Can Philip Rivers Keep Up This Pace?

Through two weeks, Philip Rivers is a top-5 fantasy quarterback.

From 2008 through 2011, Philip Rivers was a top-10 fantasy quarterback each year. In 2012, a complete defecation of the bed ensued. He threw for over 1,000 yards less than the season before on his way to an underwhelming 21st-place fantasy finish.

Yet, through two weeks of 2013, Rivers has been not only a top-5 fantasy quarterback, but one of the league's most efficient quarterbacks as well. In fact, only Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning rank ahead of him in passing NEP, which measures how much each pass thrown affects the team's scoring potential. Can Rivers keep it up? Let's take a look.

Rivers' Per Game Averages

YearAtt/GComp %Pass Yards/GYd/AttTD/GInt/GFan Pts/G
2008-1132.664.8 %274.98.431.860.8215.8
201234.964.1 %225.46.841.630.9413.0
201338.065.8 %307.08.083.500.5026.7

Essentially, a steep drop in passing yardage was the reason Rivers didn’t finish amongst the top 10 last season. After three straight seasons with more than 60 20-plus passing plays, he only had 41 last season. Moreover, he only had three passes all year that went for 40 yards or longer. The loss of deep threat Vincent Jackson obviously hurt Rivers' yardage totals.

Rivers' offensive line was of the turnstile variety last season. This forced him to take 49 sacks, second-most in the NFL. When offensive lines struggle, this usually negatively impacts a quarterback's yards per attempt average. They have less time for big plays to develop down field and instead have to check the ball down. Through the first two games, the line play has looked better (3 sacks allowed), but the jury remains out.

The Real McCoy

The good news is that new Charger head coach, Mike McCoy, has a good reputation at getting the most out of quarterbacks. The bad news is, he plans to do it by going away from the vertical passing game employed by previous coach Norv Turner. This means that, going forward, it would be realistic to expect Rivers' yards per attempt to more closely resemble 2012 (6.84) than 2008-11 (8.43).

Remember, Rivers needs to increase his passing yardage from 2012 to become a viable fantasy starter, all other things being equal. If his yards per attempt average doesn't increase, the only other way for his yardage to increase is by attempting more passes. McCoy's pass-to-run ratio last year with Denver was 55:45, which is not much different from Turner's 56:44 ratio with San Diego. Therefore, even though Rivers is averaging a few more attempts than usual so far in 2013, this cannot necessarily be expected to continue.

2013 Game Recaps

Week 1 vs Houston: 14-29, 195 yards, 4 TD, 1 Int

The four touchdowns in Week 1 are deceiving. One touchdown was on a measly one-play drive that started inside the Houston 15 yard line. Another came after the Chargers were given a short field due to a missed field goal. More telling were the Chargers six drives in the second half. On the first, Rivers drove his team 80 yards for a score. After that, it got ugly:

Rivers' final 5 drives: 13 plays, 10 yards, four three-and-outs, and one game-tying pick-six

Terrible. Mark Sanchez and Blaine Gabbert were probably sitting at home feeling jealous.

Week 2 vs Philadelphia: 36-47, 419 yards, 3 TD, 0 Int

Rivers came back strong in Week 2. One problem: Philadelphia’s defense is abysmal. This is the same defense that could barely hold on to a 33-7 halftime lead last week against a rusty, tentative Robert Griffin III, aka "Doctor Andrews cleared to me play because otherwise he would receive death threats".

Philadelphia ranks 28th in the NFL in defensive NEP this season after ranking in the bottom 10 last year. Two of Rivers’ touchdowns came on short catch-and-runs where the Eagles displayed horrible tackling. The other was a result of a completely busted coverage in the secondary, leaving Eddie Royal so wide open that he could have taken a nap, woken up, checked his Instagram, brushed his teeth, and still have had time to groggily stumble into the end zone before the Eagle defense arrived.

Cry Me a Rivers

It's not likely Rivers continues at his current pace. Firstly, his most productive wide receiver thus far, Royal, has been remarkably consistent over the past four years…at being one of the most inefficient receivers in football. Antonio Gates has seen both his receiving NEP/target and his catch rate decline each of the past three seasons as well and is no longer one of the game's premier tight ends. Besides that, Rivers has an aging, banged up Malcom Floyd and the unproven duo of Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen.

At this point in his career, Rivers is a slightly above average quarterback with a below average supporting cast. These types will occasionally light up a poor defense such as Philadelphia's, but they can also be completely shut down by a good one, leaving owners to rely on garbage-time production to save the week. He would make a good passer to stream against the right matchup, but he’s not a fantasy QB1 again just yet.