Chargers’ No. 3 receiver during that span, catching 133 passes, gaining more than 2,000 combined yards and scoring 14 touchdowns (11 receiving). And Rivers excelled, too.

Rivers posted his three highest completion percentages — 65.3, 65.2 and 66.0 consecutively — and threw for more touchdowns — 34, 28 and 30, which are his three highest career totals — in those three seasons than any other in his career. When Sproles left for New Orleans in 2011, though, Rivers suffered greatly. He still completed a good portion of his passes (62.9 and 64.1 percent, respectively), but he also made a whole lot more mistakes. In fact, he threw more interceptions combined in the 2011 and 2012 seasons (35) without Sproles than he did in the three prior seasons with him (33). So, with a Sproles clone now in tow, it’s no coincidence that Rivers is back to his efficient ways.

Through six games, Rivers is already on pace to set new career highs in completion percentage (72.6), yards (4,925) and touchdowns (37), and he’s doing so by relying on guys like Gates and, of course, Woodhead. Woody is even on pace to break Sproles’ single-season marks in receptions (59), total yards (840) and total touchdowns (seven). That’s not to say that he will, but Woodhead’s presence alone on offense has clearly filled a need in San Diego.

Considering Brady’s struggles to get the Patriots’ offense off the ground at times this season, there’s no doubt that New England misses Woodhead dearly. It’s not to say the Patriots threw Woodhead away, but one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. And Rivers is clearly the beneficiary in this scenario.

Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

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