Bears Anticipate Trouble Flowing From Philip Rivers

Gene Chamberlain

Philip Rivers is a classic drop-back passer, virtually a relic from a bygone era at age 37.

The Chargers quarterback will be 38 before the season ends but proves every Sunday a quarterback doesn't have to be running out of a zone-read play or scrambling and throwing like Patrick Mahomes to be effective in the NFL.

"What you see constantly is he's one of the best anticipatory passers in the NFL," said Bears coach Matt Nagy, who coached Rivers in the Pro Bowl and against him regularly with the Chiefs. "He throws the ball super early.

"I'll never forget, there was a play, I forget what year it was, but he threw a little out-and-up route to Antonio Gates that, a throw I'm not sure I've ever seen. You just sit there and watch it five times and see how early he threw it, and it was another 20 yards down field when the ball was released. He's able to understand defenses, what you bring him at him defensively with blitzes, dropping guys. He's seen it all. It's experience. It's somebody that I have a lot of respect for."

The Bears have lost to quarterbacks like Rivers just like they've been beaten by more mobile passers.

Considering the Chargers really haven't had much of a running game since early season, averaging 51.6 yards a game over the last five weeks, the Bears aren't losing this one unless Rivers takes it or Mitchell Trubisky gives it away.

Here are three keys for the Bears to avoid a three-game losing streak and extend the Chargers' misery to four straight.

3. Interior Pass Push

The Bears need the interior push to get in Rivers' face. They know both Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd can get there off the edge because Rivers will hold the ball until he can get a target downfield, but Rivers will also throw plenty on three-step or five-step drops and is not easy to reach then. He is no statute back there, but he's no threat to scramble -- although he does have more attempts and more yards than Trubisky at this point. He'll slide left or right or step up and throw, but he'll do neither if the interior push gets into his face. This keeps Rivers from stepping into a pass, too, and sometimes when this happens his throws will float. Then they become susceptible to interceptions. He's thrown six this year already, so the heat can take a toll. The question is where the Bears will get this inside push from, because the interior pressure usually started with Akiem Hicks. They need Roy Robertson-Harris to generate it like against Minnesota. Bilal Nichols could, as well, but the cast on his hand makes this difficult. Here's one suggestion: Blitz the A gap early and do it a lot then. Play zone and drop back later.

2. Keep Flanks Protected

Rivers loves getting the ball out on the flanks after zone coverage drops, and it lets Austin Ekeler or Melvin Gordon come up with yards after the catch. At 5-foot-10, 200 pounds, Ekeler is tough to bring down in the open field for any defensive back because he can run with power and speed. He already has 477 yards after the catch in seven games and five starts. That's only 34 yards short of what Tarik Cohen did for all last year when he led the Bears. Melvin Gordon is a great receiving threat out in the open, as well, even if he is off to a slow start after his holdout. This may require bringing Buster Skrine out into the flat to cover.

1. It Goes Without Saying ...

At this point no one needs to say it, but here it is again: Run the football. Run the football if you're down 10 at the start of the fourth quarter. Run it if you're down 16 in the third quarter, like last week. It gives defenses something else to think about and even if it just results in 5 yards on the first two downs then a third-and-5 is manageable. At some point they have to rely on David Montgomery. And in this one, with two starting defensive tackles out due to injuries, the Chargers are vulnerable in the middle where even a power runner like Mike Davis could do damage. It just requires that initial push from the offensive line.

The line: Bears -3 1/2

The pick: Bears 20, Chargers 17

Elsewhere

The line
The pick

Giants +6 at Lions

Lions 24, Giants 17

Bucs +2 1/2 at Titans

Bucs 29, Titans 26

Seahawks -3 1/2 at Falcons

Falcons 20, Seahawks 17

Jets +6 1/2 at Jaguars

Jaguars 17, Jets 13

Eagles +1 1/2 at Bills

Eagles 27, Bills 20

Bengals +12 1/2 at Rams

Rams 34, Bengals 20

Cardinals +10 1/2 at Saints

Saints 30, Cardinals 20

Raiders +10 at Texans

Texans 20, Raiders 16

Panthers +10 at 49ers

49ers 19, Panthers 17

Broncos +5 at Colts

Colts 24, Broncos 17

Browns +11 at Patriots

Patriots 30, Browns 17

Packers -4 at Chiefs

Packers 28, Chiefs 20

Dolphins +14 at Steelers

Steelers 31, Dolphins 13

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